Congrats to the Pacers.
They were better on both ends. You just have to tip your cap. This series was mostly about what they did right, even if the Knicks didn’t do everything they needed to win. Good luck to the Pacers in the ECF. It’s hard to bet against the Heat though. Indiana will need to keep turnovers down to have any chance against a much better, more aggressive Miami defense. (Remember, they didn’t really shoot that well versus New York and they gave away a ton of possessions.) Hibbert must play even better defense. His reverse posterizing of Melo will not soon be forgotten though–wow. Still, he won’t be able to just hang out by the restricted area with Bosh and Haslem on the floor. Unlike New York, Miami’s big frontcourt with Haslem and Bosh puts more mid-range shooting on the floor. Drawing Hibbert even a half-step further from the paint could be the difference in the series. It won’t matter how “vertical” he is if he’s late. Still, Indiana can pose a credible threat to the Heat if they catch some breaks. If Wade pulls a Tyson Chandler and plays at what looks like 80% it could make things interesting.
But anyway, this post is about the Knicks, and specifically coach Woodson.
Woodson was legitimately terrible against Indiana. He did not bring wood. He took wood like Vogel’s pledge. Vogel ruthlessly paddled Woodson like he was on line, exploiting his sudden–and odd–conversion to fundamentalist truisms (“play your best rebounders”, “only play eight guys”, and “always have a ‘savvy’ veteran on the floor for leadership and ‘intangibles'”). Woodon seemingly had the Midas touch all season, and the temerity to dismiss some conventions for results. Then, suddenly, he just lost it.
I was whining to a friend and fellow Knicks fan after game 4 that Woodson isn’t innovative. He merely had innovative lineups forced on him because of the team’s injury situation. My friend dutifully pointed out, it’s never so simple as that. Necessity is the mother of invention yet many inventions are never born. Their births are not to be taken for granted. Woody’s been pretty good about putting guys on the floor in roles that accentuate their strengths. That’s not true of every coach. So, I will only speak for myself here, and resolve to be less dismissive. Over an 82 game season and a first round series Woody made pretty good choices under trying circumstances. There are always bad choices available, and the good ones aren’t nearly so obvious as we like to imagine (especially once we concede that good choices don’t always work out and sometimes bad ones do).
Some on the twitterverse are calling for Woody’s dismissal, and not without some justification. In fact last night I was right there in full-throated howl. After a night of less-than-spectacular sleep, I am re-thinking my howl. Three pretty obvious reasons:
1. Room for growth — As Bob noted in his post-game, Woodson made adjustments. Too late for them to matter (as if to troll us), but he did, in fact, make them, or at least he made some. As much as anything, that’s a tell-tale sign of a coach with the capacity to improve. Woody threw away a lot of unproductive minutes on Jason Kidd and JR Smith. He rode with his guys. But, “riding their guys” is the most common coaching flaw in the league. It almost certainly comes with any coach you get, unless it’s Larry Brown. Then you get schizophrenia The best you can usually get is when the guys a coach is riding aren’t completely worthless. Next season those guys are more likely to be Shump and Copeland. That thought leaves me hopeful.
2. James Dolan — New York’s front office has done a pretty credible job of roster construction, all things considered. But a new coaching hire is ultimately going to be Dolan’s call. Who trusts Dolan with a non-Phil Jackson hire? Who really wants to be inundated with a dozen Isola columns about how Isiah Thomas is coming back to coach the Knicks? Who among us would dare tempt the basketball gods this way? (They are clearly of the crazy Old Testament variety.)
3. Switching costs are a bear — Even if Dolan gave the GM “full creative control” how confident are we that a clear and significant coaching upgrade is available? That’s an important question, because a marginal upgrade that comes with substantial switching costs (e.g., new roles, new defensive rotations, etc.) is not that attractive to me.
This should hardly be construed as a ringing endorsement for Woodson. Guys have been fired for less. Whether he deserves to be fired is never the most relevant question though. Almost every coach does at some point. The most relevant question is always can the Knicks find a large enough upgrade to justify the all the costs that come with transition?