Knicks must win one for the skipper

Ben Kopelman

Thursday night, the Knicks will head east into Brooklyn to face the crosstown rival Nets. Last year, both teams brought playoff-like intensity to their regular season match-ups, igniting the beginning of what seemed destined to be a long, hotly-contested rivalry between top teams. Tomorrow? Not so much. Instead of that same high octane, out-for-blood vibe, we are set to watch a game with the inter-city intensity of a Jets-Giants preseason game.

Mike WoodsonTwo teams crushed by the weight of preseason expectations, stumbling into the Barclays Center with a laundry list of issues. No Tyson Chandler, no Paul Pierce, a lost J.R. Smith and a hobbled Deron Williams. 5-13 v. 3-13. It’s Knicks, Nets, next on TNT.

But of all the story lines to watch, none sticks out more than the fate of Mike Woodson. A loss tomorrow night could — and truly should — end his tenure as the Knicks’ head coach.

Forget the fact that the loss would be the team’s tenth in a row. Ignore the embarrassment of falling to the Nets when they are playing about as poorly as anybody in the league. Dismiss the sting of losing to Paul Pierce when he is not even in uniform. If Woodson fails to draw up a script that exposes the Nets’ weaknesses — something 13 other coaches have done already this season — he does not deserve his job.

Rumors that a blowout loss could lead to Woodson’s demise, and that players are worried about their coaches job security make sense, but they miss the point. Woodson should not be let go because of one loss, or even one really long and really, really sad losing streak. Another loss on Thursday night is cause for a coaching casualty because it would prove, for the ninth time in ten games, that Woodson simply cannot concoct a winning game plan.

No, he did not construct the team on his own, and of course, there is blame to go around. But Woodson’s chief concern is creating and preparing his team to execute an in-game concept, offensively and defensively, to beat the next opponent. Save for losses to the Bulls and Pacers, Woodson has completely failed to do that this season.

Even looking to the team’s three wins, one can see that talent alone won out in at least two, with the Knicks beating the Bucks (horrible), the Bobcats (pretty bad) and the Hawks (a first-round playoff loser, but fine, I’ll give him one). The team’s record is not solely Woodson’s fault, but that in no way provides him a pass for not doing his job.

Woodson surely knows more about basketball than I. But whatever Xs and Os he is practicing and implementing into games are not working. The team’s offensive plays seldom result in open looks; the defensive schemes fail to lead to turnovers or stops.

While Mike D’Antoni’s mid-season exit came about because he had lost the respect of his team, Woodson’s demise is about preparation and execution. For all his bad, nobody questioned MDA’s ability to draw up plays; yet for his part, Woodson does not seem to be drawing much of anything. Rather, Woodson is known as a player’s coach, a title which presumes that he gets the best out of his guys who are willing to go to battle on his orders.

The product on the floor suggests otherwise, but even giving Woodson the benefit of that doubt, the team is losing. If this is JR playing his heart out for his coach, fine, so be it, but it is not working. Woodson has to transition into a clipboard coach and he is either resisting or failing, but either way, the Knicks are suffering.

A coach needs both this ying and yang to run a successful unit. Optimism aside, half a glass is simply not enough.

The current losing streak is what it is. There is no getting back those nine games, there is only looking forward to the tenth. But if Woodson again fails to execute a winning game plan tomorrow night, against a beat up and bad Nets team, he deserves to be shown the door.

Melo and Co. (mostly Co., really) need to step up and win one for the skipper, because while a loss in Brooklyn would be the Knicks’ 14th, it may well be Woodson’s last.


You can follow Ben on Twitter @bkop2000