NEW YORK — Mike Woodson dutifully stepped onto the podium before the Knicks finished off a disappointing season with Wednesday night’s 95-92 win over the Raptors and — as he has endured for much of the season — the questions were more about his fate than the game that followed. But on this night, even Woodson seemed resigned to the knowledge that this might be the last time he had to address it.
Woodson answered almost every question, maintaining his belief in himself, but also acknowledging that the fact of NBA life is that when the team struggles, the coach takes the hit. The Knicks offered no word on his status Wednesday, but if you’re looking for a hint into the timeline that awaits Woodson, the one question he offered a “no comment” to was when he was asked if he would be a part of the exit interviews on Thursday with the players.
That task will fall to new team president Phil Jackson, who also controls Woodson’s future and who, according to Woodson, has barely said a word to him since Jackson arrived nearly a month ago.
“What’s fair? What do you think is fair?” said Woodson, who fell short of a playoff berth but guided the team to 16 wins in the final 21 games. “No, really. I was given an opportunity two years ago to take over a team that was struggling and I made the most of it. Unfortunately, this year just didn’t go according to plan. Is it fair to let me go? I don’t think so. Again, I don’t make that decision. That’s got to come from the top.
“You can point the finger in a lot of directions, man, and at the end of the day, normally the coach is the guy that gets blamed and that’s just the nature of our sport. It’s like that it any sport. Should it be that way, maybe not. But what are you going to do about it? You’ve got to continue to do your job while you’re doing it. When you’re services are no longer needed, you’ve got to move on and pick up the pieces and regroup and try it somewhere else.”
Woodson took over for Mike D’Antoni on March 14, 2012, guiding the team to an 18-6 record and then a 54-win campaign last season while winning the team’s first playoff series since 2001. He has a 109-79 record with the Knicks with a winning percentage (.580) that ranks third all-time among the team’s coaches behind Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy.
But things turned quickly this season. Knicks general manager — and Woodson’s college temamate — Glen Grunwald was let go just before the start of training camp. The veteran squad that was so good last year was disbanded with Garden chairman James Dolan insisting the team infuse youth.
“Woody, he had us prepared every game,” Kenyon Martin said. “It was just we didn’t go out and get it done. It wasn’t one day we didn’t have shootaround, didn’t watch film or game plan. All that went on, still. It’s the same game plan, same scheme, same everything we had last year. We just didn’t get it done. Us, with the expectations we had, of course we feel like we underachieved as a bunch.”
The team has known that Woodson has been on the hot seat almost from the start of the season and that has left his leadership in question — at times, players questioning schemes and adjustments.
“Certain strategies were placed upon us with Coach Woodson,” Amar’e Stoudemire said. “There were times when we didn’t quite buy into it and as a result of that, we lost games.”
“It’s been a tough season,” Woodson said. “I don’t wish it on any coach on any level. But again, it’s part of the game. You know, I’m a realist when it comes to coaching and I’ve been around this thing a long time, man. You think you’ve seen it all, but sometimes things just don’t go according to plan. So you just deal with it and keep it moving, try to do the best job you can do.”
BRIEFS: The Knicks signed Lamar Odom to a contract shortly before the start of the game, a deal that includes a team option for the 2014-15 season. … Martin said he will undergo an arthroscopic procedure to repair his left ankle after missing the last 35 games of the season. He said he hopes to return to the Knicks.