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Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Fire Woody?! Give Coach a chance

By Stephen A. Smith
ESPNNewYork.com

The way things are looking, it's just a matter of time before New York Knicks owner James Dolan fires Mike Woodson, makes Herb Williams the interim coach and figuratively resorts to bending over backward in an effort to assuage the concerns of a fed-up Carmelo Anthony.

Good luck with that!

Because if the Knicks fire Woodson, what they've essentially done is tanked their season by using their coach as a scapegoat, returning to a time of alarming ineptitude, frustration and lack of faith.

Let's call it like it is: Coach Woodson is in trouble. If the Knicks manage to fall to the Bucks, the NBA's worst team, Wednesday night in Milwaukee, it just may be a wrap for all intents and purposes. Woodson could be gone by the weekend.

Dolan may have had enough of Woodson, just as I'm hearing Knicks brass has had it with Woodson's assistant coaches. He may believe enough is enough and that the time for change has arrived.

Except eternal Knicks assistant Williams doesn't qualify as change. Neither would someone such as former Knick Larry Johnson or assistant GM Allan Houston -- who, in the interest of fairness, vehemently denied reports he's interested in replacing Woodson. And since you're not about to go out and hire a coach with some cachet to pick up this mess in the middle of the season, why bother doing anything right now?

"Don't expect me to comment on that," Woodson said the other day about his job status. "That's not where my mind is because I have absolutely no control over that. What I can try to control is getting guys to play hard, play together and doing everything they can to get us out of this funk we're in."

Woodson clearly didn't help himself in the Knicks' 102-101 loss at MSG to the Washington Wizards on Monday night. That Woodson neglected to call a timeout with six seconds left for the final play was egregious. That none of his veterans thought to do so themselves was embarrassing. The reality that such a collection of incompetence took place in the midst of all the negative momentum aimed in Woodson's direction serves not only as a reflection on the Knicks and how lost they are, but on Woodson himself, because he's not the one required to shoot jump shots, grab rebounds, block shots and defend tenaciously for 94 feet.

In other words, if you're not making sure everyone on the floor is astute enough to display a basketball IQ and, to some degree, be an extension of the coach on the floor, then what good are you as a coach? What else is it that you do?

"He's our coach," Melo proclaimed. "He acknowledged he made the mistake, so we'll leave it at that. There's no need for me to comment any further."

Yeah, but there is a need for Melo to play better.

If averaging 26.3 points (and 9.1 rebounds) on 45 percent shooting were good enough, Melo wouldn't be leading a team mired with a 7-17 record, and devoid of substance in any kind of championship conversation. And with this being Melo's 11th season -- eight of which have ended in first-round exits from the playoffs, by the way -- something has got to give.

Under normal circumstances, that putrid reality would be the dominant portion of the conversation. But this is New York and these are the Knicks. The same franchise that hasn't won a title since 1973, that's saddled by a billionaire owner who couldn't give two cents about what anyone says or thinks and appears to know very little about what it takes to steward a basketball franchise.

Now Woodson is caught in the middle of it. And it couldn't be more unfair.

While no one with sense could label Woodson as flawless, the man did win 54 games last season. He did guide the Knicks to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time since 2000. More important, he's the same coach who lost Jason Kidd to retirement in the offseason, started the first five games of this season without J.R. Smith, was forced to coach without the services of Tyson Chandler (who's expected back Wednesday or Saturday) over the past 20 games because of a broken leg and now finds himself without a viable point guard because both Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni are out with injuries.

"All I want is to have my guys back out there," Woodson deadpanned. "No matter what the circumstances, I have no doubt we can overcome them if we just get our guys back. Tyson will help us tremendously and Raymond will give us a floor leader. I'll love our chances in the East if we get those boys back."

Translation: If he's around long enough to get those guys back.

He deserves the rest of this season.