HANG TIME PLAYOFF HEADQUARTERS — Someone can go ahead and print up those new business cards for Mike Woodson, who shed the interim tag and officially became the head coach of the New York Knicks today after signing a multi-year extension.
Retaining the coach that led the Knicks out of their midseason mess and into the playoffs promises to be just the first of what should be many important steps for the franchise this summer. They have free agents to deal with, namely a guy named Jeremy Lin, and other matters to sort out after winning their first playoff game since 2001 on Woodson’s watch.
The former Hawks coach and former Knicks draft pick replaced Mike D’Antoni in March and guided to the Knicks to an 18-6 finish to the regular season, earning the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race and a date with the Miami Heat in the first round. They only lasted five games against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat. But they played without Lin and with an ailing Tyson Chandler, the KIA Defensive Player of the Year, not to mention Amar’e Stoudemire playing with an injured hand to finish the series.
Woodson was rewarded as much for the work he did getting to the Knicks to the playoffs as he was anything else. They were headed for next week’s lottery before he took over for D’Antoni, who resigned March 14.
“Mike has the respect of every person in this organization,” Knicks general manager Glen Grunwald said in a statement. “He and his staff led the team in an impressive push into the playoffs over the last 24 games and we believe he is the right man to lead the franchise as we move forward.”
It’s hard to argue that point, given the way Woodson was able to steer the Knicks out of a tumultuous stretch of their season and into the playoffs. He also was able to get All-NBA forward Carmelo Anthony back in a groove after the “Linsanity” craze and the inevitable slump that came after that surge.
Woodson might not be the big name Knicks fans have gotten used to in recent years — Pat Riley, Isiah Thomas, Larry Brown, D’Antoni — and he’s probably not the former Knick they were hoping would come home to rescue the franchise, that would be one Phil Jackson. But he is the coach whose hard work helped rescue them this season. And that was clearly taken into account by the organization.
You could also make the argument that he’s exactly what the Knicks need right now, as a coach who won’t make headlines for anything other than his team’s performance on the floor.
“Mike took over the team under challenging circumstances and made it clear, starting on day one, that he was going to hold every player on our roster accountable,” Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan said. “We saw a significant improvement since Mike took over and believe our team will only keep improving under Mike’s direction.”
Woodson has extensive history presiding over a rebuilding project. In six turbulent seasons in Atlanta his Hawks teams improved each and every season, going from the worst record in the league his first season to making the playoffs in each of his final three seasons and winning 53 games in his final campaign.
So Woodson’s is no stranger to the process the Knicks will undergo this summer and in the near future trying to build a contender basically from the ground up. He’s certainly starting off on much more solid ground this time around with Anthony, Chandler and Stoudemire as his core pieces to build around.
“I’m very humbled and honored to continue coaching the franchise where I started my NBA career,” Woodson, who was drafted by the Knicks in 1980, said in a statement. “Our goal is to build off the success we had at the end of last season and to continue our quest of bringing an NBA championship to Madison Square Garden.”
Much will be made of Woodson’s paltry .363 playoff winning percentage and the fact that he’s not Jackson or some other marquee name that would have lit up Broadway the moment he stepped to the podium to be introduced as the Knicks’ new boss. But don’t let his 224-292 career coaching record fool you. He’s a much better coach than those numbers indicate. When given comparable talent to work with, Woodson-coached teams have made the playoffs in each of his last four seasons calling the shots.