Instant gratification came in the form of Isiah Thomas and Larry Brown, Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry, Amar’e Stoudemire and . If the name could light up a marquee, the Knicks were buying, whatever the cost.
Yet suddenly, with the franchise at a crossroads, Madison Square Garden has gone inexplicably conservative.
Sometime soon (possibly this week), the Knicks are expected to remove Mike Woodson’s interim title and make him the permanent head coach.
They will do so without making a single bid for the shiniest object on the market: , with his 11 sparkly championship rings.
The Knicks had not contacted as of last week, according to people close to the Hall of Fame coach. There is no guarantee that he would take the job, but “he would listen,” one said.
Yet , the Garden chairman, apparently does not intend to call. He has already begun preliminary talks with Woodson on a multiyear extension, according to people with ties to the Garden.
, a passionate teacher and motivator, is a perfectly reasonable choice.
The Knicks rallied under his leadership, going 18-6 to finish the season before getting crushed by the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs. He has the strong support of Anthony, Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, the Knicks’ three stars.
He has a solid résumé, having previously molded a young and impetuous Atlanta Hawks roster into a stout playoff team. He is well liked and respected around the league. No one will fault the Knicks for hiring him.
Woodson is the safe, conventional choice. Jackson, though infinitely more successful, might be the riskier option, which could explain Dolan’s sudden conservative streak.
Jackson is an iconoclast, a force of nature who marches to the beat of his own bongos. He would clash spectacularly with the Garden’s staid corporate culture, which is reason enough for Dolan to hesitate and for Jackson (if he were offered the job) to balk.
Jackson can be brutally candid, a trait that is frowned upon at the Garden, where “see no evil, speak no evil” is official policy. On any given day, Jackson might publicly upbraid his players, needle opponents, insult a city or tweak the commissioner’s office. He would violate the Garden’s infamous news media rules within 32 seconds of his first news conference. He would eventually write a book exposing the internal politics and hypocrisy.
And Jackson would learn, as Donnie Walsh did, that promises of autonomy — whether in choosing personnel or choosing what to say — will ultimately ring hollow.
There will apparently be no such tension with Woodson. He withheld any criticism of his players throughout the five-game thrashing by the Heat. On Thursday, when asked his parting message to the players, Woodson responded as if reading from an MSG employee manual. “Nothing negative,” he said. “It’s all positive.”
That same day, word leaked that Woodson had fired his longtime agent — at Dolan’s urging. The agent, Joe Glass, also represents Brown, who won an $18.5 million settlement after Dolan fired him in 2006.
Keith Glass, the agent’s son, who has worked with his father in representing Brown and Woodson, was stunned.
“I received a phone call from him, basically saying that he had to make a change,” Keith Glass said, adding: “Mike deserves the job. I’m trying to take the high road here. And I certainly won’t be asking anyone at the Garden for directions.”
Although Woodson has yet to hire a new agent, word is already circulating that he will choose Creative Artists Agency, the same group that represents two team executives (Mark Warkentien and Allan Houston), as well as Anthony.
It is hard to imagine anyone telling Jackson who should represent him. It is hard to imagine Jackson being told what to do, period. That strong will and outsize personality are precisely what the Knicks need right now.
Michael Jordan was once a swaggering, single-minded scorer like Anthony. Jackson persuaded him to embrace a team-oriented game, and the Chicago Bulls won six championships. Jackson coaxed Kobe Bryant, another headstrong star, into trusting his teammates. They won five titles together in Los Angeles.
Anthony, who had more turnovers (14) than assists (11) in the playoffs, is overdue for an epiphany. And no one manages egos better than Jackson.
There is near-universal agreement around the N.B.A. that Anthony needs to become a more dedicated passer, but no one around the Knicks will say so.
Woodson made his mark by demanding accountability, and he forged the Knicks into a superior defensive team. But he never imposed the same standards on offense, as Anthony, J. R. Smith and Baron Davis were permitted to dominate the ball, burn the shot clock and fling contested jumpers — sometimes from 28 feet — without consequence.
Lacking job security, Woodson let Anthony indulge his worst habits. He withheld public criticism after Stoudemire recklessly smashed a fire-extinguisher door, slicing open his hand. He called out Smith for his sagging pants but never for his shot selection, which was abominable.
With a contract in hand, perhaps Woodson will tighten the reins and demand more from his stars. With the luxury of a training camp, perhaps he will find a way to blend Stoudemire’s and Anthony’s talents. He has earned the opportunity to try.
Meanwhile, an unemployed coach with 11 championship rings, a crate of incense and a fondness for Zen teachings is relaxing in Playa Del Rey, waiting for the phone to ring. Or not.