The early part of the NBA season hasn’t gone exactly the way the Knicks or their faithful imagined. Carmelo Anthony used words like “frustrated” and “disappointed” on Tuesday to sum up the 2-4 start.
There’s already speculation head coach Mike Woodson is in jeopardy, despite the Knicks guaranteeing the $3.6 million he’ll pocket in the final year of his deal for the 2014-15 campaign. But as Anthony reiterated, the onus isn’t on the coach as much as it is on the players.
“Woody’s not out there, we are,” Anthony said. “Like I said [on Sunday] you can’t blame Woody. We’re not as a team giving him the effort that he’s looking for, and we’ve got to change that.”
That change could start as early as tomorrow night in Atlanta, as the Knicks take on the Hawks. The heat is on for the Knicks as team owner James Dolan already went on record at a concert over the weekend guaranteeing a win. That led Anthony to quip, “I guess we gotta win then.”
Woodson, however, wasn’t about to touch that subject, but he did allow change could be on the way in terms of his starting lineup.
“No, I’m not happy [with the way the team is playing]. I know we’re better than what we’ve shown,” said Woodson. “You start to wonder if it’s just early-season [feeling out] or a lingering issue. … It’s my job to figure this out and put out the fires. But still, the bottom line for us is we still have to defend, put ourselves in [better defensive] position and get that ball.”
Woodson acknowledged he’s considering using a new starting lineup against the Hawks, with J.R. Smith and Metta World Peace mentioned as possibilities. If Tuesday’s session was any indication, look for the streaky Smith to be inserted into the starting backcourt alongside Raymond Felton. Smith was seen wearing a blue “starters” uniform, while the usual starter, Pablo Prigioni, was wearing the “reserve” white jersey.
Switching off-guards won’t be the only solution. Losing defensive anchor Tyson Chandler four to six weeks with a broken leg leaves the Knicks with a huge void in the middle. Woodson has used 7-footer Andrea Bargnani at center at times, but he hinted he may insert rugged power forward Kenyon Martin into the middle.
This is all unchartered territory for Woodson as the Knicks’ lead man, as it’s the first time he’s experienced what former head coach Mike D’Antoni dealt with during his waning months. Woodson replaced D’Antoni in March 2012 and up until this point, was treated as a savior of sorts, especially after leading the Knicks into the second round of the playoffs last season.
But being blown out by halftime in the last three home games will change any coach’s favor with the home crowd. The mounting pressure, though, isn’t getting to either the head coach or star player.
“I’ve accepted [pressure]; I’ve accepted the challenge to lead this team, and I will continue doing my best to try and do that, regardless of what that is,” said Anthony. “Man, I’ve been through worse in my career, trust me. That’s why my confidence is sky high that this can get turned around, and we’ll find a way to get it rolling.”
Fortunately for Woodson and the Knicks, they can alleviate any pressure they’ve garnered from an increasingly hostile home crowd as they won’t return to the Garden until Thursday. But unfortunately for them, neither the Hawks nor the James Harden-Dwight Howard-Jeremy Lin-led Rockets will provide much relief.
The Rockets shouldn’t be thought of as a surprise threat, as they became an instant contender upon signing Howard over the summer. But the Hawks are a different story. They’ve mastered the formula of addition by subtraction by letting Josh Smith go to Detroit via free agency. And by adding burly free agent power forwards Elton Brand and Paul Millsap over the summer. Coupled with the improved play of point guard Jeff Teague, Atlanta has two qualities that have damned the Knicks this season.
Teague is second in the league with 10.14 assists, trailing only Chris Paul of the Clippers. And the Hawks as a team have shared the wealth this season as they are second in the league in assists with 196.
The Knicks only wish they could be so cohesive.
Knicks notes ...
Tyson Chandler is still on crutches and won’t be able to engage in any basketball-related activities any time soon, but he is still active in other ways. The worldly Chandler was named the UNICEF Ambassador and will light the UNICEF snowflake, on Friday.
Anthony is carrying a huge burden sans Chandler, which may explain his league-leading 40.33 minutes per game. The extra playing time may be the reason why the reigning scoring champ is only averaging an eighth-best 23.17 points per game.
Woodson was non-committal when asked if Martin would start against the Hawks, but said he’ll play. Amar’e Stoudemire (knee), however, will sit.
Prigioni said that after talking with Woodson recently he’ll be on a minute’s management watch to preserve his legs, especially the way Jason Kidd suffered through a late-season decline.
Woodson isn’t the type of coach who offers excuses but he did run down the myriad of reasons for a possible slow start: Bargnani is still new to the system and is just now getting his wind back following his contraction of pneumonia in August during a training camp with Team Italy; Stoudemire and Martin have been on a minutes restriction, per the team’s medical staff. And such was Stoudemire’s plight that the team wouldn’t even allow him to touch a basketball during the summer, shutting him down completely instead of having him start his rehab; Anthony, who elected to rehab his shoulder instead of having surgery over the summer, has yet to find his rhythm; and Smith is still trying to get his mind – and shot – right after missing the first five games due to his suspension for marijuana use and offseason knee surgery in July. Smith even alluded that his conditioning and explosiveness are not up to standard.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.