- Stephen A. Smith, ESPNNewYork.com columnist
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There haven't been many times when the New York Knicks have done something right. So it's nice to see that they finally did something sensible, lifting the interim tag from head coach Mike Woodson's title on Friday.
Sources say Woodson received a two-year deal with a third-year option, worth approximately $4 million per season -- which evidently has him doing everything but screaming, "I'm going to Disney World!"
Now all Woodson has to do is his job. Which means making sure that stars play like stars, the way most others thought Phil Jackson would've gotten them to do had he been handed this job. That means making sure the Knicks don't spend the next few years treating us like a bunch of suckers, acting as if bright lights, confetti and soap-opera headlines in the tabloids qualify as proper material to whet our postseason appetites.
It also means ensuring that Carmelo Anthony finally becomes New York's version of LeBron James: an individual who provokes thoughts of championship aspirations. Not validates them as a sheer pipe dream.
"I'm very humbled and honored to continue coaching the franchise where I started my career," Woodson, drafted in 1980 by the Knicks, said via a statement upon completing the deal. "Our goal is to build off the success we had at the end of last season and continue our quest of bringing an NBA championship to Madison Square Garden."
We won't bother asking Woodson how the Knicks plan on doing that. Probably because they have little to no idea at this moment in time.
Woodson's two-year guarantee is no accident. He has precisely that amount of time to turn things around in a more pronounced fashion than he did this season. And the clock is already ticking.
Anthony has two years and $42.8 million left before he can exercise a third-year option on his deal. Amare Stoudemire has two years and $41.6 million before he gets to exercise an option. Tyson Chandler is owed $42.2 million. None of them are getting any younger. And for anyone who wants to point out that Melo will turn 28 on Tuesday or that Stoudemire will turn 29 on Nov. 16, remember that LeBron is only 27 years old and Dwyane Wade just turned 30.
These two members of the Miami Heat play in the Eastern Conference, too.
Where are they going?
"That's obviously who we have to pay attention to," Chandler told me recently. "They're the dudes who beat us. They're the favorites. They are who everybody in our conference should be aiming for and preparing themselves to go after."
And therein lies a problem for Woodson.
On one hand, he is the coach. His staff. His team. His system. But there are still a multitude of distractions he'll need to deal with.
One is making sure The Garden knows its place and stays there -- on the business side of matters when it comes to marketing, public relations, etc. Due to years of unapologetic and continuous ineptitude, people outside of basketball operations who work for MSG should have no role in influencing basketball decisions.
Another is Woodson making sure he isn't one of those people. He must use his basketball acumen -- not PR -- to determine if Jeremy Lin is a reserve instead of a starter; if Melo is or is not in shape; if Stoudemire is lying about being healthy; or if Chandler hasn't worked hard enough in the offseason to develop some semblance of an offensive repertoire.
The Knicks finished 18-6 under Woodson since he took over the reins from Mike D'Antoni and won a playoff game for the first time in 11 years. But, contrary to their embarrassing belief, one playoff win never warranted confetti descending from the rafters of MSG. And Melo, Amare and Chandler aren't here to watch basketball with the rest of us in May and June.
"Mike took over the team under challenging circumstances and made it clear, starting on Day 1, that he was going to hold every player on our roster accountable," MSG chairman James Dolan said in a statement. "We saw a significant improvement since Mike took over and believe our team will only keep improving under Mike's direction."
It will. If Woodson is allowed to coach this team the way Dolan swears he'll be able to coach this team. Only time will tell.
In time, we'll see if Melo can turn back the clock like Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan -- individuals who are years older than the Knicks' prolific scorer yet seemingly younger based on their play this season. We'll also see if Stoudemire is just as committed to getting healthy and resurrecting his career as he is to being in school in Florida, working on a degree.
Along the way, we'll also see how committed the Knicks are in continuing to build this roster and add the necessary pieces. And how tired they are of making early exits from the postseason.
"We've got a lot to prove," Woodson deadpanned. "An awful lot of things to prove. And accomplish."
He said that weeks ago when the Knicks were heading home, hoping he'd get a chance to return for a few more years.
Well, he got it, with a few dollars to pad his wallet.
Now we wait to see if the rest of the Knicks plan on earning their money, too.
The Knicks were smart to keep Mike Woodson. But will they let him do his job?