By Salvatore Pane
I’m switching up the format for today’s column because, well, what’s the point of anything? Last night the Knicks put on a clinic for terrible endgame performances. I’ve survived the Isiah era. I remember Ewing missing a bunny in the 1995 Eastern Conference semis. It honestly turns my stomach to even mention the current ‘bockers in the same paragraph with Ewing and his crew. Last night, with the Knicks down 1 with a handful of seconds on the clock, point guard Beno Udrih in-bounded the ball to Anthony under the Hawks’ basket and casually strolled over to Woodson awaiting the timeout that would advance the ball up the court. That’s what happens on a basketball court in that particular situation. It’s ingrained. You’re taught that kind of stuff from the moment you join an organized basketball team in middle school. From 4th through 8th grade, I played on a vastly undermanned Catholic school team that lost every single game. EVERY. SINGLE. GAME. For four straight years! And even I would have expected my dad, the coach, to call the timeout in that situation. But Mike Woodson didn’t call a timeout. Instead, Melo gingerly walked the ball up the court before realizing the clock was running out and a timeout wasn’t coming. So he ran into two Wizard defenders and chucked an off-balance deep 3. Just like that, the Knicks fall to 7-17 and the fourth worst record in the NBA despite having the second largest payroll. Just watch it yourself.
I’m a Knicks fan living in Indianapolis. Nothing the Knicks accomplish, or in all likelihood, fail to accomplish will tangibly affect my life. What right do I have to call for a man’s job? To say that an actual human being should lose the means to provide for his family? I’m conflicted, because by all accounts, Mike Woodson seems like a decent human being. He’s not arrogantly stubborn like previous ‘bocker coach Mike D’Antoni. It just seems like Woodson’s over his head. In that way, I’m reminded of Toney Douglas, the gunner D’Antoni stupidly promoted to starting point guard after the front office amnestied Chauncey Billups in the wake of the lockout. Clyde and Breen loved Douglas’ attitude and discipline, but it was clear to any basketball novice that the man was not a point guard on the NBA-level. The same thing can be said about Woodson and coaching the New York Knicks. This is not the place for him.
2. The Lineups
Last night was the kind of brain fart you’d never see from a Phil Jackson or Popovich, but it wasn’t the worst thing Woodson has done as head coach. In last year’s already sepia-toned 54 win season, a common talking point was that Woodson liked deploying analytics-heavy, “weird” NBA lineups. He played small-ball the entire year, starting Melo at the 4 to take advantage of the slower power forwards littered across the eastern conference. Tyson Chandler at the 5 was often able to clean up Anthony’s defensive lapses on the other end, and his true stroke of genius was starting Pablo Prigioni and Raymond Felton at the same time, a two-point guard lineup that rattled off 13 consecutive wins near the end of the season.
That’s the narrative, but is it reality? The other plausible scenario is that Woodson’s hand was forced by injuries. Remember that Amar’e Stoudemire missed the vast majority of last season, that Iman Shumpert wasn’t available until nearly a third of the year had been played, that all the veteran big men quickly broke down–beloved Rasheed, Camby, and Kurt Thomas–and finally that backup center Kenyon Martin wasn’t even signed until near the end of the regular campaign. Woodson never professed a love of analytics, and in fact, kept going out of his way to say that he preferred to play a bigger NBA lineup lifted straight out of the 1980s. The most damning evidence came again in the eastern semis against Indiana. The Pacers are a big, bruising team, and last year’s squad resembled the Knicks of the ’90s. They destroyed you with interior force on the defensive glass and hoped to win games 80-76–obviously, this has all changed since Paul George’s massive leap forward this season. Woodson eventually returned to the two point guard lineup, but not before completely throwing out the team’s identity and starting Chandler and Martin at the 5 and 4, Melo at the 3, and Shump and Felton at the 2 and 1 in a decisive game four loss that proved Woody was now playing to the Pacers’ strengths instead of the Knicks. He seemed to learn his lesson when he returned to Ray and Pablo in the next two games of that series, and fans would’ve naturally assumed that we’d see more of the same this season.
But, as we all know, that hasn’t been the case. Woodson has refused to play Felton and Pablo for meaningful minutes, and has instead professed a desire to start a front court lineup of Chandler, Bargnani, and Melo. The team’s previous identity of spreading the floor and shooting 3s has been completely thrown out the window for a more traditional NBA offensive style that doesn’t work when you have the esoteric skill sets of Melo and Bargs and Amar’e, a perpetually drunk Earl “Pipestrong” Smith JR, and a lovable but below-league average point guard in Raymond Felton.
Right now, the Knicks are in complete shambles. Pablo is out for at least two weeks with a broken toe, and with Felton out of the lineup as well, that means the ‘bockers are going to have to roll with Beno Udrih as their starting point guard and back him up with either Shumpert–who didn’t exactly light the world on fire with his performance as a 1 during his rookie season–or the summer league standout Toure’ Murry that Woodson refuses to play, or Chris Smith, Earl’s brother who is not really a professional basketball player. This is the first time this season where I’m really beginning to doubt if the Knicks can turn things around and reel off enough wins to sniff the top of the Atlantic. Change is coming to the Garden in one way or another, and our only hope may rest with a man who so sunk the Knicks in the early-to-mid 2000s that the NBA named a rule after him: the one and only Allan Houston.
Delusional maniac James Dolan reportedly wants to promote longtime front office employee Allan Houston to interim coach if the axe is dropped on Broad Ripple Mike. This will be the second time Allan is expected to be the savior of a suddenly rudder-less Knicks franchise. Will he do a little better than last time? Is he the change the team needs? None of us know the answer. But if it’s this or parting with yet another draft pick or both Shumpert and THJ, I think we’d all have to go with Houston, right?
3. A Trade That Will Never Happen That Could Save The Knicks
Oh, man. I don’t know. Let’s see. JR was horribly inefficient last night but seemed to get his swagger back. You know, he was like smiling and stuff. He didn’t refuse to shoot because he was mad at Woodson. What else? Uh, I wore my Amar’e jersey last night for the first time in awhile because STAT actually resembles some version of himself on the court occasionally. He looks pretty good actually. If we get something out of him, maybe we can win the 8 seed and run headfirst into the Pacers’ buzzsaw. Oh, and THJ is leading all rookies in 3pt percentage. So there’s that. He looks like a solid addition. I ate some crab rangoon during the game last night. It was ok.
5. Next Week and Beyond
If Woodson isn’t fired before the end of the day, I just don’t know, guys. I just don’t know.