Mike Woodson's seat is getting warmer, warmer and warmer still.
Now it's on fire.
The New York Knicks coach has guided his team to a 6-15 start one season after leading them to 54 victories. Excessive losing, like it always does, has brought speculation. Depending on the day, Woodson is either finished or completely safe. These days, he's mostly finished.
ESPN's Marc Stein has even reported that Woodson's departure is inevitable, noting owner James Dolan's thirst for sideline star power will cost the coach his job at some point:
My sense from the latest coaching scuttle is that Woodson, even if he survives the crisis at hand, is only going to last until Dolan can find a bigger, splashier name to take over. The belief here is that the Knicks’ impresario, given his lack of draft and trade assets to make impactful changes to the talent, ultimately wants a superstar coach as much as he wants to re-sign Melo come July. Which is where Thibodeau comes in.
Correct, the Knicks are inclined to pursue Tom Thibodeau, who is still under contract with the Chicago Bulls.
Good news, though? That means Woodson could be given the entire year to right this ship. Bad news? We know the Knicks better than that.
Like an NBA star who just rolled his ankle, Woodson's job status should be considered day-to-day. If New York's season continues to run astray, it's not a matter of if he'll be discharged. It's a matter of when.
*All stats were compiled courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.
Yes, it could happen that soon.
Admit it, some of you were shocked when he wasn't fired after the Boston Celtics' 41-point drubbing of the Knicks.
It was the third-most lopsided home loss in Knicks franchise history and it came against the tanking, yet Atlantic Division-leading, Celtics. Causes to can Woodson couldn't be hard to find after that, even if the Knicks won their previous two games.
No matter, that Cleveland Cavaliers game would do him in.
Oh, it didn't? After the Knicks lost by 15? A mere two days after they were pummeled by the Celtics? Weird. The Knicks should've come out guns blazing in Cleveland, eager to distance themselves from that Boston disaster. They came out lethargic instead, allowing Kyrie Irving to do anything he wanted.
If the Knicks drop another game to the Celtics or come out uninspired as opposed to seeking revenge, Woodson is gone. The Knicks cannot lose twice to this Celtics team. They lead the Atlantic Division, but on paper, they're a shell of the contingent they were last season. And they're still a rival.
Failure to exact retribution on the team that gave them a "good old-fashioned ass whupping" the first time around will result in Woodson being dismissed.
There's no telling what the Knicks' record will be heading into this one. Following their second date against the Celtics, they face the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards at home before traveling to meet the docile Milwaukee Bucks.
One Eastern Conference team is in worse shape than the Knicks. Guess which one it is? Nope, not Brooklyn. Try again. Correct, it's Milwaukee.
The Bucks have the worst record in the Eastern Conference, but are currently trailing the Knicks by just 1.5 games in the standings.
Had I told all of you the Knicks would be just 1.5 games ahead of last place in the East 21 contests into this season, what would you have said to me?
"You're a fool." "Off with his head." "Who soaked this guy's pajamas in spoiled mayonnaise?"
Against all odds, logic and luxury-tax expenditures, that's where the Knicks are right now. Second-to-last place. Picture them losing to the only team struggling more than they are. Dolan would be irate. Chairs would be thrown out of his office window. Dancing would be outlawed in the city of New York.
People would lose their jobs—Woodson would lose his job.
New York has to beat Milwaukee. The Bucks are the only outfit standing between the Knicks and rock bottom. Losing to them only proves Orange and Blue is hopeless.
Losing to them only sets Woodson's seat on fire before Dolan tosses that one out a window too.
Dolan wouldn't. He couldn't.
But he just might.
In true Grinch-like fashion, Dolan could swing his ax following a potential loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Christmas Day. Doesn't matter that, barring any significant injuries to Kevin Durant, the Knicks won't be favored. Or that the Thunder are worlds better than the Knicks right now.
Losing in front of the home crowd would ruin the spirit of Christmas, sending fans and potentially Dolan into a fit of rage.
It's also worth noting that Oklahoma City, as of now, is the Knicks' next opponent with a record north of .500. Woodson's group is 0-6 against teams that currently have a winning record. Dropping another one could spell doom for Woody.
This is, admittedly, one of those games you could see New York losing. The Thunder presently rank in the top eight of both offensive and defensive efficiency and are tied for the second-best record in the uber-ridiculous Western Conference. The way they're playing now, the Knicks shouldn't stand a chance.
Smelling of eggnog, Dolan could see a loss differently.
New York has been terrible at home. Its 3-8 start on friendly turf is the NBA's third worst behind only the Bucks (2-9) and Utah Jazz (3-9).
Should the Knicks be run off their home court again, Woodson will awake to ringing late Christmas night. The source of such noise won't be sleigh bells—it will be his phone. On the other end will be Dolan, who won't have called bearing Christmas cheer.
Bring on 2014...with a new head coach.
That could be New York's motto after a loss to close out 2013 against the Toronto Raptors.
Looking past the fact that Toronto is clearly tanking, this could be one of those "clean start" losses.
Say the Knicks were to win every game before this one. They would still be one game under .500. Couldn't you see Dolan looking at a 14-15 record, ignoring an improbable nine-game winning streak and canning Woodson to start the New Year? Even a little bit?
Anyone who has watched these Knicks knows they're not going to win the next eight games. Their defense ranks 27th and their offense is equally rotten when Pablo Prigioni isn't on the floor, so that won't be the situation.
But they are guaranteed to have a losing record. That matters. For a team approaching $90 million in payroll and paying enough luxury tax to fund nearly two "Come Home, LeBron" campaigns, that matters.
The Knicks were supposed to contend, even with a healthy Derrick Rose and re-tooled(/successful) Brooklyn Nets rising from the Eastern Conference ash. Heading into 2014 with a losing record won't sit well with anyone—especially Dolan.
Even if the Knicks are back in the playoff hunt and sitting atop the Atlantic Division (possible), Dolan will have a bad enough taste in his mouth, potentially compelling him to show Woodson the door without so much as a "Happy New Year" or obligatory foiled horn.
Look to this game as a season-defining performance if Woodson is still around and the Knicks haven't suddenly transformed into a juggernaut.
Coach Woody has already blamed the Knicks' struggles on Chandler's absence, along with player minutes restrictions, according to the New York Post's Marc Berman.
"We got to get our core guys back," Woodson said. "We got to get Tyson back and we got to see what our team really is about."
Once Chandler comes back, the Knicks won't be given a lot of time.
If he is in fact the missing link, things should just come together. And if he returns before New Year's, this gives the Knicks at least a week to save face. Fall to the Detroit Pistons (again), provided they haven't already turned things around, and the Knicks will have failed. Miserably.
What better time to make a change than after Woodson is out of excuses?
What better way to make a statement than by dismissing your embattled head coach just before your first game against the Miami Heat?
I may have missed something here.
In fact, I probably did. Dolan is that mercurial an owner and the Knicks that unpredictable a franchise.
Woodson could be fired on a moment's notice, after a bad loss or convincing win. Doesn't matter. This is the same team that terminated general manager Glen Grunwald this October because he wasn't a forward thinker, even though he pieced together a roster that won 54 games last season on a beggar's dime.
Pinpointing the exact date or circumstances under which Woodson would be sent packing, then, is difficult. In New York, no day, time or situation is off limits.
But if we're being completely honest, Woodson is in imminent trouble. The Knicks are still nine games under .500, associating themselves with tankers. Dolan, along with New York's fanbase, won't stand for this much longer.
Right or wrong, Woodson will become a scapegoat if conditions don't improve. If and when the time comes, the Knicks will cite a difference of philosophies or subpar rotations as the reason. Really, we know they'll just need a patsy for their recent transgressions.
The fall guy is named Woodson, who won't make it another 15 games if the Knicks don't turn things around.