Mike Woodson is Out of Excuses


After an optimistic interlude at this time last week, The New York Knicks’ are officially back in familiar territory: crisis mode.

Though it literally was a week ago today that the Knicks’ stunning overtime victory against the Phoenix Suns left many Knick fans giddy with hope, I now see how misguided we were for thinking this team turned the page on a woeful and embarrassing season. In all honestly, I can’t say that I didn’t see this coming. I actually warned fans about the dangers of the next few games on the schedule and it looks like everything I worried about was exactly what happened. Great. I guess two decades of suffering will do that to you.

Dec 14, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson during the first quarter against the Atlanta Hawks at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

I knew beating the Pacers would be a tall order, but what I feared most was how the Knicks would respond to a crushing defeat from them over the next games against the Clippers and Nets. I wrote that seeing how prepared the Knicks look would be a glimpse into how much Mike Woodson can motivate this roster, and with Sunday afternoon’s debacle, it’s become quite clear that this team has tuned Woodson out for good.

Sunday’s game held all the evidence needed to realize this, and that’s before Chandler’s critical comments on Woodson’s flawed defensive strategy and Udrih flat out requesting to be saved traded from this mess.

On Sunday the Knicks were playing their division rivals and had a perfect opportunity to show that losses against two powerhouses were not enough to negate the positive gains made during the five game win streak. They had a chance to knock off a perpetual torn on Dolan’s side, a team they manhandled before, and they even could have done this on MLK Day- always an important and prideful day for the Garden faithful. Instead they slept walk their way through the first quarter and had the look of a team that was already defeated.

A real coach wouldn’t have put up with that kind of lackadaisical effort in such an important game. A real coach would have benched everyone not hustling and given those minutes high energy guys like Tyler and Murry, you know, as a way to send a message like so many other coaches do in these scenarios. A real coach would have lambasted his team at half-time for putting up that kind of effort and motivated them to actually show some heart in the second half. And, yes, a real coach would have held himself accountable for that kind of game instead of reaching for the same excuses he constantly cites in his post game comments and waving around the fact that the 8th seed is still in reach like some kind of improvised talisman.

Like many Knick fans my patience with Woodson has waned. When he first took over he was pretty firm in making it clear that he’s going to hold players accountable, and by all accounts, he’s a very likable guy. I don’t know what happened to that mandate but those days are long gone. What I see in Woodson is the same thing Atlanta Hawk fans warned us about earlier this year: a stubborn coach who favors iso-centric players and veterans that relieve him of any real complex coaching duties. I’ve seen enough of the same flat offensive sets that go nowhere, the peculiar rotations, and befuddled Woodson looks to know where this season is headed. It’s the same way I felt about the Knicks back when Don Chaney was at the helm before Thomas put him out of his misery. I actually see a lot of similarities between the punchless Knicks teams of Chaney and Woodson now that I think about it but the only difference is that Woodson seems to be as untouchable as Herb Williams is for some bizarre reason.

I know many suggest it doesn’t make sense to get rid of Woodson now out of a respect for rare continuity in the Knicks head coaching department, but there’s still a very real cost to that. In economics, they call that cost the “opportunity cost”. The opportunity that the Knicks are wasting away here is the opportunity to develop the players on the roster that will probably be the only ones left here when Melo spurns the Knicks in a few months. Unfortunately in the same way Woodson used to bench Jeff Teague, he has shown no real interest in having the patience to develop guys like Shumpert, Murry, Hardaway Jr, and now Tyler. Yet, he has shown all the patience in the world to deal with the likes of JR Smith and Felton. This bothers me more than anything since I fear an even more obtuse roster next year with no other threat than JR Smith and a handful of other players still waiting to be coached properly. It wont be a pretty sight, but it will likely be a leftover mess that some other coach will have to deal with.

Will the Knicks re-up with Mike Woodson?The eighth seed is always going to be there and struggling to sneak in the playoffs shouldn’t be the focus for the remainder of the season. It should be on player development. I know the Knicks are technically in a playoff race, but when games like Sunday’s occur, something has to change. He’s already lost the younger players on the roster, and seemingly has lost the older players as well. Dolan once said that if a coach loses his team it means the coach’s time is up. Well to that end, dust up the “[Insert Coach here] Resigns” Friday afternoon press release Mr. Dolan because when Jason Kidd makes a nine year veteran coach  like Woodson look like the rookie, it’s time to do something.

Follow Richard Bertin on Twitter and check out his Knicks’ blog: “Starks Raving Mad”

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