Mike Woodson on Honeymoon as Knicks Interim Coach

On the night he made N.B.A. history, was the least impressed person in the building.

“They can chart everything,” Frank said after winning his 10th straight game to start his coaching career. “Next I’ll have the smallest feet as an N.B.A. head coach. That’ll be another record.”

The night was Feb. 18, 2004. Frank had replaced Byron Scott as the Nets’ coach just 25 days earlier. When the Nets beat the Atlanta Hawks, Frank’s record improved to 10-0, the best start in N.B.A. coaching annals.

But Frank had good reason to mock his achievement.

The interim-coach honeymoon is a well-established N.B.A. phenomenon. It is as fickle as a reality-show marriage, which is why Mike Woodson is treading cautiously.

Woodson, a coaching veteran, is three games and three victories into his honeymoon. He knows how quickly these things can change.

The Knicks’ schedule will get tougher. Someone could sprain an ankle. The jolt of anxiety and urgency that infused the locker room could fade. The freshness of a new voice could wear off. The players’ focus could drift.

At 21-24, the Knicks have a loose grip on the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot. A single injury, shooting slump or motivational lull could knock them out of the postseason race.

“We have long way to go still,” Woodson said Monday. “Absolutely, we do.”

The early results under Woodson have been impressive: a 42-point rout of the Portland Trail Blazers, followed by consecutive victories over the Indiana Pacers, by 15 points (at home) and 14 points (on the road).

Over three games, the Knicks allowed a combined shooting percentage of 39.1.

The Knicks are playing harder than they did in ’s final week. Their defense is more intense. And , who bristled under D’Antoni, is noticeably more engaged.

“I think in the last three games, my focus just was to have an energy that I haven’t had the first part of the season, especially on the defensive end,” Anthony said.

There is more to the Woodson surge, however.

The Knicks’ defense naturally improved with the return of Tyson Chandler and Jared Jeffries, their two best interior defenders, who were injured for part of their six-game losing streak.

They beat a Portland team that was in total disarray (the Blazers fired Coach Nate McMillan and made two trades the next day). Indiana is a quality playoff team, but not a title contender. And the Knicks have beaten elite teams this season (the Dallas Mavericks, the Los Angeles Lakers), only to stumble again.

Will the good times last? That is the great unknown. N.B.A. history is littered with momentary spikes, which rarely indicate long-term success.

In 2004, Frank stretched his record to 13-0, making him look positively brilliant compared with Scott, who had a 22-20 record when he was fired. Then reality set in, and the Nets went 12-15 over the final two months.

In early 2009, the Phoenix Suns fired Terry Porter after stumbling to a 28-23 record. Alvin Gentry took over, and the Suns promptly won six of their next eight games. Then they lost six straight.

Some honeymoons are shorter than others.

In 2009, Kiki Vandeweghe won two of his first three games as the Nets’ coach after replacing Frank and an interim coach. It was a modest winning trend, but fantastic next to the Nets’ 0-18 start. Vandeweghe then lost 21 of his next 22 games.

It is not unusual for N.B.A. teams to plan ahead for a coaching change, picking a soft spot in the schedule to allow the new coach the best chance to start off well. Sometimes, players simply need to hear a new voice. If a star player disliked the former coach, he may work twice as hard for the new coach, just to prove he was not the problem.

“Everyone agrees it’s a players’ league until it’s time to assign blame — and then it becomes a coaches’ league,” the former Knicks coach said, speaking generally.

Van Gundy has experienced both sides of the equation.

The Knicks were 34-25 when he replaced Don Nelson in 1996. After losing his debut, Van Gundy won four in a row and six of seven. Then the Knicks wobbled to a 7-8 record over the final 15 games.

Van Gundy stepped down in December 2001 with a 10-9 record. (His replacement, Don Chaney, had no honeymoon at all, losing four straight after winning his debut.)

There is nothing revolutionary in Woodson’s approach. He is still using D’Antoni’s offense, with minor additions, and the same defensive schemes. But he has Anthony’s full support, which is significant in a league ruled by star players.

Scott was fired when he lost Jason Kidd. D’Antoni resigned when he could no longer reach Anthony.

In 1999, Shaquille O’Neal summed up the stakes by noting that when things went bad for the Lakers, the blame would fall first on Coach Del Harris and then on himself. As it happened, Harris was fired a few weeks later, with a 6-6 record.

Kurt Rambis inherited the job and promptly won his first nine games, tying the N.B.A. record that Frank would later break. Naturally, the honeymoon was short. The Lakers lost 11 of their next 24 games and were eventually swept in the second round of the playoffs.

The Lakers dumped Rambis and hired Phil Jackson.

That is the sort of marriage Knicks fans can only dream about.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.