- Ian Begley, ESPN New York Writer
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When you talk about coaches who have been on the hot seat in New York, you start the conversation with Isiah Thomas.
Thomas endured an arena full of Knicks fans calling for his job during the late stages of his coaching tenure in New York. Thousands of fans at Madison Square Garden would chant "Fire Isiah" in his final home games on the bench. So he can relate to what Mike Woodson's been through over the past few weeks.
And he thinks the current Knicks coach should be given the chance turn things around.
“When you evaluate the job he’s doing, I look at the total body of work," Thomas said on WFAN-AM on Friday morning with Sid Rosenberg and Kim Jones. “Since he’s been here his record is [81-53]. When you look at the season he’s having, fortunately they’re in the Atlantic and nobody is running away with the division."
It's only natural that Thomas would support Woodson. He and Woodson are close friends. Both played together at Indiana under Bobby Knight. Thomas also remains close with Knicks owner and Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan even though things did not turn out well in New York.
“I know Mike personally. I know what kind of competitor he is and what kind of coach he’s been. When he has all the pieces and the team is playing well, they’re as good as anybody," Thomas said. "Coming out of training camp they had injuries and were hit with the injury bug more than most teams.”
That's one reason why Dolan told his players on Thursday that the organization won't be making any trades or coaching changes.
Part of Dolan's motivation to keep Woodson around, as first reported by ESPN.com's Marc Stein, was the willingness of Knicks management to give Woodson a chance to coach the team with Chandler healthy. But Felton went down shortly thereafter, leaving New York (9-20) with another starter missing due to injury.
“What will happen to the Knicks eventually is they will get healthy, they will get all their pieces back and they will turn out to have a pretty good season, a season everybody will enjoy," Thomas said. “That is, if they get healthy. If the injury bug stays with them, they will struggle."
Thomas, who served as president then coach of the team during one of the franchise's lowest periods, believes Woodson can handle the scrutiny of the Big Apple.
“Unfortunately you're going through a very tough time in basketball in New York, but this is what I know about the coach you have and my former teammate and friend: We played at Indiana and played for Coach Knight. We’re built for this type of adversity," Thomas said. “Winning is easy. That’s when everyone pats you on the back and everything is great. These are the tough times when you really see what people are made of.
“We’ll see over next couple of week and months. I don’t know if it will translate into wins, but the type of personality and philosophy and type of man Coach Woodson is, you’re going to like what you see from this coach who’s under pressure and fire."
Thomas currently works as an analyst for NBA TV and is active in the community in trying to stem youth violence, particularly in Chicago.
He said on WFAN that he'd be willing to return to the NBA. The Knicks made the playoffs just once during Thomas' tenure with the organization. Thomas was the coach of the Knicks when Madison Square Garden was found liable in a sexual-harassment suit.
“Absolutely," Thomas said when asked about returning to the NBA. “If the game called me back and I got the opportunity, I would love to. It warms my heart to see all the players we had here [or] whom I drafted with the Knicks, they’re doing quite well. I do know if I was able to stick with the plan and let those young players develop, they'd be a pretty good basketball team in the East."
It should be noted that Thomas also signed free-agent big men Eddy Curry and Jerome James, two transactions that did not work out well.
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When you talk about coaches who have been on the hot seat in New York, you start the conversation with Isiah Thomas. Thomas endured an arena full of Knicks fans calling for his job during the late stages of his coaching tenure in New York.