Phil Jackson implies Knicks players savaged Mike Woodson in exit interviews
In the latest chapter of the continuing saga that is Phil Jackson’s takeover of the basketball operations of the New York Knicks, the new team president implied with comments made during a 24-minute press conference on Wednesday that players threw recently fired head coach Mike Woodson under the bus during exit interviews.
Jackson said that players told him that the Knicks did not play as a team but instead relied solely on talent and that helped contribute to a miserable season that fell well below what was expected out of a team laden with said talent.
“One of the messages from the players was that it was a very talented team,’’ Jackson said, via the New York Post. “They had to have a lot of games where they forced their talent on opposing teams rather than playing with freedom to make things easy. All the wins were hard to get. They were winning with talent and not with team play, which I thought was an accurate statement.
“I think the talent’s there,’’ Jackson continued. “How to blend it together is a coaching decision and a personnel decision.’’
The perceived lack of cohesion and implied dearth of leadership from the coaching staff led the dysfunctional Knicks to a woeful 37-45 record as the team missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
Even without Jackson’s assertion that players trashed Woodson during exit interviews, the substance of their claims certainly pass the eye test without the players coming out and actually saying it.
The team frequently seemed in disarray, especially late in games when well-drawn-out plays and instinctual coaching acumen can tip the balance and turn a possible loss into a well-orchestrated and cleanly executed win. Those kind of situations reveal how well a coach is handling the pressure at crunch time and serves as an indication as well regarding how receptive players are to a particular coach’s leadership.
In one instance, Carmelo Anthony and Woodson butted heads in a huddle late in a game against the Indiana Pacers. With Woodson attempting to coach-up the players, a frustrated Anthony — who referred to Woodson as a “father figure” after the season — angrily told his coach, “Let’s play the (expletive) game, man!”
Those kind of outbursts — even though the Knicks ultimately won the game — while not uncommon, certainly show that even when Woodson was trying to do a good job of coaching, the players either weren’t listening or were not interested, not a good sign when a coach’s job is on the line.
Given what Jackson says players were saying about Woodson, it is hardly surprising that the Zen Master fired the beleaguered coach and his assistants earlier this week.
In other Knicks dysfunction news, Jackson also shot down rumors that he and owner James Dolan already are butting heads over that employment status of some team staffers.
“As far as Jim Dolan’s promise or premise when I took this job that he’ll leave basketball decisions up to me, he’s been loyal to that promise,’’ Jackson said. “He’s been very true to his word to this point.’’
To this point, Jackson says. It’s hard to even believe that much let alone is it a predictor how things will go between these two massive egos in the future.