The first major decision for recently named New York Knicks team president Phil Jackson will be whether to fire head coach Mike Woodson. But Woodson’s possible removal would only be the start of an expected overhaul at Madison Square Garden.
Plagued by injuries but also by awful team morale that was palpable to anyone who watched even one game this season, the Knicks missed the playoffs at arguably the most critical time in the team’s recent history. Carmelo Anthony can opt-out of his current contract and jump ship this summer to the rebuilding Los Angeles Lakers, or even force a sign-and-trade to the Chicago Bulls or Houston Rockets, and much of the blame could fall at Woodson’s feet.
A year ago, the Knicks won 54 games, their first 50-win season in 13 years, and with very little roster turnover this year Woodson was expected to at least bring the team to the Eastern Conference finals. Now those hopes are completely dashed and Woodson doesn’t enjoy any job security, even though he posted a 91-73 overall record and guided the Knicks to their first playoff victories since 2001.
A previous relationship with Jackson would help Woodson’s future at MSG, but that’s non-existent. And it’s those closest to Jackson, especially his former championship point guards, who look poised to replace Woodson next season.
Steve Kerr, a member of three of Jackson’s title teams in Chicago and a proven executive with three years of experience with the Phoenix Suns, is the apparent frontrunner according to a report from USA Today late last month. Another reported candidate is veteran point guard Derek Fisher, who could wind up as a coach or with a front office role at MSG.
Kerr, 48, hasn’t coached before but his experience running Jackson’s famed triangle offense and strong personal relationship with the Zen Master are two feathers in his cap that only Fisher can equal.
Fisher is still going strong as a back-up in Oklahoma City in his 17th NBA season, but his previous role as the NBA Player’s Union president and proven calming presence in the locker room are two reasons he could easily slide into a leadership role for most any team in the league.
However, both would be signs that Jackson hopes to not only institute the triangle, but even play backseat coach with known quantities. Kerr and Fisher would likely seek as many assurances as possible that Jackson fully intends to remain in the front office and that not all of their coaching decisions will require a call upstairs.
Implementing the triangle could also be tricky considering the Knicks current roster. Center Tyson Chandler, who’s broken leg suffered at the beginning of the season was one of the reasons New York slipped too far back in the playoff race, has stated he wants to win immediately rather than trudge through another losing season and wait for free agent reinforcements in 2015 that might include Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge.
“I definitely don’t want to waste another season,’’ Chandler said to the New York Post earlier this week. “I don’t want to waste this season. I’m not into wasting seasons. Your time is too short in this league and I want to win a championship, another one. I’m not into wasting seasons.’’
A center that can pass is critical to the triangle, as is a point guard with excellent decision-making, something Raymond Felton didn’t show throughout this season both on and off the court.
Should Jackson flip the impatient Chandler’s expiring $12 million contract into a more triangle-suited point guard and or big man, he’ll still have to wait for Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani’s deals to expire as well. Stoudemire and Bargnani make up a combined $35 million of the Knicks expected $91 million payroll next season, and their injury histories and inconsistent play make them practically untradeable unless New York takes on any new contracts.
However, all those moves come second to Anthony’s looming free agency. Jackson’s hiring was seen as the Knicks proving to the career 25.3 points per game scorer that they intend to win a title as soon as possible. And perhaps the first and most logical step appears to be Woodson’s dismissal.