Larry Brown has a unique bit of insight into how New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson has been treated as he winds down New York’s disappointing 2013-14 season. Brown was the New York Knicks’ head coach in 2005-06, a disastrous year that saw Larry attempt to both coach a team of un-coachable talents, all while attempting to secure a gig as personnel boss, in a failed bid to wrest control from Isiah Thomas. He also is no great fan of new Knicks el jefe Phil Jackson, whom Brown coached against for years while running the Clippers, Pacers, 76ers, Pistons, Knicks and Charlotte Bobcats. Brown even once alleged that Jackson gave him the “cold fish” treatment with a handshake in the moments following Detroit’s dismissal of Jackson’s Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 NBA Finals.
Mike Woodson was an assistant coach for Brown during that championship season, so Brown clearly has some vested interest in lashing out against the New York ownership group that he had to negotiate a buyout settlement with in 2006, and against Mr. Cold Fish himself, Phil Jackson. In an interview on Sirius XM’s (very good) NBA radio channel over the weekend, Brown took the Knicks to task for their ways with Mr. Woodson. From the New York Daily News:
"I'm sick about what's happening with Michael (Woodson)," Brown said Monday morning on NBA Radio on SiriusXM. "The whole thing about the Knicks, I want the Knicks to be great, because the NBA needs it badly. They have the best fans
"(But) the way they've treated Mike Woodson, I think he went 15-5 (actually 18-6) when he took over that team two years ago. And then last year they won 54 games. I think from 2001 they might've won one playoff series. He's done a remarkable job. They've had terrible injuries. They lost a GM (Glen Grunwald) that I thought did a great job. And then they didn't bring any older guys. When you lose Jason Kidd and Kurt Thomas and Rasheed Wallace, you lost your locker room.
"And I think, it's just troublesome to me to bring in Phil Jackson, not that he won't be great, but let him coach. You're not going to make the Knicks better by living in L.A. and being there half the time and not talking to your coach. Let him coach. He was the best coach probably ever. Let him coach. If that's the way they want to do it let him coach and give Woody a way to leave graciously. But he's out on the limb and that's not fair. For a guy that really turned that franchise around and made people proud of the way they played I don't think he's been treated fairly and that really bothers me."
Brown also went on to say that Mike Woodson hasn’t been “treated fairly,” and that ostensible New York Knicks general manager Steve Mills has “no clue.”
He’s pretty harsh. He’s also probably not wrong.
For one, Steve Mills was clearly hired by New York last fall because of his ties with Creative Artists Agency. He did play college basketball in Princeton, but his ascendency to the technical top of the New York front office mainly came on the heels of his career as a business executive, and not a career as a scouting maven. He was on the literal business end of things when Brown and Isiah Thomas were butting heads in the New York front office, and it is presumed that Phil Jackson will hire a more orthodox “basketball guy” to replace Mills eventually.
Then there is the idea that Phil Jackson is doing the Knicks a disservice by running things from Malibu, which is completely fair. It’s very much true that in 2014 an NBA personnel boss doesn’t need to be sniffing around the locker room or practice court every day from October to spring, scouting can be done in brilliant high-definition batches from a half a world away, deals can be cut just by tapping a few things into an expensive phone, and ideology shifts can be formulated in any number of ways.
That’s a nouveau way of looking at team building, though. Is Phil Jackson the sort of new school guy that can pull this thing off from afar? That remains to be seen.
The crux of Brown’s most pressing concerns seem to focus on the treatment of Woodson, who took over the team on an interim basis in 2012, and led the Knicks to their best season in over a decade in 2012-13.
Woodson appears to be working as a lame duck coach, but this was the case far before Jackson took over in whatever the hell role he’s currently playing in New York. When Knicks owner James Dolan determined that no hot shot midseason replacement as coach was going to be able to save New York’s season, he just about unofficially signed off on dismissing Woodson soon after the massively disappointing New York season ends.
This season, you’ll recall, started with Dolan placing championship expectations on his team, one that is on pace to win just 35 games and miss the playoffs. The Knicks won’t even have a lottery pick as a reward for their awful season, because the team dealt the pick when Isiah and Dolan pushed former GM Donnie Walsh (who hired Larry Brown in Indiana) to deal for a player in Carmelo Anthony that they could have signed outright once the free agency period hit. Obviously you drop whatever you can in order to acquire someone like Anthony, who has put together a string of fantastic years with the Knicks, but the results truly are speaking for themselves.
How much of that to place on Woodson’s shoulders is a tougher guess, but clearly Brown is upset that Phil Jackson isn’t ripping the band-aid off in one decisive motion, while Woodson figuratively sways in the wind. Mike Woodson probably isn’t coaching himself into a lasting gig under Jackson in New York, but even with this season having gone terribly wrong, he probably isn’t coaching himself out of another NBA head coaching gig.
And he certainly doesn’t need Larry Brown bleating on his behalf. Larry Brown may not be explicitly wrong any of his hot sports takes, but no amount of “he was the best coach probably ever” passive/aggressive lines with Phil Jackson takes away from the fact that Larry Brown is more than biased when it comes to reasonably assessing any situation involving any combination of Phil Jackson, James Dolan, Steve Mills, Mike Woodson, and Glenn Frey probably.
Then again, we do appreciate the candor. And it’s not as if the New York Knicks haven’t earned a good tongue-lashing.
- - - - - - -