Assistants who could join Tom Thibodeau’s staff: Mike Woodson
According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Mike Woodson is expected to join the Knicks “in some capacity.” The Knicks have not formally announced his hiring, but it makes sense. Woodson is a CAA client and was in good graces with Leon Rose, Carmelo Anthony’s agent, for his job as the New York’s head coach from 2012 to 2014, where he took the team to the playoffs two times and to the second round in 2013.
Fast-forward to 2020, and Leon Rose runs the Knicks, and Mike Woodson is eager to return to New York after his unceremonious exit in 2014.
Mike Woodson served as an assistant to Doc Rivers in Los Angeles for four years, and he was expected to be Igor Kokoskov’s lead assistant in Phoenix during the 2018-19 season. An agreement failed to materialize, leaving Woodson out of the game for two seasons.
Despite his absence from the game, Woodson would be a terrific addition to Tom Thibodeau’s staff as an assistant. Like Thibodeau, Woodson is a defensive mind that pushes his teams to play hard-nosed defense.
However, one of Tom Thibodeau’s biggest critiques is his relationship with the young generation of NBA players. Woodson, who is well-liked and is regarded as a players coach, could potentially aid Thibodeau in that department. Although Woodson may not seem like the type of coach that can relate to 19 and 20-year-olds, his track-record shows that players love and respect him.
Raymond Felton, who played for Woodson from 2012-2014, reflected on Woodson’s time in New York in an interview with Knicks Fan TV on Youtube:
"“I love him to death, he still should be the coach there in my opinion,” Felton said on the show, co-hosted by CP of Knicks Fan TV and J. Ellis from The Knick of Time Show. “He’s like a coach, a father figure, all of the above for me.” “That coaching staff was amazing. Woody was great. He was a coach that understood. He gave us the freedom but at the same time, he let us know he was in charge. It got times where we had battles, at times we had our disagreements as players and coaches, but at the end of the day, we respected each other. And I think a lot of that is missing in the game nowadays where sometimes these young guys don’t respect their coaches and that’s not a good thing.”"
Other players such as Jamal Crawford, Rasheed Wallace, and Kenyon Martin joined Knicks Fan TV and echoed Felton’s sentiments about Woodson. They appreciated his player-friendly mentality and his ability to galvanize the team as a leader.
Woodson’s teams in New York were also ahead of their time and prescribed to the way basketball is played today. The 2012-13 team was number one in three-point attempts and utilized Carmelo Anthony as a small-ball four. The Knicks teams that ensued took a step back from that perspective.
Another facet of Woodson’s coaching is his ability to manage egos and difficult personalities. He was able to maximize Carmelo Anthony’s production, make Amar’e Stoudemire accept a bench role, and manage the characters of Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith.
The very next season after Woodson’s firing, Derek Fisher failed to command the locker room and Shumpert and Smith were dumped to Cleveland, Carmelo’s play declined, and Amar’e was bought out. The beginning of the 2014-15 campaign underscored the importance of having a coach that can relate to their players, and Woodson, as an assistant, can aid Thibodeau in a department where his critics think he is lacking.
The teams Woodson coached in New York, and Atlanta are undoubtedly different from the Knicks’ roster outlook. Still, his player-first approach should assuredly carry over and succeed in a rebuilding atmosphere.
Take it from Woodson himself, who commented on his ability to coach young teams in a Q&A with Ian Begley:
"“For the most part, they’re a young team. When I think about young ball clubs, I think about what we went through in Atlanta. It was a struggle early. We had a ton of young players. Josh Smith, who turned out to be a wonderful player. Marvin Williams, who is still in our league. Josh Childress, Donta Smith, Royal Ivey, Salim Stoudamire, Al Horford. We ended up building something sustainable, in part, because we developed those guys. (Hawks executive) Billy Knight was on to something. We built that team through the draft and free agency. We brought Joe Johnson in. Tyronn Lue came in as a point guard to jump start us. We picked up Zaza Pachulia and we became a competitive ballclub. We added Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford, those were the two final pieces to the puzzle. Jamal won the Sixth Man award. We made the playoffs every year those guys were there. But even through the rough times, when we were getting beaten badly, there were always coaches who came to me and said, ‘Man, your team plays hard.’ That meant more to me than everything. Because that’s half the battle. If your team plays hard and they start to mature and you keep them together, the results are what happened here in Atlanta.”"
Woodson also coached a guy named Tyson Chandler, who won a defensive player of the year award in New York. If Mitchell Robinson can develop into a Tyson Chandler-esque defender, I will surely be content.