Is Woodson coaching to save his job?

December, 19, 2013
If you ask Mike Woodson, he'll tell you he's not worried about his job security.

But the way things unfolded on Wednesday night in Milwaukee makes it fair to at least wonder if Woodson felt like he was coaching for his job.

The embattled Knicks head man played Carmelo Anthony 55 out of a possible 58 minutes in the Knicks' double-overtime win against the Bucks. That left Anthony with a per-game minute average of 39.8, which is the highest in the NBA. Anthony said earlier this season that he'd prefer not to play 40 minutes a game but is willing to do so if that's what the Knicks need.

Woodson also played Tyson Chandler an eye-popping 37 minutes in his first game following a six-week absence for a fractured right fibula. Chandler cramped up late but told Woodson he could remain on the floor.

"I wasn't expecting to play him [37] minutes but really had no choice," Woodson said Thursday in an interview on ESPN 98.7 FM's "The Stephen A. Smith Show."

You can have a healthy debate over the merits of playing one of your most important players 37 minutes in his first game in six weeks. Was it worth risking Chandler's health to try to win a game in mid-December?

In most circumstances, the answer would be no.

But Woodson's situation with the Knicks is a bit different. New York had lost 11 of 13 prior to a win over Chicago on Dec. 11, so there has been speculation throughout the month that Woodson's job is in danger. Team owner James Dolan gave Woodson a public vote of confidence Nov. 20. But the Knicks have gone 4-9 since Dolan's comments, including a 41-point loss to Boston on Dec. 8 and a 15-point loss to Cleveland two days later.

[+] EnlargeMike Woodson
AP Photo/Morry GashDid Mike Woodson overuse Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler on Wednesday against the Bucks to save his job?
A source with knowledge of the team's thinking told last week that Woodson is being evaluated on a "game-by-game basis" by upper management. That's what made Wednesday's win so important for Woodson. It's not hard to imagine Woodson losing his job on Thursday if the Knicks had lost to a Bucks team without O.J. Mayo, its most potent scorer.

The Knicks survived in Milwaukee. But at what point do all the minutes played by the Knicks' most essential players start to take a toll on the season?

In Anthony's case, we may already be seeing it. Last season, he shot 44 percent in the fourth quarter. This year, he's shooting 38 percent.

In clutch situations (team ahead or behind by five points with five minutes or less to play), Anthony is shooting just 24.3 percent from the field this season. Last year, he shot 31.7 percent from the floor while playing nearly two minutes less per game. So Woodson's high usage of Anthony seems to be impacting the team.

For what it's worth, Woodson on Thursday reiterated that he thinks the Knicks (8-17) shouldn't be judged until they are 100 percent healthy.

"Until we can get back and get guys back in uniform, mainly the core guys, plus the pieces that we've gotten new on this team in place, it's hard to really judge who the new York Knicks are as far as I'm concerned from a coaching standpoint," Woodson told Smith and Ryan Ruocco. "And I'm desperately [waiting] and anxious to try to get back to where we were a year ago. But I need to have a full deck just to see where we are as a basketball team."

The Knicks will likely be without point guard Raymond Felton (hamstring) for at least another 10 days. Backup point guard Pablo Prigioni is out for at least two weeks with a broken big toe. And Kenyon Martin (strained abdominal) is sidelined for at least two weeks.

So Woodson has a right to wonder how his team will perform when it's whole. But it's also fair to wonder if he's burning out those healthy enough to play.

Do you think Woodson is playing Carmelo Anthony and others too many minutes? Is he letting his job security dictate how he uses his players?

You can follow Ian Begley on Twitter.



Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.


Carmelo Anthony
27.4 3.1 1.2 38.7
ReboundsC. Anthony 8.1
AssistsP. Prigioni 3.5
StealsI. Shumpert 1.2
BlocksA. Bargnani 1.2