HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — This is just about the time Knicks fans will recognize the true benefits of having a no-nonsense coach like Mike Woodson running the show as opposed to someone who is, shall we say more concerned with the politics of coaching.
After six often tumultuous seasons leading the Atlanta Hawks, Woodson earned an advanced degree in drama (owner, front office and player related). And it’s one of the reasons why J.R. Smith being upset about not being named a starter won’t so much as register a blip on Woodson’s radar, not when he knows there are so many other obstacles standing in the way of the Knicks and their goal of being a contender in the Eastern Conference.
Woodson’s response, courtesy of Al Iannazzone of Newsday, to the stir Smith’s reaction caused was classic “Woody,” especially to those who know how he operates:
“Two things this team has got to think about: team and win,” Woodson said before the Knicks ‘ 108-101 win in their preseason opener against the Wizards. “Other than that, I’ll manage everything else. You just have to think about team and winning games. No matter who plays — team and winning games.”
The Knicks already are the oldest team in NBA history and have several key players banged up, including Amar’e Stoudemire, who missed Thursday night’s game with a left knee bruise suffered in practice Wednesday. Age and injuries are two things that could derail the Knicks’ hopes for a deep playoff run. Another is team harmony.
Smith, who scored 20 points Thursday night, said Wednesday that “disappointed would be an understatement” when he learned that Woodson wants him to come off the bench again. He had geared himself up to be a starter. He ultimately said he will do whatever Woodson wants, but he clearly was upset. “I’m not going to get into that,” Woodson said. “The bottom line is J.R. and I are on the same page.”
Woodson could have his work cut out for him in terms of trying to keep his players happy. When Ronnie Brewer , Iman Shumpert and Marcus Camby return from injuries and Rasheed Wallace works himself into shape, the Knicks are going to have a deep team filled with veterans who have started, been All-Stars and closed games. For example, Jason Kidd — who said he’s fine with backing up Raymond Felton but expects to finish games — will have a different role.
So managing egos and getting everyone to buy in to his role will be a major part of Woodson’s job in his first full season as Knicks coach. “I’m in it for one thing, and that’s to win,” he said. “We’ve got to leave the egos at the door. I think our group of guys will do that. We’ve got a nice group of guys that I like. The only way you’re going to win in this league, you’ve got to manage the ballclub, make sure guys are on the same page with the coach and I’m on the same page with these players. And I think we are.”
Leaving the egos at the door in New York?
Seeing how that plays out is worth the price of admission alone with the Knicks. Not only are there internal expectations for this group, but there is also that pesky little problem in Brooklyn that will bring added external pressure.
With the Brooklyn Nets competing for headlines and fan attention in ways that they never have before, the Knicks will have to be more conscious than ever about making sure their own house is in order.
And that’s one reason why we believed it when they made the move to go with Woodson for the top job. He was and remains the perfect man for this job. Few coaches in the league could handle the headaches that are sure to come and maintain their composure, emotions and sanity.
Woodson has been through the grinder before, albeit in a much different environment. And he has as firm a grip as anyone could have on how to handle situations like the one that has cropped up with Smith and the others that are sure to come this season.