Of all the New York Knicks' 19 losses, their 123-94 defeat at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder on Christmas Day might have been the least dramatic. The Knicks suffer defeat on another buzzer-beater or foul on a buzzer-beater. They didn't blow another two-for-one or forget to use a critical timeout.
Instead, perhaps the best team in the NBA simply picked the Knicks apart. Considering the fact that New York was missing its best player, Carmelo Anthony, the outcome was never in doubt, even before the tip.
But the Knicks, being the Knicks, couldn't simply depart Madison Square Garden without a whiff of controversy. So point guard Beno Udrih sat down in front of reporters after the game and vented all of his frustrations, particularly toward Knicks head coach Mike Woodson.
Per NorthJersey.com's Steve Popper:
Beno doesn't sound thrilled with absorbing blame from Woodson: "Don't just be a coach, be a person."— Steve Popper (@StevePopper) December 25, 2013
More unhappy Beno: "You can point fingers at me as much as you can ,but if things don't work it's not one person's fault."— Steve Popper (@StevePopper) December 25, 2013
Beno again: Sometimes I have a feeling ilke when I do a mistake they have a feeling that I'm making the mistake on purpose.— Steve Popper (@StevePopper) December 25, 2013
To be fair, Udrih didn't only complain about Woodson. He also sounded off on the Christmas uniforms:
Udrih: "Personally [the short-sleeved jersey] bothered me & my shot. On a normal shot Im used 2 getting my shoulder & elbow up [unhindered]"— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 26, 2013
So perhaps he was just in a bad mood following the 29-point loss. Opposing point guard Russell Westbrook torched the Knicks for a triple-double: 14 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.
But Udrih's comments were the harshest indictment of the embattled Knicks coach yet to be made public. Is this merely a case of a single aggrieved player venting his frustration, or is it the first real indication that Woodson has lost the Knicks locker room?
The Wrong Scapegoat
According to the Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring, many of Udrih's problems with Woodson stem from a December 16 loss to the Washington Wizards:
In that game, the Knicks blew a chance at a victory in the final minute. With the game tied at 100, the Knicks botched a chance to go two-for-one, but the Wizards bailed out the Knicks when they fouled Udrih. Udrih made only one of the two free throws, giving the Knicks a 101-100 lead. On the other end, Udrih failed to stop a drive from Washington's Bradley Beal, who drove in for an easy layup to give Washington the lead.
With six seconds left and three timeouts, the Knicks simply walked the ball up the court and heaved the ball at the rim, seemingly without any sense of purpose. Clearly, the loss was an indictment of Woodson's inability to manage the clock, his defense and his timeouts.
Instead, Udrih believes the team has made him the scapegoat for that late-game failure. Now, that is only the word of one player, but if true, it is patently unfair. Starting point guard Raymond Felton sat out of that game with an injury, and backup Pablo Prigioni broke his foot early in the second quarter.
Down to his third-string guard, Woodson rode Udrih relentlessly—the 31-year-old backup played the final 21:49 of the game without a break. The Knicks had another point guard on the active roster in rookie Toure' Murry, but he did not see a single minute of action in the game. The fact that the Knicks ended the game with three timeouts speaks to the fact that Woodson wasn't the least bit concerned with resting his overworked point guard in the game.
This kind of tension between player and coach speaks to a larger problem with the 2013-14 Knicks. Udrih has not been particularly good this season, but he isn't the reason the Knicks are 9-19. He probably isn't even among the top 10 reasons the Knicks are 9-19.
Udrih signed with New York expecting to be the third-string point guard. In fact, much of his rationale for signing was to play off the ball in the two-point-guard lineups the Knicks employed in 2012-13.
Udrih, who was sold on NY as a free agent w idea that he'd be used in 2PG lineups: "Even when [Felton] was healthy, we weren't using them."— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 25, 2013
And he's right; Woodson has all but turned away from the two-point-guard backcourts in favor of his beloved "big" lineups. Udrih has played just 11 minutes this season with either Prigioni or Felton, per NBA.com (subscription required). Udrih came to New York based on a promise that has gone unfulfilled, and now he feels he has become the target of his coach's scorn.
If Woodson wants to pinpoint a more pressing concern, perhaps he should take a look at his first-string point guard. Felton has been injured most of this year—missing 11 of the team's 28 games—and has been practically useless when he has been on the court.
Check out the stats for Felton and Udrih coming into Wednesday:
|G||MP||FG%||3P%||AST%||Offensive Win Shares||WS/48|
But that doesn't seem to be how things play out in Mike Woodson's coaching world.
The One Player Woodson Cannot Cross
It appears Woodson is becoming adept at passing blame onto the right people. In November, Marc Berman of the New York Post reported that guard Iman Shumpert was the target of scorn both for Woodson and the Knicks' front office. If your job is in jeopardy, it makes sense to direct your rage at someone already disliked by your bosses.
Now, it seems some of that wrath is being directed at Udrih, a player who matters little (if at all) in the Knicks' long-term plans.
But there is one player whom Woodson cannot afford to lose: star forward Carmelo Anthony.
While there aren't any overt signs of friction between Melo and Woodson, there have been indications the two don't always agree.
After the Knicks nearly blew a lead to an undermanned Chicago Bulls team on December 12, Anthony and Woodson clearly disagreed about how to run their late-game offense. Woodson was content simply to continually dump the ball off to Anthony:
Woodson, on the late-game shots: "I'll take a shot from Melo all day long [in that situation]." Says some of those iso plays were designed.— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 12, 2013
While Melo was in favor of more ball movement:
Melo, on the late-game isolations: "Guys are kinda waiting around for me to do something. ... We've gotta get away from that. And we will."— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 12, 2013
The Knicks are one of the few teams whose star scorer believes he should have the ball less than his coach wants.
Anthony was also a bit terse after the Washington loss when discussing blame for the timeout fiasco.
Melo, on Woody taking the blame for not calling timeout: "If he says it's his fault, it's his fault." Says tm shouldve known situation, too— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) December 17, 2013
But he hasn't come out publicly and called for Woodson's firing. Given the pull Anthony has within the New York organization, especially with his impending free agency, Woodson wouldn't last 15 minutes if Melo wanted him gone.
Until that time, however, Woodson may continue to blame the likes of Udrih—and the Knicks will continue to lose.