COMMENTARY | What does a 54-28 record, an appearance in the second round of the NBA playoffs and an exercised option get an NBA head coach?
If you answered job security, you would generally be right. Unless you're New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson, that is.
The Big Apple is a tough place to last in sports for an extended period of time, particularly when you're employed by the Knicks. This is the same team that just named its third president and general manager since 2008 and doesn't have a single player on its roster from the 2009-10 season.
Things move quickly in New York, and there are more than a few reasons why Woodson's job is not safe heading into this season.
After winning their first playoff series since the 1999-2000 season, there is pressure on the Knicks to take the next step into the Eastern Conference finals. After adding Andrea Bargnani via trade and Metta World Peace as a free agent, fans are expecting improvement from last year's impressive season.
The main problem for New York is that its competition is tougher this season. While there was no clear-cut second-best team in the East behind the Miami Heat last year, which allowed the Knicks to get the conference's second seed, this season is different. Chicago is getting Derrick Rose back from injury, Indiana is welcoming back Danny Granger, and Brooklyn picked up Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce from Boston in the offseason, among others.
It might be tough for the Knicks to make it out of the first round this season, let alone reach the Eastern Conference finals. That kind of regression doesn't bode well for Woodson, especially since Carmelo Anthony can opt out of this contract.
Carmelo Anthony Is the Team's Top Priority
Speaking of Anthony, the Knicks' star is likely to opt out of his contract after this season and become a free agent. With all apologies to Woodson, who has done an excellent job getting the most out of players like Anthony and J.R. Smith who haven't always been lauded for their effort, NBA stars get their way every time when it comes to coaches (see: Williams, Deron).
If Anthony doesn't like the direction the team is going, he can hold the Knicks hostage to meet whatever demands he may have. After everything the Knicks gave up in their blockbuster deal for Anthony in 2011 and rumors that they will let him choose his teammates after this season, Woodson will be gone if Anthony doesn't want him around.
Picking Up Woodson's Option Is Meaningless
Most NBA coaches would feel better going into a season with a contract for the following year. Maybe Woodson does, knowing that if the Knicks do decide to let him go at any point during this season or once it ends, he will be financially compensated by the team. It just doesn't mean his job is safe.
The beat writers who cover the Knicks don't believe this extension buys Woodson extra job security, and neither do I. The only things that will determine his role with the team beyond this season are meeting expectations and staying on good terms with Anthony, both of which are scenarios that could very easily not come to fruition.
Knicks Ownership Desperate for a Winner
Desperate teams take drastic measures and after the Knicks traded for Anthony, they entrenched themselves firmly in win-now mode. With Amar'e Stoudemire's knees deteriorated to the point where he'll never live up his contract and newly re-signed J.R. Smith coming off knee surgery and a substance-abuse suspension, the Knicks' situation defines desperate.
Stoudemire's situation led to New York trading for Bargnani and signing World Peace as insurance at the forward position. Woodson and the Knicks are under immense pressure to perform this season and if they don't, owner James Dolan will be more than willing to make a reactionary move or three. Getting rid of Woodson fits the bill.
New York Fans Won't Accept Mediocrity
It's not just the owner who's prone to reactionary moves, as a New York fan base starved for a winning basketball team will likely force Dolan into drastic decisions if the Knicks don't excel this season. Fans would be devastated to see Anthony go, regardless of whether they view him as a player who can lead a team to a championship or not.
Anthony's departure would leave Knicks fans feeling as slighted as Lakers fans when Dwight Howard chose Houston over Los Angeles. No matter what kind of season he has, fans know he's the meal ticket that will keep New York in the playoffs over the next few seasons and will look elsewhere for a scapegoat. That scapegoat has a tendency to be the head coach.
Despite the Knicks picking up Woodson's option, there are many things working against him in his quest to return beyond the 2013-14 season. If Woodson can guide the Knicks at least to the second round again and preferably into the Eastern Conference finals, he has a fighter's chance to retain his job. If he can't, there may be no contract option that can save him as the coach of the Knicks.
Chris Tripodi lives in New York and has followed the Knicks since the days of Patrick Ewing and John Starks in the early 1990s. He contributes to multiple online outlets along with Yahoo, namely Draft Insider, Optimum Scouting and Jets 101.
Follow him on Twitter @christripodi.
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- New York Knicks
- Mike Woodson
- New York
- Carmelo Anthony