How Much Longer Can Mike Woodson Survive as Knicks Head Coach?

Joe Flynn@@ChinaJoeFlynnContributor IFebruary 7, 2014

New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson reacts during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, in New York. Miami won 106-91. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

On Wednesday afternoon,'s Steve Popper reported that New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson could be fired before the Feb. 20 trade deadline. Woodson and his players certain didn't help matters later in the evening by losing to the Portland Trail Blazers, 94-90. 

New York fell even farther from a playoff berth after the loss to Portland, its third defeat in a row. New York is now 10th place in the weak Eastern Conference, 2.5 games behind the Charlotte Bobcats for the eighth and final playoff spot.

As usual, Woodson looked for someone to blame after Wednesday's loss. This time, he blamed the referees, who didn't call a foul on a Carmelo Anthony miss late in the fourth quarter. Per the Wall Street Journal's Chris Herring:

Here is a clip of Woodson cursing out the referee at the end of the game, courtesy of Beyond the Buzzer (NSFW: strong language).

Sure, Mr.'s all the ref's fault.

Never mind the fact that the Knicks foolishly stuck to their "double every big" defensive game plan, running a second defender at offensive non-entities like Portland's Robin Lopez while allowing wide-open three-pointers to the Blazers, the team with the second-best combined three-point shooting percentage in the entire league. Never mind the fact that the Knicks lost to the worst team in the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks, on Monday.

There's always an excuse.

The fans aren't buying it, and neither are many of the players, per ESPN's Ian Begley:

Some Knicks players privately have grown tired of Woodson questioning the team's effort after losses, sources told

Two league sources said some players expressed their frustration with Woodson to Knicks management after a loss to Brooklyn on Jan. 20.

It seems as if the fans, players and front office have all turned against Woodson. So he must be as good as gone, right? Not so fast.

The Knicks' management is a shadowy, unpredictable cabal—they zig when you expect them to zag; they zig when reality demands that they zag. They are just as likely to keep Woodson for the rest of the season as they are to fire him before breakfast. His fate is, as always, in the hands of owner James Dolan...and that means anything is possible.

Woodson's "Greatest Hits"

If one wanted to present a case against keeping Woodson, the line of evidence would stretch all the way from MSG to Hartford. Here are but a few of the key exhibits:

Exhibit A: His Obsession with the Indiana Pacers and "going big"

The Knicks were a good team last season, but they fell in six games to the Indiana Pacers in the conference semifinals. They held a lead with five minutes left in Game 6 but couldn't contain Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson down the stretch. Had they kept that lead, the Knicks would have forced a Game 7 at MSG.

Subsequently, the Pacers have proved themselves to be playing basketball.

So what did Woodson learn from that tightly contested series, during which both Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler were injured? He learned that the Knicks must become the Pacers, by any means necessary. If the Pacers are big, then the Knicks must be bigger, regardless of whether or not they have the personnel needed to do so.

Per Herring:

Then there was the misguided decision to scrap the small lineup in a Game 4 playoff loss to Indiana, in which Woodson, disappointed by the lack of rebounding, swapped in bruiser Kenyon Martin for guard Pablo Prigioni, who’d been the team’s most efficient postseason player to that point.

Nevertheless, Woodson largely attributes that postseason series defeat to not having enough frontcourt size.

“When we played Indiana, I think we learned an important lesson there” about the limitations of the smaller lineup, he said in November.

Exhibit B: The Bizarre Lineups

Woodson apparently suffers from the delusion that any tall player is inherently good at defense and rebounding, which is not a good trait in a coach who employs both Andrea Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire. 

The Knicks have one superstar high-volume scorer in Anthony. To be effective, they either need to play him with a quality defensive big or surround him with shooters...preferably, they should do both. Instead, Woodson does neither, playing 'Melo in a frontcourt with defensively inept volume scorers like Bargnani and Stoudemire whenever convenient.

Only Bargnani's injury stopped this "Frontcourt of Woe" from decimating the Knicks chances.

The Anthony/Stoudemire/Bargnani Frontcourt

There are two possibilities: Either Woodson truly believes in big lineups, despite all evidence to the contrary, or he's receiving orders from above and more interested in keeping his job than in winning games. Either way, it's not good.

Exhibit C: Dishonesty and Scapegoating

Woodson has a propagandist's flair for switching around data to suit his agenda. Before a January loss, he used traditional points-per-game stats to justify his team's lousy offense. Per Herring:

Now, the Knicks did, in fact, give up 95.7 opponent points per game—seventh in the league. And their 2013-14 mark of 99.1 opponent's points per game is ranked 10th. These defensive numbers might have been deemed the '80s.

But in the year 2014, even casual NBA fans know about pace-adjusted defensive efficiency. New York was the fourth-slowest team in the league last season, so its defensive efficiency number ballooned to a thoroughly mediocre 18th. This season's squad came into Wednesday ranked 25th.

So is Woodson merely a product of bygone thinking on defensive statistics, or is there something else afoot? Per Herring:

When he's not misrepresenting data, Woodson also likes to blame players he doesn't like for mistakes made by "his guys."

The most egregious example came in Houston in early January, when J.R. Smith took and missed a shot with nearly 24 seconds left in a tie game, allowing the Rockets to grab the rebound, get fouled and hit the winning free throws. Instead of blaming Smith, who mistakenly thought the Knicks were trailing, he blamed Beno Udrih, the player who passed him the ball.

"The bottom line is you look at his shot, but did Beno have to throw him the ball?" Woodson said, per the New York Daily News' Frank Isola. "You gotta look at that."

Instead of laying blame where it belongs, Woodson attacked Udrih, a player who had recently criticized him, per Popper.

SB Nation's Seth Rosenthal put it best when he called for Woodson's firing:

...he's been the one holding the reins, steering the Knicks repeatedly toward their own demise despite having all the information to tell him what works, then explaining away his decisions with condescension and excuses. 

In Herb We Trust?

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Believe it or not, the (interim) replacement for Woodson is already sitting on the Kincks' bench. Assistant coach Herb Williams has long been the interim coach du jour during the Dolan years. He has coached in place of Don Chaney and Larry Brown. He can coach in place of Woodson.

According to Popper, the Knicks may already be planning to install Williams as Woodson's replacement:

With no high-profile coach interested in stepping into this situation right now, the source said that the team has discussed a plan to keep assistant coach Herb Williams and elevate him to the top spot in an interim, reaching out to a number of candidates to fill the staff out.

Williams would be an ideal candidate to replace Woodson, at least for the remainder of the season. His career record as Knicks coach is 17-27—not good by any means. But he compiled that record with far less talented New York teams, and the Knicks are already worse under Woodson, at 19-30.

Williams remains a popular figure among Knicks fans. As a player, he finished his career with the beloved late '90s Knicks teams. As an assistant coach, he has remained above the controversy which has so often been associated with the Dolan years.

Woodson wasn't handed a great roster, but he has done absolutely nothing this season to warrant staying on as head coach. The playoffs still aren't out of the question, but New York must take a proactive approach to its coaching problem. Woodson has worn out his welcome at MSG.

It's time for him to go.


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