Knicks' Public Commitment to Mike Woodson Is Another Empty James Dolan Promise

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2013

Mike Woodson will collect a salary from the New York Knicks through the 2014-15 season, but that's about as much significance as anyone can reliably assign to owner James Dolan's decision to pick up his head coach's option.

Considering the value of many of Dolan's past promises, Woodson probably shouldn't feel any safer today than he did yesterday.

That's because everyone—and I mean everyone—views the move as something of an inevitable but ultimately meaningless PR decision by Dolan.


Meaningless, But Logical

It's certainly not the splashy headline-grabber folks might have expected now that reserved, circumspect general manager Glen Grunwald has been replaced by the slicker Steve Mills. But given the circumstances, it was the only logical play.

Dolan knew the Knicks were heading into media day with a lame-duck coach, which is never a good look to begin with and certainly not an ideal situation in advance of a make-or-break 2014 free-agent period. It's never too early to start making moves designed to present a stable, palatable destination for next summer's available talent.

Potential free agents are already looking for their next destination, so it makes sense for the Knicks to be doing the same.

In theory, Dolan's decision should have helped Woodson avoid tough questions during media day and throughout the season. Plus, it was designed to help clarify an otherwise hazy franchise future. Both of those are noble aims.

But given the rampant skepticism that accompanies every move Dolan orchestrates, the decision to pick up Woodson's 2014-15 option didn't do anything to calm nerves or limit speculation. Maybe it would have been different if Woodson had the championship resume of Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who signed an extension Sept. 29.

Since Woodson's track record is far spottier than Spoelstra's, the unavoidable storyline is that Dolan's promise means nothing.

(As an aside, Dolan is the one who made the decision on Woodson. Though Mills is technically the guy with power over personnel decisions, the ink isn't even dry on his own contract yet. That means Dolan had this in mind as a complementary move to swapping out Grunwald.)

Anyway, it's hard to argue that contracts—particularly those belonging to head coaches—have much significance under Dolan. The team has made buyouts and sloppy, ill-timed firings a major part of its recent legacy.

Don Chaney, Lenny Wilkins, Isaiah Thomas, Larry Brown—all big-name, big-money hires that collected checks from Dolan after he'd fired them. 


Dolan's Priorities

The pervasive view that Woodson's "security" is a mirage isn't based on Dolan's well-documented fickleness alone, though. The larger source of doubt is that the Knicks have made it abundantly clear where their allegiances lie.

As Bleacher Report's Howard Beck wrote in the aftermath of the Grunwald-Mills move:

But Thursday’s front-office shakeup is not really about Mills or Grunwald, the Knicks’ recent past or the season that will soon be underway. This is about Carmelo Anthony, next summer and the summer after that.

Dolan and the Knicks often seem clueless, but one thing they understand correctly is that the NBA is a player's league. That's why Mills is now the general manager; he has an in with Worldwide Wes, who, in turn, has the ears of many of the league's best players. The Knicks want to do everything they can to attract free agents, and giving off the appearance that the head coach is on firm footing is a key part of that effort.

In a roundabout way, the decision to pick up Woodson's option could have the effect of appeasing Anthony, who, according to Beck, wants better free-agent help in the near future.

Keep in mind, though, that 'Melo can exercise an early termination option in his contract in the summer of 2014. If one of his conditions for staying in New York is that Woodson leaves the Big Apple, the coach will be gone in a nanosecond. More than anything, that's the truism that has so many people scoffing at the significance of the team picking up the Woodson's option.

Oct 22, 2012; Syracuse, NY, USA; New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) talks with New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson during the third quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Carrier Dome.  Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Spo
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks are Anthony's team, and no amount of financial commitment to Woodson or anyone else is going to change that.


A Bigger Mistake?

When you think about it, it's actually kind of funny that Dolan's every move is criticized as ill-conceived or foolish, yet he never gets much flak for so obviously putting all of his faith in Anthony as the team's infallible leader.

Clearly, these latest moves have been designed to appease the franchise star. Dolan desperately hopes he's been pulling enough strings to get 'Melo to sign an extension in New York.

But Anthony will be 30 next summer, and barring a stunning turnaround, he'll head into the 2014 offseason with a resume missing any indicators that he's capable of leading his team to significant success. Sure, the scoring has been impressive, but Anthony has always been subject to criticism for his failure to elevate the play of his teammates.

Some of that has been unfair, but it's not a great sign that 'Melo is so adamant about not changing who he is.

There's something to be said for staying true to oneself, but statements like those tread awfully close to the line that separates confidence from blind stubbornness.

Objectively, Anthony was as responsible for the Knicks' playoff defeat last season as Woodson was. But nobody seems to be questioning the wisdom of the owner's commitment to his star player with the same thoroughness that his other decisions attract.

It's absolutely true that Dolan's public promise to Woodson is largely insignificant. But it was a move he probably had to make under the complicated circumstances in New York.

The bigger issue might be Dolan's decision to gear every franchise move around keeping 'Melo—a team cornerstone who hasn't won anything and has explicitly said he's not going to change—happy.