Mike Woodson knows why Phil Jackson is 'staying out of the way' this season

Kelly Dwyer
April 10, 2014
Mike Woodson and Phil Jackson may never have a working relationship. (Getty Images)

As the New York Knicks’ 2013-14 campaign winds down, a few things are just about certain.

For one, even if some that work (or at least visit) Madison Square Garden overrated the team’s talent entering this campaign, this is still a wildly disappointing outfit. Secondly, the squad is just about sure to miss the playoffs this year. And Mike Woodson, the man who righted the team’s ship during a typically combustible 2011-12 season before leading New York to 54 wins last year, is certain to be let go after this run mercifully ends.

Whether or not this is deserved isn’t the point. Knicks owner James Dolan loves scapegoats, and Woodson was probably a goner in Dolan’s eyes well before he hired Phil Jackson to (as of this writing, before Isiah Thomas sends Dolan another text) run the Knicks. Phil Jackson, sporting that beautiful basketball mind alongside an ego the size of South Dakota, is also going to want a fresh re-boot with his own cast of characters.

This is why there’s no real point in intimately getting to the 2013-14 New York Knicks, for Jackson, especially with less than a week left in the season. Woodson, to his credit, is more than aware of this, and spoke at length about Jackson’s Phil Jackson-sized arm’s length away from the team he’s been charged with running. From the New York Post:

“I’m sure Phil is just — I gather he’s kind of staying out of the way and letting me do my thing in terms of trying to get this team in the playoffs,’’ Woodson said. “That’s OK. I’m sure when the time comes we’ll have a chance to sit down and talk and see where we are. But first things first. We’re in the playoff race trying to get this eighth spot. That’s where everybody’s focus should be.’’


“He’s here conducting business, meeting with scouts and [general manager] Steve Mills, doing things he’s supposed to be doing,’’ Woodson said. “And he’s letting me coach. That’s all you can ask at this point. At the end of the day, we’re trying to get this team in the playoffs. And I’m sure when that time comes for Phil and I to talk, we’ll talk.’’

The Knicks are still technically gunning for that eighth seed, but the team’s playoff hopes – somehow still intact even after a 33-45 start to the season – could likely be extinguished by the time the weekend hits. New York has to take on the Atlantic-leading Toronto Raptors on Friday night, the team that dethroned last season’s Atlantic champs outta NYC, and the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks will be paired with a Brooklyn Nets team whose playoff seeding status is somewhat assured, one admittedly looking to rest starters.

A Hawks win paired with a Knicks loss ends New York’s mathematical hopes. The Knicks could still win out and hope that Atlanta finishes its season losing three of four, but that’s a bit of a long shot for a New York squad that has squandered chance after chance at returning to the playoffs. In a bracket that is as poor as we can recall in recent NBA history.

This is part of the reason why Jackson – a man that wants to sign big guards, centers who can pass, and players adept in some variation of the triangle offense – knows that this season is a lost cause. Jackson hasn’t even followed through on hiring a salary capologist-type to aide him as he moves to the front office yet, he still has no idea of some team will be able to finagle an October surprise this July that could lure Carmelo Anthony away from New York (and tens of millions in riches), and though Jackson has an unfortunate past of interviewing for other people’s jobs, he doesn’t appear to be anywhere close to finding a candidate to replace Woodson. A man who, again, still has a gig.

This is part of the reason why Dolan no doubt embraced Jackson as New York’s latest savior. Phil has his talents, but he’s also put off more than he’s turned on when it comes to the typical NBA circles. Former Bulls and Lakers GMs Jerry Krause and Jerry West certainly weren’t the most stable types personality-wise, but he drove one to basically fire Jackson after six championships in eight years, and he drove the other to want to walk away from an assured dynasty under Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

So there will little of the leakage to the press that you’d get from other New York saviors – people like Thomas and the well-connected Donnie Walsh and Larry Brown – with Jackson. The guy just doesn’t have a lot of mates, and though he’s been relatively talkative in his short New York tenure, his initial demure turn isn’t all that surprising.

All of this leaves Woodson twisting in the wind, but he’s no stranger to that. He was constantly on the watch in Atlanta, as those uninspiring Hawks teams failed to turn the corner, he wasn’t afforded immediate head coaching status in New York even after his sound work to finish 2011-12, and there have been rumors about his job security this season that date back before Thanksgiving.

To his credit, Woodson isn’t flinching. He has thrown some players under the bus this season, but on Wednesday the Knicks coach embraced the heat. From the Post:

“I could’ve been better as a coach,” he said. “You can point the finger there as well. As a coach I take pride in what I do. I’ll never pass the buck on anybody. This season’s been tough for a lot of people. I take full responsibility.’’

Woodson has his detractors, but in spite of a recent (and welcomed) wave of unorthodox front office moves, this is still a league that embraces the known, and Mike Woodson will still probably get another chance as an NBA head coach at some point. He’s doing himself and his future job considerations a great service by going out, we presume, on a classy note.

- - - - - - -

Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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