On Monday, the New York Knicks announced that they have fired head coach Mike Woodson, ending his 26-month run leading the team. President Phil Jackson did not stop there, as the entire coaching staff was relieved of their duties, as Jackson looks intent on cleaning house and overhauling the whole thing.
The firing of the whole staff is something that could be looked at as a positive. It is a sign that James Dolan is not meddling in the decision making yet, as Herb Williams is even being relieved of his duties this time around. Williams was the longest tenured coach on staff, and had the longest tenure of any assistant on the bench in Knicks history. He was able to stick around through the tenures of six different coaches, a clear sign that he was a Dolan guy, as assistant coaches change in the NBA pretty regularly. It may not be looked at as a big deal by some, but it is definitely a move that will raise the eyebrows of some and should be looked at as a positive, as Jackson, for now, looks to have the full autonomy Dolan promised.
Now onto Woodson…
Woodson had a roller coaster ride with the Knicks, experiencing plenty of highs, but also many lows. The highs came right off the bat, making Woodson popular amongst the Knicks and their fans. After getting off to a slow start in the lockout shortened 2011-2012 season, Woodson relieved Mike D’Antoni of his duties, and got the Knicks to finish the season strongly at 18-6. The goodwill was somewhat lost after the Miami Heat handled the Knicks relatively easily, disposing of them 4-1 in the playoffs that season.
But, Woodson had done enough to have the interim tag removed, as he became the head coach for the 2012-2013 season. Woodson and the Knicks then experienced their highest high under his tenure, finishing 54-28, and winning the Atlantic Division title. The Knicks then went on to win their first playoff series in what felt like forever, defeating the division rival Boston Celtics, effectively ending an era in Boston.
Woodson looked to have finally adapt to his surroundings. Knowing the Knicks had shooters at their disposal, he began using a small lineup, starting two point guards most of the season. The results were phenomenal, as the Knicks spread teams out and killed them from the perimeter, raining down three pointers and executing the pick-and-roll game to perfection. With the perimeter opening things up, the middle was wide open for Tyson Chandler to dive right to the basket for alley-oop dunks.
Then the low came along in the second round against the Indiana Pacers, as the Knicks pretty much abandoned what had gotten then to that point, the small ball lineup, in favor of a bigger lineup to try and contend with the Pacers inside. Woodson looked to have gotten nervous after a Game 1 loss, panicked and made the change that effectively ended the Knicks season. The results were ugly, as the Pacers knocked off the Knicks in six games, winning two of the four games by 11 points.
The highs were never again experienced with Woodson at the helm, as the 2013-2014 was as disappointing a season the Knicks had put together in some time. This was arguably worse than seasons under Larry Brown, Isaiah Thomas or D’Antoni. Unlike those teams, the Knicks team this season had expectations, a team that could make noise in the postseason after the successful run they had put together the previous season.
But the problems that Woodson showed in the playoff series against the Pacers in 2013, reared their ugly head throughout the 2013-2014 season. Armed with newly acquired big man Andrea Bargnani, Woodson was insistent on starting a ‘big’ lineup. He continued to play Bargnani alongside Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler in the starting lineup, even though the results were not positive, and sometimes down right ugly to watch.
The Knicks personnel changed quite drastically this season, as the wiley veterans and sharpshooters were gone. In their place, was much less experienced players, some of which could be argued should not have even been on the team in the first place, and no real three-point threats. The loss of players like Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby impaced the Knicks just as much, if not more, in the locker room and off the court as it did on it. The Knicks just did not have as good a roster as the previous season, and the results were a team that performed poorly.
Because of this, it is fair to ask if Woodson has unfairly been given the blame for this season. With a roster depleted of talent, and expectations set sky high by owner James Dolan at the start of the season, it was almost as if Woodson was set up to fail. The formula that had succeeded last season, placing shooters all over the court around Anthony, was replaced with higher price tags and more noticeable names.
It could also be argued that as the head coach, Woodson needs to make what is given to him work. This is true to an extent, as Woodson’s schemes did not fit the personnel he was given. His reluctance to trust younger and less known players also hurt, as the Knicks once again this season, much like last season with Chris Copeland, had players on the bench that performed when given the chance, but were never given real opportunities to play. This season those players were Toure’ Murry, a defensive ace in the making learning to play point guard, and former lottery pick Cole Aldrich. Whoever takes over the Knicks next will be sure to give those two long looks before the Knicks lose out on them in the offseason like they did with Copeland.
Woodson should be praised for some of his work though, as he did get enough out of J.R. Smith to make him Sixth Man of the Year in 2013. But then this season Smith’s play cratered, as he recovered from offseason knee surgery and was unable to get back into form quick enough to help the Knicks. He also got the high-profile players such as Anthony, Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire to buy in, resulting in the most successful season the Knicks had seen in over a decade.
In the end, Woodson’s message began getting stale with the players, as some started to become frustrated with the lack of changes being made when the going got tough. Throughout his career, Woodson has shown a reluctance, even stubbornness in some people’s eyes, to fully buy in and change his ways. The timing of the poor results could not have come at a worse time for Woodson either, as Jackson seems intent on bringing in his own guys and making this work. It may not have all been Woodson’s fault, but as the head coach some blame needs to be placed on him, and changes needed to be made. As a result, his job will be filled by another person in the coming weeks.