By Julie Parise, CBSNewYork.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — While the Knicks and their fans will once again watch the NBA Finals play out somewhere other than Madison Square Garden, the team has finally created some stability after a roller coaster season by signing Mike Woodson to a multi-year contract.
It was precisely what the team should’ve done, according to former Knicks star John Starks. He believes Woodson’s tough love, hard-nosed approach to the game is just what the team needs to take them to the next level.
“What I love about [Woodson] the most is that he’ll treat a star player just like he would treat any other player,” Starks told CBSNewYork. “That makes a big difference, and that’s the mark of a great coach.”
It’s well-known by now that the rumored drama between Knicks star Carmelo Anthony and former coach Mike D’Antoni led to frustration for the team both on and off the court. Amid a string of tough losses, it became apparent a change was needed to give the Knicks an attitude adjustment – and a chance at the playoffs.
Without naming names, Starks pointed out the most important difference with the new man at the helm of the embattled franchise.
“The players respect him a great deal,” he said, referring to Woodson. “Obviously it was a tough situation for Coach D’Antoni. The team wasn’t performing, and as they always say in this league, you’re not going to fire the whole team, and the coach has to take the brunt of it. He had to take the brunt of it.”
With D’Antoni gone and the Knicks finally playing the way they were supposed to since the highly publicized arrival of Anthony in New York last year, the re-energized team was finally fun to watch, games were won and postseason hopes were high.
But Starks isn’t surprised.
“I’ve known Mike for quite some time and watched him down in Atlanta,” he said. “Being a former player, [he] truly understands what it takes to get guys to perform at a higher level.”
Since Melo’s arrival in the Big Apple, fans, coaches and commentators alike have stressed the importance of team play and for the Knicks not to become reliant on ‘the Carmelo Anthony’ show.
Despite that, the former Syracuse star carried the weight of his team on his shoulders through several victories (and defeats), most notably in the Knicks first and only post-season win since 2001, in which Anthony scored 41 points and hit a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 54.5 seconds left in the game.
Starks also reiterated the point made by others and said the Knicks need a balanced effort in order to be successful.
“Not one player is going to do it all,” he said. “Everybody has to step up. It’s going to take an effort on everybody to come back stronger and better.”
One player Starks has high expectations for is rookie Iman Shumpert, naming the 21-year-old guard out of Georgia Tech as the season’s standout surprise performer.
“It was unfortunate,” Starks said of Shumpert’s torn ACL. “He had been playing so well, especially on the defensive end of the court. I was surprised, and what you probably don’t know yet, is that hopefully he can be [named to an All-Defensive team], which I thought he should’ve been on.”
Despite the agony of first-round playoff exits, Starks has a positive outlook for this current Knicks team.
“We have a good nucleus, and that’s a good starting point,” Starks said. “To make the playoffs two years in a row is really, very good.”
It may be a good start, but for Knicks fans who are tired of moral victories, the question is will Woodson’s arrival be enough to bring championship talk back to the Big Apple?
Julie Parise is the features editor for CBSNewYork.com.