To Make Or Not Make A Coaching Change -- That Is The Burning Question

By John Schmeelk
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With a thick veil of secrecy surrounding Madison Square Garden at all times, there’s no way of figuring out what the Knicks organization is actually thinking at any given moment.

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Aside from his interview with the New York Post, James Dolan hides behind the curtain. This season, Steve Mills has joined him in boycotting the media, making figuring out how the Knicks front office sees this coach and group of players nearly impossible.  It’s rare when the circumstances of an NBA season provide an opportunity to gleam a moment of clarity as to what the Knicks are actually thinking.

We’ve arrived at such a juncture.

If Mike Woodson is still coaching the Knicks by the end of Friday, he will coach them for the rest of the season. The team doesn’t have more than two straight days off until March 15, making the All-Star break the last logical point to change coaches. It would give whomever the Knicks appoint as head coach ample time to put a coaching staff together, and have a day of practice to install some of those changes.

If the Knicks make a coaching change it will indicate that they are still trying to make a legitimate run this season, and get into the postseason. It would also indicate, to me at least, that a trade could be coming before next Thursday to try to aid the season turn-around.

For Knicks fans, that should be a little scary. At this point in the season, any playoff run would be purely cosmetic and do little else than dull the pain of not having a first round pick. If a coaching change is accompanied by other moves that could jeopardize the team long term that would be the worst possible scenario. If anyone doesn’t think James Dolan would authorize such moves, they weren’t around when the Knicks traded for Steve Francis. Right now, the front office’s  only concern should be playing the long game. The chance of this season having any sort of meaning is infinitesimal. Everything the Knicks do should have next season and the 2015 offseason in mind, nothing more.

As much as Knicks fans want to see Woodson gone, and understandably so, his ouster might indicate the front office’s willingness to do more to simply get into the playoffs. What if Mills goes out and gives Lionel Hollins a multi-year deal to be the new coach? Then the Knicks are trapped this offseason and will not be able to go after far superior coaching options that could be available. Mills could also bring in some larger long-term contracts just to get into the postseason this season, which would be a disaster. Carmelo Anthony could see these moves the same way Knicks fans do, and make it even more likely he walks away after the season. That might very well be the worst possible scenario for the Knicks.

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If the Garden does decide to hold on to Woodson, on the other hand, it strikes me as an admittance that this season can be filed as a lost disaster and the focus has shifted to next season. It means Mills has begun to think strategically about the future, and that’s going to be his focus in all future moves. That would show a certain amount of maturity the Garden has not shown in quite some time (Donnie Walsh), and might actually make Anthony and other potential future players view the franchise more favorably.

Of course, there is a middle ground that the Knicks could take, and it’s the one that seems the most logical. It’s the one they should have taken more than a month ago. They could have replaced Woodson with a purely interim coach like Herb Williams or a P.J. Carlesimo type, and see if that change sparked the current group of players. The team would play out the season, and only make any moves that would benefit the team down the road. The Knicks can still go down that road, but it’s harder since the new coach will only be in place for two games before the trade deadline.

So as Knicks fans wait for the guillotine to drop during All-Star weekend, I warn them to be wary of what they wish for. What comes after the coaching change is really what they need to worry about, if Dolan decides on a whim to try and go all in on 2014. That could hurt the franchise immeasurably moving forward.

But at the very least, the next couple days will give a small insight into the thinking of Mills and Dolan, something Knicks fans never get. Will Woodson survive the weekend? The answer and what it means could have far-reaching effects for years to come.

You can follow me on twitter at @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports

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