Mike Woodson is gone. His whole staff, too. Let's talk.
1. Someone just asked me how I felt about all this, and...I don't know, I don't FEEL much, at least compared to previous firings. For the first time in a while, the Knicks made an obvious move in an obvious manner. The last few departures-- Grunwald, D'Antoni, Walsh, even Isiah to an extent-- took place out of the blue. So while I feel happy that the guy who did a bad job coaching my favorite team got fired, I don't FEEL the way I FELT about previous comparable moves. Those were seismic events. This was just me thumbing through Twitter while my dog ate her breakfast, catching sight of a Knicks tweet, and saying "well, you're gonna have to hold your poop in for a minute while I blog, Trudy." She did. Good dog.
2. I think of Woodson's coaching tenure-- 2.halfalockout seasons-- as colored by compromise, both progressive and detrimental. Mike D'Antoni had long resisted the help of a "defensive assistant," but he compromised when the Knicks insisted (that he hire a guy without a particularly solid defensive track record). Woodson's move from interim to full-time head coach included the dismissal of his long-time agent to satisfy one of James Dolan's many beeves. The ensuing season, the Knicks' best in over 15 years, constituted a near-complete subversion of Woodson's values, or at least of his reputation. I wrote about this at the end of last year, and my understanding of the situation hasn't changed: I don't think Woodson was ever really comfortable with the small, two-point-guard, Melo-with-three-shooters lineups that produced an elite offense, the most three-pointers in NBA history, and a bizarre defense predicated entirely on limiting, not contesting opponent shot attempts. Injuries forced Woodson to compromise his preferred setup for the team, then instant success forced him to compromise it further. I feel comfortable stating this after Woodson murmured about big lineups throughout the Knicks' excellent 2012-2013 season, then reverted to those big lineups in the middle of the Indiana playoff series, then punted most opportunities to mimic last year's success with much of last year's roster sticking around for this season. This year was like a reverse compromise. Obstinance in the face of positive results.
So, on one hand, I was never totally comfortable with Woodson's grasp on New York's best, strangest season in a long time, and I don't think he was either. He was still the coach for all that, though, and I hope we remember Woodson's first full season fondly. However uneasy he may have felt inside, Woodson shone in his role as innovative tactician and zany dresser. He was, for a time, Cool Woody, and Cool Woody was fun as hell and crazy good at what he did. I miss you, Cool Woody.
And I will not miss you at all, 2013-2014 Woody. I've come to understand how this team was worse built than last year's team, but I still believe they could have made the playoffs with even basically logical coaching. Shit, even just a couple seconds of decent clock management or a few more minutes playing clearly superior lineups could have made that difference. This season was terribly coached.
3. These are the Knicks, and this was never just about Mike Woodson. I think enough of last year's roster remained to play effective smallball again, but the Knicks complicated things by tossing Andrea Bargnani unnecessarily into the mix. During the season, the front office surely applied some pressure to play certain guys over other guys. They publicly messed with Woodson's job security, too. Those constant leaks of "if they don't win X game, Woodson could be fired" and James Dolan addressing the team (and a crowd full of concert-goers) early in the year couldn't have helped. Woodson was in a rough situation, as most coaches before him have been. That said, he seemed more comfortable with this season's rough situation than last season's success.
4. And on that note: I recommend Jared Dubin's well-curated timeline of Woodsonisms from this past season. The man had a gift for burping out lies and illogic and making it sound like WE were the inept ones. And a puzzle with so many pieces. And again, no time to sit here or kick people to the curb.
5. Do the Phil Jackson Knicks make moves at 10 AM on Monday mornings? Because if there is an official shift from 5:30 PM on Friday to 10 AM on Mondays, Jackson already has the support of everyone who writes about the Knicks.
6. Woodson has already spoken a tiny bit. I really wish him the best in the future. He could help someone somewhere.
7. Oddly, I feel the most feelings about Woodson's whole staff getting canned. First, I'm not sure who exactly that includes. I assume the extra guys who weren't officially assistant coaches like Jerry Dunn and LaSalle Thompson are gone, but what about, say, Dave Hopla? (Update: Newsday says Hopla and all those consultant guys were fired.) Second: Woodson's staff didn't include any big names or up-and-comers, but it did include Herb Williams and Jim Todd, and those guys deserve a proper farewell.
Assuming Herb won't be back in some capacity: HOLY SHIT what a run. On a team with as much upheaval as any business anywhere on Earth, Williams played two stints with the Knicks, then stayed on the coaching staff for ELEVEN years. He outlived Chaney, Wilkens, Brown, Thomas, and D'Antoni, even getting some head coaching experience in the cracks. While I don't doubt Herb's acumen as a coach, I've always assumed he survived because he'd seen so much of the Knicks' slimy inner workings that the organization felt it better to keep him in the fold and quiet than free and open. Whatever the case, Herb's long tenure on the tumultuous Knicks staff is a marvel. A miracle. It's like the story of Hanukkah. Or one of those weird sea creatures that survives in the extreme temperatures of a volcanic vent. He'll probably be back somehow. Update: HAAAAAAAAA!!!!
And for Coach Todd:
listen philip. listen. i understand. you had to fire me phyllis. it wasn't you it was me. i mean it. it's my fault because i've been spraying my whole body with elk pheromones. i got them on the internet. do you know about internet. it's like a lunch menu but it lights up and it has black market chemicals instead of food. filbert listen. i got the elk sex chemicals off my internet and i sprayed them in my hair and on my face and under my armpits. they make me more intimidating. i think i used too much. when we met and you shook my hand i could see that you had to submit and be the beta male. it's not you. it's the sexy elk musk. i used too much and you got scared and the only thing you could do was fire me. it's my fault. i'll clean out my office but i'm going to leave the file cabinet full of landmines there in case the next guy needs them. you can't be too careful around these rats.
But for real, Todd seems like a really cool guy, he gave great and illuminating interviews to Jonah Ballow and Tina Cervasio, and I'll miss him and his wonderful Boston accent almost as much as I'll miss pretending he's a paranoid, blithely violent coot. Farewell to Darrell Walker and whoever else is out the door, too.
Now what? Will Jackson hire Steve Kerr without hesitation? All the rumors leading up to this point suggest that possibility. Or will there be a coaching search? Who will be the candidates? Will Jackson look outside of just guys he knows and has worked with? How about the front office? What's to change there? There is much to be done. This was an obvious first step.