The Case Against Mike Woodson

This is my 25th season watching the Knicks. In all that time, there’s only one person I ever wanted fired.

The fact that Isiah Thomas lost most of his games while running/coaching the Knicks hardly makes him unique. Nor does it make someone fire-able. Some of the most satisfying games I’ve seen the Knicks play—not aesthetically, but from an effort standpoint—were some of the Don Chaney teams. These were the days of Shandon Anderson and Howard Eisley’s absurd contracts, days when Clarence Weatherspoon was a rotation regular. Those teams were not built to contend. They were structurally flawed. But they gave everything they had. More often than not, they lost not because they lost, but because the other team won. There’s a difference.

Isiah’s perennial personnel phollies (sorry, but I really like alliteration) weren’t exceptional, either. The Knicks haven’t had good point guard play for at least a quarter century, despite having drafted Mark Jackson AND Rod Strickland in the late 80s. They turned the former into Charles Smith, Bo Kimble, and (old) Doc Rivers, and the latter into (really old) Maurice Cheeks. Pat Riley oversaw the decision to let Xavier McDaniel walk away after terrorizing Scottie Pippen in ’92, because it was determined that Charles Smith was the answer (we know how that turned out).

No, what made me desperate for Isiah’s firing was the way the failures reflected the man. This was someone who said playing at MSG was a disadvantage for the Knicks because New Yorkers rooted for star players on the other team (tell that to the 1990s). Someone who said he should be considered on the same level as Riley and Jeff Van Gundy because none of them won titles in NY. Someone who, a month into Channing Frye’s rookie season, told the press if the Knicks had the #1 pick in the prior draft, they would’ve taken Frye that high anyway. A year later, Frye was traded.

Isiah’s post-playing career is a metaphorical Hindenburg disaster. Every thing he’s tried his hand at has been a failure of mammoth scale. He was a liar and a bullshit artist. You can get away with that for a while. When you run the (at the time) only basketball show in a town with 3 major newspapers and a 24/7 sports cycle, you can’t.
To this day, Isiah insists he left the Knicks in good shape, proving you don’t have to be crazy to work for Jim Dolan…but it helps.

Which leads us to Woody.

I have never been a fan of Mike Woodson. I didn’t find his Atlanta teams to be inspirational. I was turned off by him firing his longtime agent in order to get the Knicks job, simply because Dolan had beef with the agent. I think it’s typical Dolan bullshit to hire Woodson as Mike D’Antoni’s "defensive coordinator," and yet ever since Woody took over the Knicks have hardly excelled defensively, and Woodson could use a coordinator or two to help out, too.

Going back to his time with the Hawks, Woodson’s m.o. has been iso/iso/iso on offense and switch/switch/switch on defense. In a league where teams play about half their games against lottery-bound teams, if you have enough talent, this will work for a while. Young Joe Johnson and current Carmelo are good enough, for the most part, to play this way; young Josh Smith and current Tyson Chandler are defensive elites who anchor a team’s D.

The problem is once you reach the 2nd round of the playoffs or further, you’re dealing with quality teams that are going to make adjustments. Woodson’s teams have never advanced past the 2nd round. That’s not a coincidence. Iso-ball isn’t going to cut it against Indiana or Chicago or Miami. All those coaches and teams make adjustments. The Knicks don’t. If you watch the team this year, it seems like Andrea Bargnani must be a point guard, for all the time he spends switched on the opposition PG.

D’Antoni got a lot of criticism for being a "system" coach, a gimmick coach, whose flaws were exposed by virtue of the fact that his PHX teams never got past the conference finals. Woodson, remember, has never even been that far.

It’s hard to say I support firing Mike Woodson. Not because I think he should stay. But because, as with everything with the Knicks, what does it matter who the figurehead is if the power behind the throne is insane?

Woody’s handling of JR Smith alone seems fire-able. The past 2 games, Tim Hardaway Jr. has clearly outplayed Smith. Yet Smith is in there, at the end, firing away madly like he’s one of the dudes from Contra. You could point to Woody’s weird obsession with JR (and Chris) Smith as cause for dismissal. But we know where those orders come from. Up above. If Woody’s gone tomorrow, Dolan’s just going to bring in someone else more concerned with cashing their check than winning games.

That’s really the heart of the Knicks’ cultural malaise. No one, perhaps other than Metta World Peace, is there because they want to be. No one important. They’re there because of the money. Melo could have waited a few months to sign as a free agent and not cost them half their roster. But he had to get every last penny he could under the old CBA—which is his right. Just remember that when he starts making noise in a few months about needing to see signs the Knicks are committed to winning.

STAT is here instead of PHX because the Suns offered 3 yrs/$60M and the Knicks offered 5 yrs/$100M.

Chandler is here ‘cuz the Knicks paid him more than anyone else was offering.

Woodson is here ‘cuz Dolan said "Jump" and Woody landed on his agent’s back.

(Just as a point of contrast: teams like Miami and San Antonio have players who have taken less than the last dollar possible to help their team’s flexibility. The next Knick to do that will be the first.)

I think Woodson needs to go. I think whoever they replace him with will be another yes-man. I think whoever they replace him with will kowtow to Melo, because I think Dolan cares more about Melo than the coach. Hell, Dolan cares more about the Smith boys than the coach…because Dolan cares more about CAA than anything else.

I think Woodson needs to go because he has no answers.

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