Even an expert panel of physicians would have a hard time pinpointing precisely what it is that’s ailing the New York Knicks, although malaise, schizophrenia and acute incontinence would probably be right there at the top of the list.
Two things they might all agree on, however, are as follows.
First: The Knicks are desperately in need of a shock to the system.
And second: The easiest, cheapest and most effective means of accomplishing said shock can be summed up in four simple words.
Let Mike Woodson go.
It’s not that Woodson has done or said anything in particular that can be construed as an eminently fireable offense—no serious player-coach blowout; no line-crossing criticism of ownership; no intimations to the effect that he’s somehow given up.
Rather, this season has proven that Woodson simply isn’t equipped to take this group of players, in this city, with this owner overhead, and effectively lead them where they need to go.
Most any Knicks fan would agree that the odds of Woodson remaining at the reins into next season are razor-thin. So why wait? Save for some twisted notion of convenience or protocol, what could possibly be the holdup?
Shots and Barbs
Following the team’s crippling 101-98 Monday night loss to the cellar-dwelling Milwaukee Bucks, Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire had this to say about his so-called “minutes restriction,” per ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk:
"From a doctor’s standpoint, there hasn’t been limitations since the first week of the season," Stoudemire said when asked if he wanted to throw out any minutes limitations in an effort to help the New York Knicks make the playoffs. "So we can’t keep saying limitations -- that’s a coach’s decision at the end of the day.
"I feel great," he continued. "I am ready to play. But it’s up to him if he wants to play me or not."
It might seem like an innocent-enough observation in isolation—a proud player expounding on what he takes to be the state of his own health and well-being.
The problem is these sorts of comments have been bandied about on a seemingly weekly basis, more often than not by veteran players you’d think would be placing a premium on silence and solidarity.
Take Metta World Peace, whose recent return from a series of blood-spinning procedures (according to the New York Post's Marc Berman) has found the mercurial forward on the rotational outside looking in.
Following Woodson’s decision to play him only after the fate of the Knicks—down big at home against the Miami Heat this past Saturday—had long been decided, World Peace’s brother, Daniel Artest, took the opportunity to sound off on New York's embattled skipper.
While Artest has since deleted his tweets, the website KnicksBreakdown.com managed to take screenshots of the barbs in question, which can be viewed here.
According to a team source, Woodson recently confronted Chandler about comments the veteran center made that could be interpreted as undermining the coach’s authority. It is unclear when that conversation took place, but it could have happened last week following a loss to the Indiana Pacers, when Chandler said 'we didn’t make adjustments.'
That answer was in response to reporters asking Chandler to comment on Woodson’s claim that the Pacers simply outworked the Knicks. It was erroneously reported that Carmelo Anthony was criticizing Woodson when in fact Chandler took a subtle shot.
And that’s before we get to the actual on-court issues. Indeed, for a coach who prides himself on tenets of defense and accountability, New York’s season has been marred by a staggering deficit of both.
Over at SB Nation, Mike Prada did a superb job of breaking down the Knicks’ strange propensity for on-ball switches and double-teams. Here’s just one particularly egregious example of what has become cripplingly commonplace phenomena:
And yet, Woodson has gone on the record numerous times to state that, actually, and against all evidence to the contrary, he would prefer if his team didn’t switch on the perimeter—thank you very much.
From ESPN’s Ian Begley in a story written in late December: "I don't want to switch," Woodson said after Thursday's practice. "I've always wanted to put the emphasis on our perimeter guys to guard perimeter players. Bigs are supposed to guard bigs and when there's some breakdowns there is supposed to be help. It's a team defense."
When your statement to a particular point—in this case, “I don’t want my team switching”—is perpetually undermined by the facts on the floor, your team issues run much deeper than a simple question of strategy.
Perhaps most alarming, Woodson has suggested, on more than one occasion, that the reason the Knicks were so successful a season ago was because they were so adept at turning good defense into offense.
There’s just one problem with this analysis... Well, two problems, actually: The Knicks were 16th in the league last year in defensive efficiency (103.5) and third in the league in offensive efficiency (108.6).
From the Wall Street Journal’s Chris Herring:
Woodson called last year's defense "solid," and said that switching then didn't hurt them. Said they're allowing 99 PPG this season.— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) January 22, 2014
Either Woodson saw something the rest of us didn’t, or he’s relying on a Byzantine understanding of statistics that betrays the stats and trends currently being adopted by a vast majority of NBA teams.
Neither is acceptable.
The writing is on the wall, even if Woodson himself doesn’t want to cope with the data behind it: It’s time to go.
If the reason owner James Dolan has been reluctant to jettison Woodson midseason is a steadfast concern of how the team might respond, he need only revisit video of two years ago, when Woodson himself led the Knicks to an impressive 18-6 home stretch following the voluntary departure of Mike D’Antoni.
No fewer than three Knicks assistants tout NBA head-coaching experience: Herb Williams (with the Knicks in 2004 and '05), Darrell Walker (with the Toronto Raptors in 1995 and ’96 and with the Washington Wizards in 2000) and Jim Todd (with the 2000 Los Angeles Clippers).
Even if whomever they choose doesn’t fit into the team’s long-term plans, the Knicks, by this point, must be certain of at least one thing: neither does Mike Woodson.
By firing Woodson now, the Knicks can at least get a head start on finding a replacement, rather than find themselves in a frantic scramble come the summer.
Woodson is a capable, accomplished coach who stands a tremendous chance of getting another shot in the NBA. But the longer he sticks around in New York—the more gaping the disconnect grows between what he thinks and what everyone else sees—the slimmer those chances become.
If the Knicks somehow miss the playoffs—a distinct possibility, at this point—it won’t be because they decided to switch steeds mid-stride. It’ll be because they weren’t a good enough basketball team to begin with.
As painful as that outcome sounds, Knicks fans could at least rest easier knowing their fate had less to do with who was at the wheel than the specifics of the machine's engineering.
And so could Mike Woodson, for that matter.