Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Knicks Extend Mike Woodson

So, what everyone already assumed to be imminent happened yesterday: Mike Woodson received a contract extension! Though the details were never officially announced, ESPN NY reported that it was a two-year guaranteed deal, with an option on the third-year, each season worth approximately $4 million.

This is a fair deal for Woodson. Under his reign, the Knicks reached the top five in the NBA in defensive efficiency, they went 18-6 over their final 24 games to finish 36-30, and they won their first playoff game in over a decade. Despite injuries to starters like Jeremy Lin and Amar'e Stoudemire, Woodson was still able to achieve a good deal of success in his 29 games as head coach, including the playoffs.

But for me, it's hard to be completely satisfied with this move.

Woodson's accolades have been well-acknowledged, and I discussed them above. I liked the job that Woody did as head coach. He always said the right thing, he held players accountable (sort of), and as discussed, brought this team to a level that Mike D'Antoni couldn't achieve. These things were all great.

However, hiring Mike Woodson was the totally safe move, and for a franchise that rarely plays it safely, cautiously, or in a low-key fashion, to suddenly do so on this move was poorly timed.

For all of Woodson's achievements, the biggest blemish on his record is his playoff performance. And this pertains to his recent playoff appearance with the Knicks and his stint with the Hawks. In Atlanta, Woodson's Hawks were swept by the Orlando Magic, defeated by the largest margin in NBA history. With the Knicks, while they managed to squeak out a win - a buzzer-beating win at that - against the Miami Heat, his coaching in the playoffs was less-than-inspiring.

Woodson struggled to counter the Heat's strategy of fronting Carmelo Anthony. He couldn't devise plans to get Steve Novak open looks on the perimeter, for all of his talk of accountability, little was done when J.R. Smith and Anthony hijacked the offense, dribbling precious seconds off the clock and forcing contested jumpshots. The Knicks never went to a zone defense - a proven attack the Heat have struggled against. Despite shooting 50% in the first two games, Amar'e Stoudemire only took 16 shots in those two games, and never had plays run for him on a consistent basis.

While Woodson wasn't dealt an idealistic hand, forced to press on without Baron Davis, Iman Shumpert, or Lin, forced to play Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire at less-than-100%, forced to trot out Mike Bibby as the starting point guard, or play stretches where Landry Fields, Smith, and Anthony had to run the offense - his coaching wasn't terribly reassuring.

So, why play is safe now, Knicks? When Phil Jackson lurks in shadowy alleys, supposedly seeking the Knicks; when Jerry Sloan - an under-mentioned name whose style would fit these Knicks - seeks to reemerge in the NBA.

All of this is not to say that Woodson isn't the man for the job. He achieved a great deal in his short time as head coach. But with options abound, can the Knicks really say they did their homework on this one?

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