c.2014 New York Times News Service
NEW YORK — Mike Woodson was 109-79 in his two-plus seasons as the New York Knicks’ coach. His regular-season winning percentage of .580 is the third highest in franchise history. Still, it was no surprise Monday when the Knicks announced that he had been dismissed, less than a week after he and the team finished the 2013-14 season with a hugely disappointing 37-45 record that left them out of the playoffs.
In effect, Woodson paid the price for a Knicks season that went wrong from the start and ultimately led the team’s owner, James L. Dolan, to bring in Phil Jackson as the team’s new president, with assurances that he would have full autonomy in charting a new course. By removing Woodson and his coaching staff, including the assistants Jim Todd, Darrell Walker and Herb Williams, Jackson has started to exercise that freedom.
“Blame should not be put on one individual,” Jackson said in a statement released by the team. “But the time has come for change throughout the franchise as we start the journey to assess and build this team for next season and beyond.”
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The Knicks did not offer a timeline for hiring a new coach, although it seems likely that Jackson — who won 11 championships as the coach of the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers — will want a surrogate on the bench who is familiar with his views and schemes, particularly his famed triangle offense.
Steve Kerr, a former point guard who played for Jackson in Chicago, is a leading candidate. Appearing Monday on his weekly Sirius XM radio show, Kerr said he expected to hear from Jackson in the coming days. Kerr, a former general manager of the Phoenix Suns, has expressed an interest in coaching.
“It’s going to be very interesting, and obviously, my name is being thrown around,” he said. “I do anticipate at least being part of the conversation, and we’ll see where it all goes.”
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Woodson, a former coach of the Atlanta Hawks, joined the Knicks in 2011 as an assistant under Mike D’Antoni. Woodson then replaced him on an interim basis when D’Antoni and the Knicks parted ways in March 2012, and he was able to guide the Knicks to an 18-6 record over the final weeks of the season, although a first-round playoff ouster then followed.
Last season, Woodson had even more success supervising a high-octane offense that was predicated on shooting a record number of 3-pointers. The Knicks were 54-28 — their best regular-season mark since 1996-97 — and captured the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. After reaching the conference semifinals, they fell to the Indiana Pacers in six games.
Woodson was subsequently rewarded with a contract extension through the 2014-15 season, and there were heightened expectations, at least in some quarters, about what the Knicks might be able to accomplish this time around.
In a curious move, however, Dolan removed Glen Grunwald as the general manager days before the start of training camp and replaced him with Steve Mills, a former Garden executive with no experience in that job.
Dolan also made little pretense about what he wanted, even demanded for 2013-14: a championship. But it was obvious within the first few weeks of the season that the team had major problems that had not been anticipated.
The Knicks were hindered by injury — for instance, Tyson Chandler, the team’s defense-minded center, broke a bone in his right leg Nov. 5 and wound up missing 20 games — but they also underperformed, particularly given their payroll, which was the second highest in the NBA behind the Brooklyn Nets.
The offseason departures of veteran leaders like Jason Kidd left a void, and Andrea Bargnani, the team’s prize acquisition last summer, could never quite adapt to Woodson’s system.