NBA@2: Do The NY Knicks Need Phil Jackson?
When Mike Woodson took over as head coach of the New York Knicks in the wake of Mike D’Antoni’s resignation, the team was in Dire Straits. They appeared to be Brothers In Arms, earning Money For Nothing in their Walk Of Life as the losses piled up, So Far Away from being Local Heroes.
No, seriously, they were in dire straits.
The Knicks had lost six straight games and all but fallen out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, which was more than the screaming New York faithful could take. After all, they had entered the season expecting to contend with Tyson Chandler in place alongside Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. The fervor over Jeremy Lin’s meteoric rise only gave them more reason for optimism. To suffer through a losing streak amid such incredible expectations was more than D’Antoni could survive. If he hadn’t resigned, his firing was imminent.
In stepped Woodson, fresh off a job interview tour in which a number of teams overlooked his accomplishments as the coach who turned the Atlanta Hawks’ organization around. He took the assistant job in New York as a résumé builder, never imagining he would be the head man at the team’s most desperate hour.
Since Woodson took over, the Knicks have gone 16-6 (73%) and will most likely finish the season in the East’s seventh seed. Not bad for a team that lost Stoudemire to a back injury, lost Lin for the season and went through a great deal of upheaval following Woodson’s promotion.
It is in the light of this impressive run that a headline out of New York has the Knicks pondering a substantial contract offer for retired Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson.
Before we talk about whether or not the Knicks should already be talking about their next head coach while their current head coach is doing such a stellar job, let’s think about Jackson’s final games in Los Angeles last season.
The last time I saw Phil Jackson was in the second round of the playoffs, as his Lakers were being swept at the hands of the eventual-champion Dallas Mavericks. He was limping terribly, and complaining about how far the visitor’s locker room is from the parking garage where the team bus drops off personnel. Granted, it’s probably a hundred yards, but still, Jackson looked physically defeated by that walk alone, never mind the travel from L.A. to Dallas, the airports, the walk to transportation and the back and forth from hotel to arena. It would be shocking if Jackson opted to coach again, even if the Knicks offered up $50 million over four years, as the Racine Journal-Times is reporting today.
Meanwhile, Carmelo Anthony, in particular, would like to see Woodson back in a full-time capacity next season.
“I’m pretty sure they’re hearing it right now,” said Anthony, when asked if he would give his endorsement to the Knicks front office on Woodson’s behalf. “I’m a big supporter of what Coach Woodson has done. His approach to the game, and what he gets out of all his players, even me. He holds everybody accountable and that’s what we need.”
Woodson, of course, would love to continue what he’s started with the Knicks.
“Absolutely, I would love to come back. I think when you’ve been given an opportunity to start something, you’d love to finish it, but again, that’s not my call. I think when that time comes, I’ll probably have time to have an opportunity to sit down and talk to Mr. Dolan and management about it and hopefully it will work in my favor.”
Woodson is not a big name, certainly not in comparison to Jackson. Of course, Woodson also never coached the best player on the planet, an experience Jackson had with Michael Jordan in Chicago and then Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. If he had, perhaps Woodson would have a shelf full of hardware to add to his résumé. Instead, all Woodson comes armed with is his record of turning around a flailing Hawks team and then stepping in and rescuing the Knicks when they needed it most.
But shouldn’t that be enough?
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It took a while, but the postseason field for the NBA is now set. Still, a number of the playoff teams have two games left on the schedule and there is still plenty to play for. Here’s a look at tonight’s key games across the Association:
Chicago Bulls @ Indiana Pacers: There are two schools of thought going into a game like this one, where both teams have locked in their playoff seedings (Chicago 1st, Indiana 3rd). Do the two teams rest their starters, as the Celtics and HEAT did last night, or do they treat it like a warm-up for the playoffs. The Bulls, in particular, could use another game with Derrick Rose and Rip Hamilton healthy and in the lineup together. For the Pacers, a win over the East’s best team would be a great momentum-builder as they prepare for a very important time in their franchise’s history.
Charlotte Bobcats @ Orlando Magic: The Charlotte Bobcats may be as buried as a team can possibly be, but ending the season on a 23-game losing skid would make bad matters worse. They’re unlikely to win their final game of the season, against the New York Knicks, but they might have a sliver of a chance of taking out the Magic without Dwight Howard. Orlando will make the playoffs, but they don’t necessarily have a firm hold on the East’s sixth seed. If they lose to Charlotte they have Memphis still ahead, and it could mean ending regular season play on a five-game losing streak. It could also mean they finish in the seventh seed instead of the sixth. They won the season series against the Philadelphia 76ers, so even if those two teams wind up with the same record Orlando would get the higher seed. In the case of New York, however, the Magic lost the season series, and would end up with the seventh seed if those two teams are tied at the end of play tomorrow night. So there is still plenty for both of these teams to play for, even if the outcome would seem to be a foregone conclusion.
Philadelphia 76ers @ Milwaukee Bucks: After stumbling through much of the second half of the season, the Sixers are starting to build some momentum once again. They appear to be set to settle into the East’s eighth seed and face the Chicago Bulls buzz saw in the first round of the playoffs. They enter play tied with the Knicks, but by virtue of losing the season series they will be behind New York unless they finish with a better record. The Knicks have one tough game left – tonight against the Clippers – so if Los Angeles can defeat the Knicks and Philly wins their last two games, they could land on the HEAT’s first round dance card instead. That may not exactly be something to play for, but that’s the situation.
Los Angeles Clippers @ New York Knicks: The Knicks control their own destiny in this game, as a win all but assures them of the East’s seventh seed and a date with Miami in the first round of the playoffs (see above). As for the Clippers, home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs is on the line. If they lose, they will likely start the first round at Memphis, but if they win they will host the Grizzlies for the first two games of the first round by virtue of winning the season series. The Grizzlies play their final game of the season tomorrow night, as they host the Orlando Magic, a likely win for Memphis.
Denver Nuggets @ Oklahoma City Thunder: After leading the Western Conference for the vast majority of the regular season, the Thunder have now slipped to the second seed. Because they lost the season series to the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder are going to finish in second no matter the outcome of this game. That being the case, will Thunder head coach Scott Brooks opt to rest his stars in preparation for what is expected to be a long postseason run for OKC? The Nuggets need a win in order to make sure they finish ahead of the Dallas Mavericks, as they have lost the season series to Dallas. Dallas is at Atlanta tomorrow night, and the Nuggets finish the season at Minnesota tomorrow, as well. Only two wins assure the Nuggets of a first round match-up against the Los Angeles Lakers, versus slipping down into the seventh seed and a match-up with the Thunder.
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