By BEN SHATZMAN
If one gesture can adequately sum up the New York Knicks’ season thus far, it is the blank stare of head coach Mike Woodson — combined with a slightly opened mouth and an equally slightly shaking head. The television cameras always seem to capture Woodson’s “Dude, you have got to be kidding me” expressions. Woodson’s mannerisms have become synonymous with the Knicks’ disaster of a season and it seems just a matter of days before Woodson is relocated from the sideline to his couch.
When I look at Mike Woodson’s hopeless sideline staring routine, it looks like a man who has gone over the plan with his team countless times and that the team is blatantly disregarding what Woodson wants. Of course, that is just what I see, and even if this favorable outlook on Woodson is true, he clearly is not the right man for the job, as he has seemingly lost authority over his players. So regardless, Mike Woodson needs to be fired — and he will be sooner than later. But is he deserving of so much blame?
Before taking over as Knicks head coach for Mike D’Antoni, Woodson coached the Hawks for six seasons. He led them to the playoffs in his final three, but by the time his contract in Atlanta was up, Hawks fans were begging for him to be fired. The website firemikewoodson.blogspot.com is not a
Knicks fan’s website, but rather a Hawks fan who made the blog in 2006. The blog cites Woodson’s major coaching problems to be defense, offense and inspiration — three issues that many Knicks fans would say they can relate to.
Let’s start with offense, as that is arguably the most glaring issue with the Knicks. They rank in the bottom-third of the NBA in points-per-game, which is hard to believe with the talent they have. Carmelo Anthony has proven himself to be among the most prolific scorers in the game today. J.R. Smith won NBA Sixth Man of the Year last season, but this season he has not been nearly the player he was in 2013. Other guys like Felton, Bargnani, Stoudemire, Shumpert and Hardaway Jr. are more than capable on the offensive end. Sure, J.R. Smith may not be the easiest player to coach, and the Smith-Woodson relationship has been oft-publicized this season, but on the court should be a different story. If a guy like Smith is unwilling to play his heart out for Woodson (which likely is not true — he just has not been the same player this season), then that is a major problem involving both parties, and the one who would suffer the most would have to be Woodson.
The Knicks’ defense ranks in the bottom half of the league. They were not expected to be an amazing defensive team, but with Tyson Chandler protecting the rim and able defenders around him, to be in the bottom half of the league in defense when the offense has been brutal is unacceptable. Chandler did miss a good portion of this season, but you’d think the team would be able to turn it on defensively when he returned. That has not been the case.
Woodson’s inspiration is something only those who are part of the organization truly know. We don’t know what goes on in the locker room, but one can only assume that it isn’t exactly a tea party at any Knicks function. The performance on the court has certainly made it seem that way, at least. Now if Carmelo Anthony, for example, demonstrated a great relationship with Woodson, or publicly, sincerely declared his support for his head coach, it would be a different story. But that does not seem imminent.
Mike Woodson certainly has some issues he needs to fix as a coach. He is not the worst coach in the NBA and he is not fully to blame for the Knicks’ disastrous season. Frankly, I feel bad for the guy. But it’s time for a change. The Knicks, a team that was expected to compete for a conference title, are tenth in the lowly East right now — two spots out of the playoffs. It is not as though they need to win the next 30 games, but they need to play better to make the playoffs. As the All Star break approaches, it seems a fitting time to make a coaching change. The guy who was supposed to be a Larry Brown protégé has been unable to lead his team to victories, and in a high-pressure place like New York City, that cannot continue.
If a change is indeed made, we will find out whether the “Woodson Stare” was justified, or if it was just Woodson’s hopeless attempt regain control over an organization that he lost.