Following the latest debacle for the New York Knicks, "momentum is building" for assistant general manager Allan Houston to replace Mike Woodson as head coach, according to ESPN's Marc Stein. Woodson is reportedly privately worried about his job security, and the noose could be tightening around the embattled coach after two more ugly losses.
The Knicks appeared to be turning things around just last week, with blowout wins over the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic bringing back memories of last year's team that gunned its way to 54 victories. With Carmelo Anthony acting as distributor, New York made 33 threes combined in the two wins.
But then everything fell apart against the Boston Celtics on Sunday. The Knicks lost by a whopping 41 points at Madison Square Garden, reverting back to the train wreck the team has generally been since the loss of Tyson Chandler to a leg injury. While Anthony called the loss "an embarrassment," several other Knicks were strangely undisturbed by the abomination of a performance, with Raymond Felton claiming the team didn't have "a bad effort."
In search of a bounce-back performance Tuesday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Knicks delivered just the opposite. After falling behind by 18 points early and then coming back, New York laid yet another third-quarter egg and lost 109-94. Kyrie Irving sliced and diced his way to 37 points and 11 assists as the Knicks' defense once again provided little resistance.
Throughout the Knicks' struggles, most of the players have been behind Woodson. Given the injuries and the general flaws with the roster, placing all of the blame on the coach is unfair, and who knows if bringing in Houston would change anything. New York may truly be sunk until Chandler returns from the lineup, which could be around Christmas.
However, Woodson certainly deserves his fair share of the blame for the Knicks' wretched start. Even with Chandler out, Woodson has been steadfastly stubborn in sticking with a two-big lineup as opposed to the dual point-guard look featuring Anthony at the 4 that was so immensely successful last season. Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal pushed Woodson on this topic before the loss to Cleveland, asking why Pablo Prigioni wasn't getting any run alongside Felton in the starting lineup:
"Yes, we were good in that stretch where we played small-ball. But the East is bigger this year," said Woodson, who has started World Peace, J.R. Smith, Beno Udrih, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Kenyon Martin over Prigioni this season. "And it's tough to play two small guys and [Carmelo Anthony] back at [power forward] again."
The idea of matching up with the supposedly "bigger East" is okay in theory, but not when you don't have the correct personnel to do it. And with Chandler out of the lineup, the Knicks simply don't. While Andrea Bargnani has shown flashes of competence offensively, his presence has actually been a major hindrance for New York. The Knicks are a whopping 15.4 points per 100 possessions worse with Bargnani on the floor, according to NBA.com's stats page.
Of course, Woodson has had little choice but to play Bargnani. In addition to Chandler's injury, Kenyon Martin is now dealing with an ankle issue. The only other bigs are Amar'e Stoudemire and Cole Aldrich, and there's nothing that suggests giving them bigger minutes will help. Metta World Peace started at the 4 against the Cavs, but that clearly didn't work out too well.
Prigioni won't help the defensive issues, but if the defense is going to be porous almost no matter what until Chandler returns, it would seem to behoove Woodson to put the Knicks in the best situation possible offensively. And that means more Prigioni. With the 36-year-old veteran on the court, New York has an offensive rating of 106.1, according to NBA.com's stats page. With him off the floor? It's just 98.6. Herring has more stats in support of Prigioni:
This season, more than 35% of the Knicks' shot attempts with Prigioni on the court have been three-pointers-a figure nearly identical to last year, when the Knicks took and made a record number of three-pointers. With Prigioni in the game, this year's squad has been more accurate (38.4%) from behind the arc than last year (37.6%).
And for all the debate over the sustainability of smaller lineups in the playoffs, Woodson might consider that the Knicks shot 44.6% from deep with Prigioni on the floor last postseason-up from 27.9% when he wasn't playing-against the Pacers and Celtics, the league's best and fourth-best teams at guarding the arc, respectively.
Prigioni may soon see more minutes by default given the latest injury to Felton. The Knicks' starting point guard aggravated a hamstring injury that has been bugging him since training camp, and he could be shelved for an extended period of time, according to Peter Botte of the New York Daily News.
With Felton out, a return to small-ball likely won't happen, although Woodson could theoretically go with a lineup featuring three guards in Prigioni, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith. But considering the struggles of both Shumpert and Smith, don't count on it. Shumpert has been a mess all year with trade rumors swirling around him, and while Woodson has been blamed some for misuse, the youngster needs to have some accountability of his own. Meanwhile, Smith has just been off the reservation with his poor shot selection.
The Knicks have a chance to get things back on the right track Wednesday night against the Chicago Bulls, who have major injuries problems of their own. The Bulls lost at home to the lowly Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, playing without Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah. Rose obviously won't be back Wednesday as he recovers from a torn meniscus, but there's a chance the other three players won't be in uniform either.
If the Knicks lose at home to an extremely short-handed Bulls team, that could be the last straw for owner James Dolan when it comes to Woodson. With Houston waiting in the wings, yet another embarrassing loss might just give Dolan the excuse he needs to drop the hammer.
There's certainly a chance that Houston, who has never coached in the NBA, could fail just as miserably as Woodson. But with the season going down the drain, a change may be necessary.