By John Schmeelk
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All Knicks fans know about Mike Woodson’s shortcomings by now. Whether it is a bad defensive strategy reliant on switching, inconsistent lineups, insistence on playing Carmelo Anthony at small forward, late-game strategy, overreliance on isolation in fourth quarters, refusal to play two-point guards or his unexplained love affair with J.R. Smith (wow, long list), there are plenty of reasons Woodson should no longer be head coach of the Knicks.
So why does he still have a job?
One reason many have given is the lack of a good replacement, but this is a false explanation. There is such a thing as an interim head coach that is not the long-term answer for a team. P.J. Carlesimo played that role perfectly for the Nets last year. The Knicks are not going to find their coach of the future midseason, but that shouldn’t stop them from making a change. Sometimes change for the sake of change is not a bad thing. Simply a new voice, even if it is someone without a long track record of success like Herb Williams, can help a team get out of a rut. A few small strategic changes like switching less on defense, playing small and altering lineups could help this team immeasurably as well.
The second reason many think Woodson hasn’t gotten a fair shake this year is because his best defensive player, Tyson Chandler, has been hurt. That excuse will soon run out as Chandler plays more and more games, and all the Knicks’ problems persist. Sure, the team’s defense will improve from a bottom unit to one around 20. but the same issues on the perimeter offensively and defensively will persist. If anything, Chandler’s presence might exacerbate some of Woodson’s tendencies that get him into trouble. Feeling pressure to play Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani, he will have to play a lot of big lineups with Anthony at the three.
The third reason, and I believe the only real reason Woodson is still the Knicks’ coach, is Anthony. It could not be more obvious that James Dolan has fully committed to building his franchise around Anthony at any cost. At the end of last season, Anthony gave a very enthusiastic endorsement of Woodson, and that did not change the first month-and-a-half of the season. Anthony always supported Woodson publicly when speaking to the media, but that has started to change.
After the Knicks’ loss to the Grizzlies on Saturday, Anthony began to change his tune. He took issue with Woodson starting the big lineup featuring Bargnani, Chandler and Anthony in the frontcourt. Anthony probably realized that starting someone like Bargnani to improve rebounding and defense against a team like the Grizzlies makes no sense at all considering Bargnani is terrible at both.
Rather than beating a team based around defense and rebounding at their own game, Anthony knew Woodson was better off trying to beat the Grizzlies by doing what the Knicks did last season to so much success. Anthony went on to criticize Woodson’s inability to settle on one starting lineup, and how that makes it difficult for the team to find any continuity or forge an identity. They are the same points fans have been making all year.
With all this losing, and some of the blame falling on Melo’s folders, it was only a matter of time before he began to turn on the head coach. Last week he was more than happy to let Woodson take the blame for the timeout snafu at the end of the game. If Anthony is saying these things publicly, it is only logical to assume that he is communicating similar feelings to the Knicks’ front office and owner, to whom he has a direct pipeline.
Dolan desperately wants Anthony to return next season, and will do whatever it takes to make him happy. The moment that Anthony wants Woodson replaced, he will be gone. Even if the front office decided it was time to change coaches, does anyone really think it wouldn’t consult Anthony’s camp first? The bottom line is that Woodson will be gone when Anthony either asks for his head, or allows Steve Mills to swing the axe himself. That’s how the Knicks’ organization is run.
The inmates run the asylum and Anthony is the pack leader. Right now, Woodson is still Anthony’s coach, but for how much longer if the team keeps losing? It looks like his patience is running out, and with it, so is Woodson’s time left coaching the Knicks.
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for the latest on the Knicks, Giants and everything else New York sports.
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