Phil Jackson made his first major decision since becoming Knicks' president. As expected, Mike Woodson took the fall for the Knicks missing the playoffs for the first time in four years. Woodson and his staff were relieved of their duties, the Knicks announced Monday morning.
Jackson fired Woodson five days after the Knicks finished a disappointing 37-45 and failed to reach the postseason in the watered-down Eastern Conference. Woodson was 109-79in 2 ½ seasons on the Knicks' bench. His.580 winning percentage ranks third in franchise history, behind Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mike Woodson and his entire staff," Jackson said in a statement. "The coaches and players on this team had an extremely difficult 2013-14 season, and blame should not be put on one individual. But the time has come for change throughout the franchise as we start the journey to assess and build this team for next season and beyond."
TNT analyst Steve Kerr is the frontrunner to replace Woodson. Kerr, a former Suns general manager, won three championships under Jackson with Chicago and wants to get into coaching.
Under Woodson, the Knicks went 54-28 last season, won their first Atlantic Division title since 1994 and won a playoff series for the first time in 13 years. Woodson's option for 2014-15 was picked up in October, but he was in a no-win situation.
Former general manager Glen Grunwald, one of Woodson's biggest supporters, was fired days before training camp began. And expectations were high -- especially from within the organization -- despite the losses of valued veterans and locker room leaders, including Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas and Steve Novak.
The Knicks believed they could make a run at a championship, but they got off to a terrible start and never recovered. It ultimately cost Woodson his job.
"Is it fair to let me go? I don't think so," Woodson said before he coached his last game Wednesday.
The Knicks started 3-13 and fell to a season-worst 21-40 on March 3 after their seventh straight loss. They won 16 of their last 21 to get in the playoff race, but they ended up one game behind Atlanta (38-44) for the last playoff spot in the East. Injuries played a part in the Knicks underachieving this season. Six of their top 10 players missed at least 16 games due to injury, including starting center Tyson Chandler, who was sidelined for 20 games after breaking his leg in the fourth game of the season.
But a lack of chemistry and effort, a leadership void, slow starts, poor execution late in close games and repeated defensive breakdowns plagued the Knicks throughout the season and led to some lopsided and indefensible defeats.
The Knicks were 7-12 in games decided by four points or less. They also lost nine games in which they led by double-figures.
"You can point the fingers in a lot of directions," Woodson said after the Knicks were officially eliminated last weekend. "At the end of the day, I'm the coach and I didn't get it done. It's just that simple."
Carmelo Anthony called Woodson "a father figure" Thursday and said he would "back him" if he was asked whether he should return as coach. But it was doubtful Woodson would return, despite Anthony's support.
It's been long expected that Jackson would bring in his own guys, which was proven by former Knick and long-time assistant Herb Williams being let go. Jim Todd, LaSalle Thompson, Jerry Dunn, Darrell Walker and Dave Hopla also were relieved of their duties.
Jackson is expected to hire someone he's worked with and has a complete understanding of the triangle offense.
Besides Kerr, other candidates to join the Knicks in some capacity include Ron Harper, Kurt Rambis, Jim Cleamons, Frank Hamblen, Derek Fisher and Bill Cartwright. They all played or coached under Jackson.
Jackson believes in system basketball and specifically the triangle, which helped him win an NBA-record 11 championships as a coach. Woodson relied too often on Anthony in isolation plays.
After replacing Mike D'Antoni on March 14, 2012, Woodson immediately stressed defense and holding players accountable. He challenged Anthony, tried to get J.R. Smith to act more professionally and the Knicks responded. They finished the season 18-6 under Woodson and made the playoffs for the second straight year.
Last season, Anthony was an MVP candidate and Smith won the NBA's sixth man of the year award. The Knicks beat the Celtics in the opening round of the playoffs, but lost to the Pacers in six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals. They thought they were building something sustainable.
Before joining the Knicks as an assistant coach in 2011, Woodson compiled a 206-286 record in six seasons as the Hawks coach and steered them to three playoff berths.
A former first-round pick of the Knicks in 1980, Woodson was an assistant coach for the Bucks, Cavaliers, Sixers and Pistons. He won an NBA championship with Detroit in 2004, serving under former Knicks coach Larry Brown.