Mike Woodson's Hot Seat Approaching Boiling Point

David Murphy@@davem234Featured ColumnistDecember 25, 2013

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The Mike Woodson watch has reached critical mass. Each day brings more headlines, more explanations and more finger-pointing.

According to Ian Begley of ESPN New York, Woodson’s tenure is growing ever more tenuous. Despite Knicks owner James Dolan giving Woodson a vote of confidence Nov. 22, Woodson's job has been in jeopardy.

Begley wrote, "A source with knowledge of the team's thinking told ESPNNewYork.com earlier this month that Woodson is being evaluated on a 'game-by-game basis' by upper management."

How has Woodson done since his vote of confidence? Terribly, leading the Knicks to a 6-11 record, including a 29-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Christmas Day. If Dolan and co. have been evaluating Woodson since then—and he clearly wasn't in a secure position at the time—his seat must be very hot now.

It’s hard to see how this can end well for the embattled New York Knicks head coach. Woodson has been dealing with losses and injuries in New York and trying to balance a roster that seems truly unbalanced at times. He even tried instating a team curfew last Friday night before a big game the next day. It didn't work so well:

Speaking recently with Stephen A. Smith on ESPN 98.7 radio, Woodson was still concentrating on the job at hand, not the hot seat:

Don't expect me to comment on that. That's not where my mind is because I have absolutely no control over that. What I can try to control is getting guys to play hard, play together and doing everything they can to get us out of this funk we're in.

Regardless, the flames have been closing in all around. Michael Powell of the New York Times recently wrote about Woodson going to the well continually:

Woodson has tried every manner of cure. Of late, he has played his best player, Anthony, more or less all the time. Anthony put in 55 minutes during an endless double-overtime affair in Milwaukee and another 41 minutes Saturday.

Tyson Chandler, the bearded soul of this team, sat out many weeks with a broken leg. Then Woodson played him 37 minutes in his debut in Milwaukee and another 33 minutes Saturday. ...

It’s hard to argue that Woodson should do without his two best players, as his job is on the line. But an N.B.A. season is a slog. Right now, Woodson calls to mind a Pony Express rider who has taken on too much debt. He is determined to flog his best horses until they expire.

For Monday night's game against the Orlando Magic, Woodson went with the same horses, as well as Raymond Felton, who missed the previous six games with a hamstring injury.

For at least one night, it seemed to be working—kind of. The Knicks were up by 20 in the third quarter when Melo went out with a rolled ankle. New York managed to hang on for the win, 103-98.

According to Dick Scanlon of NBA.com, after the game Woodson said, "All teams make runs and they made a [heck of a] run, but I applaud our team because we withstood the run. We made plays. It was a total team effort. After losing two starters, I applaud our guys."

Critics forgot about the hot seat for the moment—just another game and, this time, a welcome win.

Then came Christmas Day.

Melo's ankle kept him out of action as the Knicks hosted the Thunder. The result? OKC won, 123-94. 

Nobody really expected the Knicks to beat the Thunder, especially with Anthony out of action. Still, the crowd at Madison Square Garden wasn't in a particularly joyous mood.

Per Steve Popper of the Associated Press for NorthJersey.com:

Anthony at least was spared the wrath of the crowd as chants erupted of, “Fire Woodson,” for Knicks coach Mike Woodson, “Fire Dolan” directed at Garden Chairman James Dolan, who was not here to hear it, and just plain boos for (J.R.) Smith and whoever else was worth singling out.

After Mike D'Antoni flamed out for the Knicks, Woodson was there to pick up the pieces as an interim head coach—the most transient of all coaching jobs. He made it to the playoffs that season and the one after, and now he’s got to be wondering if he’ll be looking for yet another job in basketball. Is there any way to turn this thing around?

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 25: Iman Shumpert #21 of the New York Knicks talks with head coach Mike Woodson during a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Madison Square Garden on December 25, 2013 in New York City. The Thunder defeated the Knicks 123-94.
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Sure, the Knicks could go on a win streak to end all streaks. Wins equal continuity and confidence, pure and simple. Given all the injuries and the lack of unity and purpose, though, this is the longest of long shots.

For all of the noise and the calls for Mike Woodson’s head, his situation isn't unique. There are only three head coaches in the NBA who've been with their current teams for five years or more—Gregg Popovich, Rick Carlisle and Erik Spoelstra. There were 13 head coaching changes in the offseason, and there will be more before this season ends.

Every coach is on the hot seat these days, so Woodson won’t get the benefit of the doubt. He may have improved on D'Antoni's tenure, but he can't be excused for the Knicks' current woes. It wouldn't be a surprise if the team fired him tomorrow.

That wouldn't solve the Knicks' problems, though. Woodson isn't to blame for injuries, and he's not the one who's shaped the roster. And he probably won't be the reason why Carmelo Anthony decides to stay or go.

Then again, Mike Woodson will probably be long gone by the time Melo makes up his mind. The Knicks coach is on the hot seat, and he'll wind up taking the fall because it's the easiest and quickest way to appease all the clamor and fuss. And then the attention will turn to someone else.