Phil Jackson's first major move as Knicks president was a swift one: On Monday, New York fired coach Mike Woodson and his staff.
The Knicks finished 37-45 this season despite owning the NBA's second-highest payroll as Carmelo Anthony missed the playoffs for the first time in his 11-year career. They also won 17 fewer games than the year before with essentially the same roster.
Jackson announced the move in a statement after meeting with Woodson on Monday morning, less than a week after the end of the regular season. Woodson had one year left on his contract.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mike Woodson and his entire staff," Jackson said. "The coaches and players on this team had an extremely difficult 2013-14 season, and blame should not be put on one individual. But the time has come for change throughout the franchise as we start the journey to assess and build this team for next season and beyond.
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"Everyone in this franchise owes a great deal of gratitude to what Mike and his staff have done. We wish him the best."
Woodson, 56, went 109-79 (.580) in two-plus seasons with the Knicks after replacing Mike D'Antoni in March 2012. He led New York to the playoffs in his first two seasons, including a second-round appearance last year after the team's first division title since 1993-94. Despite one year remaining on his contract to the tune of $3.3 million, his dismissal was largely expected after a ninth-place finish in the weak Eastern Conference. Jackson was careful not to give the firing a sense of inevitability since taking over in March. At his introductory news conference, Jackson tiptoed around questions about Woodson's future.
"Mike has shown that he's a very good basketball coach," Jackson said at the time. "He's had a difficult season. He’s turned this team into a contender for the playoffs. Hopefully he can make that happen. We'll have discussions at the end of the season with Mike going forward."
Injuries, distractions and discontent plagued the Knicks' season. Anthony did not get the support he needed and battled through a shoulder injury; J.R. Smith regressed from Sixth Man Award winner to a nuisance on and off the floor; Andrea Bargnani failed to meet expectations and missed the final three months with an elbow injury; Raymond Felton struggled at point guard and was arrested for gun charges; and Tyson Chandler played only 55 games.
With owner James Dolan stepping to the side and appointing Jackson team president last month, the writing was on the wall that the Knicks were set to undergo massive changes. After all, you don't bring in a 13-time champion on a reported five-year, $60 million contract and have him stand pat with a team in need of a makeover.
Jackson will now lead the Knicks' coaching search. TNT analyst Steve Kerr has been mentioned frequently as a potential replacement for Woodson. Kerr, a former Suns general manager who played for Jackson with the Bulls, has no head-coaching experience.
Another priority for the Knicks is to resolve Anthony's status. Anthony can opt out of his contract and become a free agent this offseason. If he wants to stay in New York (and Jackson wants him there), the Knicks can try to rebuild around Anthony and aim for a quick fix. If Carmelo leaves, the Knicks will have a new identity on the court as well as in the front office.
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