Last Updated: 10:08 AM, April 13, 2012
Posted: 12:35 AM, April 13, 2012
Mike Woodson hasn’t lost at the Garden as Knicks interim head coach. He takes an 8-0 Garden clip into Friday night’s game against Washington and figures to go to 9-0 against the weak Wizards.
It has been a sweet 16 games for Woodson in his month on the job. The cheering and winning hasn’t stopped at the Garden since his debut versus Portland on March 14, hours after Mike D’Antoni resigned. The Knicks blew out Portland that night by 41 points. Many attributed it to the Blazers having quit on their coach Nate McMillan, who was fired the next day.
The nitpicking has ceased, but Woodson’s success is starting to be taken for granted. Since 2000-01, 47 times there has been an in-season coaching change and only nine of those teams made the playoffs (a 19-percent success rate). The groundswell for a Woodson return should be greater, even if it means forgoing a sexy hire like John Calipari, Phil Jackson or even Doc Rivers.
Woodson is acing this audition on every level and his 12-4 record — as Carmelo Anthony said the other morning in Chicago — “speaks for itself.’’
The winning has continued despite prolonged injuries to two starters — point guard Jeremy Lin and power forward Amar’e Stoudemire. One thing that marked the D’Antoni era was excuses, and there’s none of that with Woodson, doing all this without a healthy point guard.
“Maybe I scared them into playing defense more,’’ Woodson said of his success.
Now that the Knicks are probable playoff entrants after their big victory in Milwaukee on Wednesday, now that he has Anthony in his corner and has J.R. Smith’s back, now that he has the Knicks playing Red Holzman-style defense, bringing back Woodson for next season increasingly looks like a “if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it’’ move.
Under Woodson, opponents are shooting 42.4 percent, averaging just 90 points.
“Woodson is old-school 1980’s basketball,’’ said a person connected to the coaching staff. “Players respect that.’’
Calipari, who some NBA executives believe will become a viable candidate, does not have that cache with NBA players. Calipari could stand as a risk, considering his NBA flop with the Nets and theatrical coaching style that his former Kentucky player, Knicks rookie Josh Harrellson, admitted might be too much for the league. Calipari probably would adjust, but why take a $7 million-per-year gamble that his college methods will work instantaneously in the NBA’s. There are indications he is not high on the Knicks’ list.
Anthony doesn’t know Calipari well, despite both being affiliated with super agency C.A.A., which has influence on owner James Dolan and his lieutenants. Let another NBA team take a risk on Calipari’s NBA adjustment— not a fragile franchise like the Knicks built to win this moment before Stoudemire’s back explodes.
After all the roster turnover of the past four seasons, the Knicks don’t need such wrenching change again this summer. And certainly they don’t need more publicity, not with Linsanity likely to return next season.
If it means passing on Jackson, that won’t be easy. Dolan put on a full-court press on Jackson back in 2005 with Isiah Thomas as front man. Jackson has gotten more set in his ways since. The alchemy of his free-speech, renegade nature mixing with the strict media policy of the Garden corporation could become toxic. It could blow up in the same way the Larry Brown experiment blew up. If Dolan was different, more flexible, the Knicks should go all in on the Zen Master, who has interest and watches Knicks games. But Dolan will never change.
Woodson is a company man to the hilt. When he was defensive coach for D’Antoni, the organization told him not to speak to the team beat writers. He abided by the rule — though made one exception for a feature story on former Indiana teammate and interim GM Glen Grunwald.
Keeping a tag team of Woodson and general manager Glen Grunwald would keep stability and avoid any potential GM-coach feud. Grunwald has his “interim’’ title attached and has made a series of jackpot moves since December. Obtaining waiver-wire cuts Lin and Steve Novak has been blissful and the daring maneuver to add defensive-player of the year candidate Tyson Chandler and sacrificing out-for-the-year Chauncey Billups became genius.
“Woodson and Glen are on the same page — in a big way,’’ a person connected to the coaching staff said.
This was no easy assignment as Woodson stepped in with the Knicks at 18-24 amid big expectations from ownership and a speedball offensive system that fit some guys well and other guys — namely Anthony, creaky Baron Davis and Smith — not so well.
The shift in offensive philosophy has been slow, but definite. The transformation sped up without Lin as a penetrating point guard spreading the wealth. Woodson’s Knicks look to run, but at crunch time it’s all isolation and getting Anthony and shooter Smith shots at the expense of ball movement.
Woodson came into the NBA as a Knick in 1980 with Holzman. He should stay a Knick next season. The karma is all in place.
Woodson said last week he “respects Mike’s offense’’ but tweaking was needed, especially to make Anthony happy. Woodson has done that and is in the process of turning the volatile Smith into a pro’s pro.
“Having people around you who want you to do good and prosper is the best thing about this game,’’ Smith said about Woodson.
There was loud, celebratory noise bursting through the door of the Knicks locker room late Wednesday night moments after moving two games up on the ninth-place Bucks. There is no mutiny here or reason to believe the Knicks won’t give Chicago a great fight in the first round.
Woodson came into the NBA as a Knick in 1981 with Holzman. He should stay a Knick next season. The karma is all in place.