HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Mike D’Antoni won’t get the chance to fix whatever ails the New York Knicks. He resigned as coach Wednesday and is being replaced on an interim basis by his assistant and former Hawks head coach Mike Woodson, as first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports and since confirmed by sources to NBA.com.
With rumors rampant and the Knicks falling out of the playoff mix with an ugly 0-for-March stretch — they’ve lost six straight games — something had to give. D’Antoni leaves in what was reportedly a mutual parting of the ways. But there were rumblings that D’Antoni had lost the respect of the players in his locker room in recent weeks.
The glow of Linsanity and Jeremy Lin‘s rise to fame was washed away in Carmelo Anthony‘s struggles and growing discomfort in a system that didn’t feature the All-Star forward the way he was used to being featured. D’Antoni’s departure marks a major mood swing for the Knicks, who just last month this time were the talk of the league and the global sports world with Lin as the centerpiece.
They won seven straight games, got back to .500 and did almost all of that with Anthony out injured. But they suffered losses in eight of their next 10 games and simply could not get Anthony, Lin, Amar’e Stoudemire and the rest of their key players on the same page.
TNT’s David Aldridge weighs in with even more details on a rift between D’Antoni and Anthony that might have led to the “mutual parting of the ways”:
A source with knowledge of the discussions says D’Antoni and Knicks chairman James Dolan mutually agreed to terminate D’Antoni’s job with New York after the two met this morning.
D’Antoni, the source said, had been advocating that the Knicks attempt to trade Anthony to the New Jersey Nets for guard Deron Williams, a deal D’Antoni believed would be beneficial for both franchises. But Dolan categorically declined that request, and the “conflicting visions” between the owner and head coach about Anthony meant there was no way forward.
D’Antoni had hoped the Knicks’ inspired and winning play with Lin as the centerpiece — while Anthony and Stoudemire were injured — would convince Dolan the Knicks could win without Anthony. Bringing Williams from the Nets would also have eases the burden on Lin, D’Antoni believed, allowing Lin to settle into a three-guard rotation.
D’Antoni asked for the meeting with Dolan after his relationship with Anthony had deteriorated sharply in recent days. He will be paid the remainder of the $6 million he’s due in this fourth and final year of his $24 million contract.
Woodson has plenty of experience trying to turn around a struggling program. (He is, after all, the mastermind behind the Knicks’ defensive renaissance this season, they went from 21st in defensive efficiency last season to 10th this season.)
He spent six years in Atlanta, using a star-friendly system that helped Joe Johnson and, later, Al Hoford earn multiple All-Star nods.
Woodson was criticized for his “Iso Joe” offense that relied almost exclusively on Johnson either making or creating plays in half-court sets, but he had great success with that style. The Hawks made three straight playoff appearances in his final three years with the team and rang up the fourth-best season in the franchise’s Atlanta history with a 53-29 record in 2009-10.
“Woody’s on the hot seat again,” a league source said and then laughed. “That’s just the way he likes it.”
Woodson is also known as a defensive specialist, something the Knicks knew they needed in August when they hired Woodson to join D’Antoni’s staff.
He proved in Atlanta that he was capable of working under duress, as the Hawks endured on- and off-the-court drama from the moment he took over until the day he found out his contract would not be renewed. Woodson’s first Hawks team won just 13 games, the worst record in the league during the 2004-05 season.
The Hawks won 26, 30, 37, 47 and 53 games in the seasons after that, making it to the Eastern Conference semifinals in each of Woodson’s last two seasons.
But whatever challenges he faced in Atlanta, he never faced the sort of attention and pressure he’ll see now with the Knicks, even if only on an interim basis.
Our man Scott Howard-Cooper was in L.A. to see some of Woodson’s former players on the Hawks take on the Clippers:
Joe Johnson: “I have no idea how he’s going to do, but I’m sure he’ll try to have those guys ready to go. They’ve got a lot of talent. Hopefully he can bring the best out of them.”
Johnson, on dealing with the scrutiny in New York: “I’m sure he’ll be able to handle it. I haven’t talked to him in a while. But this is an opportunity for him. It’s presented itself again. I’m sure he’s going to want to make the most of it.”
Zaza Pachulia: “You really can’t compare Atlanta to New York. It’s totally different with everything – the team, the city, the organization, media. Everything. One thing I can say it’s every assistant coach’s dream to become a head coach, so I’m sure he feels great about it.”
Pachulia, on Woodson’s prospects for success in New York: “I’m sure it’s going to be hard. Especially taking over near the middle of the season and not having time to practice. It’s tough. But I’m sure he’s going to try his best.”
UPDATE (11:45 p.m.): Finally, we have this from NBA.com correspondent Mike Slane, who hung around to talk to Knicks after their win over Portland on Wednesday:
Carmelo Anthony: “It was an unfortunate day. From a basketball standpoint, we had a lot of fun on the court. We responded well with our backs against the wall. Under the circumstances we put everything aside, played basketball and had fun. It was a good way to come out and get a ‘W’. In life there are times change can be for the better. It is an unfortunate situation with coach Mike. He said he stepped down for the sake of the team. He felt like the team needed change. I wish it was under better circumstances but it is what it is.”
Amar’e Stoudemire: “I’m always a guy that’s going to listen to my coach and also implement whatever strategy for us to play towards that goal. They watch more film than we do. They study the game a lot more than we do. So they have a better sense of how to play the game. With that being said, with him being gone now, Mike Woodson is our coach and we have to have the same respect for him as we had for our previous coach.”
Jeremy Lin: “For me, personally, I’m a little more emotional, losing a coach or anyone that was there for me the whole season. Obviously, him and the staff did a lot for me and did a lot for the team.”
Steve Novak: “I was home and I was very unhappy. The opportunity he gave me and the coach that he is and more than anything the man that he is. It is going to be tough knowing that he is not going to be working with us the rest of the year.”
Tyson Chandler: “Obviously, at the beginning when I found out the news about coach it was disappointing. I was excited about playing for him throughout the year. I understand that things don’t always go the way you expect them to. I will always have respect for coach and I will always respect his decision.”