The next day, Portland head coach Nate McMillan was fired. Last night, Portland returned the favor with a 94-90 win at the Garden. Although it was not nearly the blowout win that the Knicks had two years ago, it should lead to the same result: The coach of the losing team should be let go.
Here is why it's time for the Knicks to make a move on Mike Woodson:
At its best, Woodson's rotation has been questionable and at its worst it has been incomprehensible. Early in the season, Woodson committed to playing a bigger lineup with Carmelo Anthony at the small forward, despite the fact that the team charged to the second seed in the East last season by featuring a smaller lineup. Only after multiple injuries did Woodson go back to the small lineup, which could conceivably change back if injured forward Andrea Bargnani can return from injury.
In addition, Woodson has shown a strange reluctance to rely more on young players Tim Hardaway Jr., Toure Murry and Jeremy Tyler, despite the frequent struggles of J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Bargnani. Worst of all has been Woodson's extreme overuse of Anthony, as he wears him out on a nightly basis and risks him having nothing left by the playoffs.
Not only has Woodson struggled to have the right combinations on the floor, but he has also failed to put those players in the best places to be successful. It has been well-documented how much Woodson has relied on abandoning any kind of offensive set to feature Anthony in repeated isolations, especially with games on the line. Often this has allowed teams to target in on Anthony while the rest of the team gets stagnant and uninterested on offense.
Things have been even worse on defense. Despite being sold to Knicks fans as former coach Mike D'Antoni's defensive specialist, things have not seemed much better since Woodson took over the helm. The main issue has been Woodson's insistence on having defenders switch on virtually every screen. While such a strategy may have some appeal for a smaller, athletic team, it has been disastrous when used in combination with Woodson's bigger lineups.
With Woodson on the Knicks' bench, opposing teams are confident that a simple screen-and-roll will be enough to send the defense into a tailspin.
Players Not Responding
In part because of the poor strategy, it looks like the wheels are starting to fall off in the locker room. Recently, center Tyson Chandler openly complained about the switching, obviously tired of being stuck in mismatches against opposing point guards he has no chance of staying in front of. It is hard to fault Chandler for the frustration, as he is a championship-caliber defender often put in terrible situations due to his coach.
Similarly, Amar'e Stoudemire has also gone public with complaints about his playing time.
In addition, earlier this year, Smith had to be benched on two occasions due to discipline issues. Players speaking out of turn in the media and acting up while on the court is often the sign of a locker room slipping away from the head coach. In the NBA, once a head coach loses the support of his players, there is no going back.
No Other Way to Shake Up the Team
To be sure, despite all of this, not all of the Knicks' struggles can be blamed on Woodson. Other than Anthony, pretty much every other player on the roster has struggled to varying degrees at one point or another thus far. It is clear that the team is in need of something to shake it up if it is going to make another run into the playoffs.
The problem is, the Knicks' roster is constructed such that making a trade before the deadline to accomplish that will be difficult due to a lack of desirable contracts, a maxed-out salary cap and no first-round draft picks that can be traded for years.
So that leaves the coach. Perhaps, similar to when the Knicks fired D'Antoni and handed the keys to Woodson, now letting go of Woodson will be the spark that turns the team's fortunes around. Due to the weak Eastern Conference, the Knicks are essentially one winning streak away from being in good position for a playoff spot.
There is no doubt that before that streak will come something needs to be done to shake things up and, at this point, firing Woodson seems like the only viable option.
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Del Pearson is a lifelong Knicks fan from Upstate New York. His favorite players of all time are Walt Frazier and Carmelo Anthony. Follow Del on Twitter @DelPearson44.
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