NY Knicks: Ronnie Brewer on James Dolan, Tom Thibodeau, Carmelo Anthony, more

Former New York Knicks forward Ronnie Brewer offers his thoughts on a variety of timely topics.

Ronnie Brewer only played 46 games for the New York Knicks, but the versatile forward offers a unique perspective on current team topics as someone who played under owner James Dolan, alongside superstar Carmelo Anthony, and under Knicks coaching candidates Mike Woodson and Tom Thibodeau.

In an interview with Jonathan Macri of Knicks Film School, the retired swingman opened up about his time with the Knicks, offering his thoughts about whether it’s fair to criticize Dolan for his response to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man that was killed when a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

“It’s hard to say that just because James Dolan didn’t put out a statement, he’s racist,” Brewer said on the Knicks Film School podcast this week. “But I do think that because the NBA employs a majority of African Americans, I think it’s your right and your duty to speak up for your employees. A lot of people that work at Madison Square Garden are African Americans or other ethnicities. You owe it to them to speak up and have their back. He has employed African American coaches, he has employed African Americans in the front office which is a rarity in the NBA. I can’t bash him for that, but I think that him, and a lot of other organizations, and even organizations across the board [like in] Major League Baseball, NFL, those owners employ a lot of African Americans…they make up your team and your organization year after year. I’m not saying that [James Dolan] is racist, but he could have put together a better statement on behalf of the Knicks, Madison Square Garden and all of his employees across the board.”

As Brewer notes, the Knicks are one of the leading organizations in the NBA in employing African-Americans throughout the organization. Last season, they became the first team in NBA history to have a black president, general manager, and head coach.

Despite their impressive hiring record, Madison Square Garden has come under scrutiny for their initial muted response against racism and police brutality after every other NBA team issued a public statement condemning social injustices.

Ronnie Brewer appreciates the way Knicks coaching candidate Tom Thibodeau grinds it out.

As the Knicks look to hire a full-time head coach, Tom Thibodeau appears to be the strong favorite for the job. Brewer played under Thibs for over two seasons in Chicago before he was traded to New York. The former player thinks his ex-coach gets a bad rap from people around the NBA.

“Coach Thibs gets the short end of the stick because of comments that come out that say he’s hard on players and he pushes players too hard, but that’s what you want from a head coach,” Brewer said. “That’s what you want for your team and your organization, you want someone who’s going to get down and grit and grind and fight for everything they can get. That’s what Coach Thibs is all about. He’ll get you to defend, and he wants teams to get up and down the court…He’s one of the better defensive coaches, he’s great with personnel, he’s a player’s coach, but he’s tough, and if you’re a tough player and you’re tough minded, you’re going to be able to thrive in his system. He’s going to trust you and allow you to reach your maximum potential.”

During Brewer’s two full seasons with the Bulls, Thibodeau went 62-20 (2010-11) and 50-16 (2011-12 lockout shortened season). The swingman had a first-hand look of Thibs at his best. He was a key bench player and eventual starter for those Bulls teams. And he isn’t buying that Thibs can’t teach young players.

“You want to go with a veteran who knows the ropes,” Brewer said when asked about the knocks against Thibs as a developmental coach. “I still think the way that we practiced, it makes it impossible for you not to develop. When you come to work every day, you bring your lunch pail. He’s going to push you more every day. He also pushes the assistant coaches of the individual positions that they’re assigned to. When I was in Chicago, coach Adrian Griffin was my position coach. He had me, Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler and then we got Rip Hamilton. We were war ready against every team. We fell a little short against the Heat, with LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh, but everybody else, we were ready for them as soon as they stepped on the court.”

Brewer also played under Mike Woodson during the Knicks’ magical 54-win season in 2012-13. Woodson appears to be a candidate to return in an assistant role with the Knicks, but he will be interviewed for the head coaching position.

“Playing for Coach Woody was great,” Brewer said. “We loved playing for Coach Woody. We had a great nucleus…a great group of guys. We had great veterans like [Jason] Kidd and Marcu Camby and Rasheed [Wallace] and Kurt Thomas, then you had the young guys, myself, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Raymond Felton, Melo, Amare Staudemire, James “Flight” White, Chris Copeland…we were very diverse, of all backgrounds, and a lot of different experiences. [Coach Woodson helped us] gel together, play together, find a way to win and defy the odds, and he definitely gets the short end of the stick because he did a phenomenal job in New York and maybe we didn’t win as much as they wanted us to.”

Of course, you can’t talk about that 2012-13 team without bringing up Carmelo Anthony, who could potentially find his way back to New York as the front office looks for a forward who can shoot this offseason.

“Melo is phenomenal,” Brewer said. “I’ve never really played with a guy that, no matter the situation, he always took the burden or the blame. Melo could come out and have 30 or 40 points, and we would lose, not because of his play – maybe we didn’t play well collectively as a group – but he would take the blame and say he needed to do more. It burned me, what so many people were saying in Houston and when he wasn’t getting time like he couldn’t play basketball…he’s still phenomenal and he still has a lot left in the tank, and I think it’d be great if he had another opportunity to play in New York. Whenever he does decide to retire, I think he needs to be a Knick when he does it.”

After retiring from basketball in 2016 after a short stint with the Santa Cruz Warriors in the G-League, Brewer has been working as an activist, starting the Ronnie Brewer Foundation to support communities in at-risk situations. He is also a member of the media with a radio show and a degree in journalism.