COMMENTARY | With the New York Knicks off to a dreadful start, it hasn't taken long for a large contingent of fans to start calling for coach Mike Woodson's job.
Never mind James Dolan's pressure-filled and delusional championship expectations for this team for a minute; the play on the court has been brutal from this team. The Knicks lack an identity and a supporting cast to complement Carmelo Anthony, who is doing his part averaging 27 points and 10 rebounds.
Bottom line, fans are sick of seeing this team fall flat on its face game after game when it was supposed to be one of the stronger teams in the East.
Who could blame them? The Knickerbockers are a shadow of their former selves, and it's frustrating to watch them game in and out fall to teams we feel they should beat or at least compete with. The easiest finger to point is the one at the head coach. It must be his fault if the team's owner thinks this team has enough talent to go all the way, right? Dolan's finger is pointed at Woodson when it should be at himself. The fans' collective finger is also pointed at Woodson, but it also should be pointed at the owner, not the coach.
It's Dolan's consistently awful running of the organization that has led it into this whole. But then again, everybody knows that. If we want to get specific and look at the 2013-14 Knicks, Woodson hasn't been Phil Jackson or anything but still doesn't deserve the bulk of the blame.
We're talking about a guy who stepped in for dead-man walking Mike D'Antoni while the Knicks were on a slide and led them to an 18-6 record in 24 regular-season games. Last season, the Knicks went 54-28 in Woodson's first full season as head coach and won their division for the first time since 1993-94 and a playoff series for the first time since 1999-00.
I'm not saying conference semifinals are the ultimate goal and Woodson should be praised for it -- what I am saying is that credit needs to be given to a guy who helped the team reach plateaus it hadn't in over a decade and in the case of the Atlantic division, two decades.
Early in this season, Woodson definitely has had his moments of weakness. His defensive philosophy seems to be growing old with players and already has with fans. No longer can we stomach watching the Knicks switch on defense, leading to defensive mismatches and easy hoops for opponents.
In similarly frustrating fashion Woody calls timeouts and the wrong time or doesn't call them at all; momentum is one of the things coaches can have an affect on throughout the game. He's also given struggling players too much slack when it comes to playing time and that's why being a "players' coach" can be to his detriment. There are several other problems with the Knicks that people want to blame on coach but really aren't his fault.
Woodson has often been criticized for not making the right substitution or not having the right lineup out on the floor. What would you like him to do exactly? J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert are struggling at an equally grotesque level.
Tim Hardaway Jr. should be seeing more minutes for sure, but it was understandable not to put him on the floor during a half-court game. Andrea Bargnani can't rotate or play defense, so replace him with … who? The offensive minded and oft-injured Amar'e Stoudemire or the old, aging knees of Kenyon Martin? Neither of those guys is meant to play big minutes and when Martin has, it hasn't helped the Knicks on the glass.
The fact that Tyson Chandler is missing from the middle of that lineup isn't Woodson's fault. It's also not Woodson's fault that the Knicks have failed to come out with "effort" as Raymond Felton and Melo have put it, in games earlier this season. If a team full of guys making millions of dollars each can't get up to play, that's its fault. If you can't get excited to play at Madison Square Garden in front of a packed house, that's your fault. The Knicks' biggest problems are with their personnel -- whether it be injuries or whatever they lack as a team. The onus needs to fall on the Knicks players and the team as a unit, including Woodson. But not even close to just Mike Woodson.
Calling for Woodson's proverbial head on a spike is a nothing more than a cop-out. Herb Williams or another interim coach would have the same exact issues the Knicks currently have and it wouldn't improve suddenly under the tutelage of somebody else. Let us not forget that the problems we see with New York are some of the same it had last year. But when the Knicks came out with no effort, bad defense or no ball movement, they were often able to mask it with long-range shooting and scoring enough points to win.
Winning always sweeps away the problems while losing always highlights them. When the Knicks were winning despite their transgressions, Woodson was a Coach of the Year candidate. Now, things coaching-wise aren't all that different but injuries and personnel performance has changed. Look in the places where the problems really are, because we didn't complain about Woodson while the team was winning. Losing games isn't always the coach's fault; but fans are allowed to feel how they want. It's Dolan who created this firestorm. You could trade Shumpert and hire Red Auerbach; they'd still play no defense and lack cohesion.
Woodson needs to do the best with what he has, which hasn't been good enough no doubt. The team is underperforming and it could eventually lead to him getting the ax if it continues -- understandably so. Still, 13 games into the season, let's remember what the biggest problems are because they aren't coaching right now.
Brian Sausa is a freelance sports writer who contributes Knicks and Jets pieces to Yahoo! Sports. Intern in UAlbany Sports Information Dept. Previously covered a variety of NY area sports teams for New York Sports World. Twitter @BrianSausa.
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