The plan was thwarted when the Detroit Pistons made Frank their coach this month. So the Knicks turned to the man they consider the best available candidate and on Monday introduced Mike Woodson as the newest member of the staff.
Woodson, 53, spent six years as the Atlanta Hawks’ coach, taking them from the cellar to Eastern Conference prominence. He will join the Knicks on a one-year deal, matching the term left on D’Antoni’s contract.
Woodson will be the staff’s primary voice on defense, although both D’Antoni and Woodson dismissed the “defensive coordinator” concept in a conference call.
“The responsibilities are that we’re hiring a good coach,” D’Antoni said. “We’ll sit down in the next month and figure everything out — how everybody is going to play off each other.”
D’Antoni added: “He’s a good coach. We expect him to add in a very positive way: defensively, offensively, big guys, small guys. Whatever we need from him as a Knicks organization for him to do, he will be able to do.”
Defense is clearly the Knicks’ greatest weakness, although that is a function of personnel as much as coaching. The Knicks have no shot-blockers and no 7-footers, and their best players — Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups — are below-average defenders.
Frank spent last season as the Boston Celtics’ defensive coach but was a free agent this summer. He would have been offered the Knicks job had Detroit not hired him, according to a person with knowledge of the Knicks’ plans. Woodson was also a candidate for the Pistons job, as well as positions in Houston and in Minnesota.
Under Woodson, the Hawks’ defense improved significantly, from allowing 111.1 points per 100 possessions in 2004-5 (29th) to 106.7 in 2009-10 (13th). The Knicks ranked 22nd last season, with a rating of 110.1.
Woodson hinted at a defensive role, but said: “I’m not going to sit here and say that I’m just a defensive coach. I think I can help Mike offensively as well. I’m just a coach.”
The Knicks have four other assistants, but Woodson will be the only one with extensive head coaching experience, which puts him in line to take over if D’Antoni is fired in the next year.
Woodson has ties (via Indiana University) to Glen Grunwald, the Knicks’ interim general manager, and to Isiah Thomas, a former team president. He counts Larry Brown, a former Knicks coach, as a mentor. But his most significant relationship is with Billups. Woodson was on Brown’s Pistons staff when Billups led them to the 2004 championship. His rapport with Billups weighed heavily in his hiring.
Woodson was fired by the Hawks last year, after a generally successful six-year run in which Atlanta improved every season, from 13 wins in 2004-5 to 53 in 2009-10. But the Hawks had a winning record only in Woodson’s final two seasons, and they were swept in the second round of the playoffs both years.