Knicks Hire Mike Woodson as Assistant

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.

OFF THE DRIBBLE; Knicks Keep Fans in Dark About Front-Office Plans

A month has passed since the Knicks were eliminated from the N.B.A. playoffs. In that time, they also seem to have administratively banished themselves from public.

After sweeping the Knicks in the first round, the Boston Celtics were beaten in five games by Miami but announced immediately afterward that Coach Doc Rivers had agreed to a five-year contract.

The Los Angeles Lakers, dethroned in the second round by the Dallas Mavericks, managed within two weeks to conduct a coaching search. They have reportedly reached a deal with Mike Brown to replace the retiring Phil Jackson.

The Knicks, meanwhile, have retreated behind a wall of administrative silence, slipped into a virtual no-comment coma. They appear to be bracing for the league’s coming labor showdown by locking out their fan base.

The Knicks do have a coach – Mike D’Antoni – under contract for next season. But the team president, Donnie Walsh, who hired D’Antoni, is not signed beyond June 30, and all basketball-related matters moving forward would seemingly begin with him.

Asked Thursday if plans had been made for an announcement on Walsh, a Knicks spokesman said, ”We have nothing planned right now.”

When Walsh and his staff were in Chicago recently for the N.B.A.’s annual draft camp, it might have been assumed that he would be back next season. But asked by a New York Post reporter about his job status, Walsh said: ”I’m not going to be premature with this. I’ve told you the same thing. When I know what I’m doing, I’ll tell you.”

Despite news media speculation that a new contract for Walsh is a formality, fans may recall that such was the case with Rod Thorn and the Nets last year at this time. He left abruptly after the June draft and wound up in the Philadelphia 76ers’ front office.

The lack of urgency and transparency on this rather important issue created a vacuum in communication when season-ticket holders needed every morsel of information they could get.

Is Walsh returning to continue the three-year rebuilding that landed Amar’e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks back in the playoffs this season for the first time since 2004? Has he been given a no-interference pledge (whatever that might be worth) by James L. Dolan, the Madison Square Garden chairman?

Is Walsh firmly behind D’Antoni, despite speculation they have differences on how to competitively approach the game? Will D’Antoni be forced to hire a defensive-oriented assistant to address the team’s – and D’Antoni’s, at least by reputation – most glaring weakness? Does Walsh absolutely believe the Knicks will have enough salary cap space and/or trading assets to land another marquee player?

Inquiring minds and cash-tapped customers undoubtedly would have wanted to know before a May 13 deadline for season-ticket renewal came and went. Unfortunately, the Knicks’ message to their most treasured followers could be summed up as such: We say nothing, you pay more.

After six years of holding prices steady during a competitive dark period in the team’s history, Dolan socked ticket holders with increases that averaged 49 percent buildingwide but at courtside surged astronomically – to $900 from $330 in certain seats.

On April 7 – before the playoffs – the most tenured season-ticket holders were invited by the Knicks to a luncheon at the team’s Westchester County practice facility with Walsh and D’Antoni. The mood was described by one fan who attended as friendly, almost festive, though Walsh, when asked, said he would not discuss his future.

When The Times interviewed longtime season-ticket holders during the Celtics series, several were dismayed by the perceived lack of loyalty shown them by the Garden after years of supporting teams that were often unwatchable and unlikable.

Contacted again this week, some of the fans said they had renewed their seats by partnering with wealthy underwriters, from whom they would buy back a handful of games, thus ending a decades-long tradition of attending most home games. Others said they were in the process of moving to a different and cheaper location within the Garden and did not want to be quoted by name for fear of retribution.

”At the very least, they could have gotten everything straightened out so we would have an idea of what we were paying a fortune for,” one fan said.

But worse, the fan agreed, has been watching Miami roll through the Eastern Conference in the playoffs thus far. Having Walsh back would provide a sense of stability and some assurance against the return of Isiah Thomas. But that wouldn’t make anyone feel better about the Knicks’ chances of beating the Heat any time soon.

This is a more complete version of the story than the one that appeared in print.

Walsh to Leave Knicks, Turnaround Unfinished

The stunning decision, which caught even Walsh’s friends by surprise, was revealed Friday morning in a statement by , the Madison Square Garden chairman, and later addressed by Walsh in a conference call. Walsh will finish his contract, which expires June 30, then move into a consulting role next season.

Dolan and Walsh described the parting as mutual, with Walsh citing his age (70) and his reluctance to make a long-term commitment on a new contract. That explanation was forcefully rejected by a several of Walsh’s friends and by numerous others with close ties to the Knicks.

Walsh, they said, wanted to stay, but only with ironclad assurances that he could work without interference from Dolan and his advisers, including Isiah Thomas, a former team president. When Dolan balked, Walsh decided it was time to go, said the friends and associates, who asked for anonymity while discussing private conversations.

Walsh had been negotiating a new contract for several weeks, after Dolan declined to pick up his option for the 2011-12 season. Autonomy was the chief point of contention, but not the only one.

According to two people with close ties to the team, Walsh wanted the chance to hire and groom his successor, but Dolan rejected Walsh’s list of candidates, which included Mark Jackson, a former Knicks guard. Dolan had previously vetoed Walsh’s attempt to hire Chris Mullin, a former Golden State general manager. According to the same person, Dolan also wanted Walsh take a 40 percent pay cut — a request Walsh considered an affront, but not a deal-breaker.

“It was all about autonomy and about the future,” said one of the people with ties to the Knicks.

These concerns had been known for months, but there was a strong belief inside and outside the organization that Walsh and Dolan would reach agreement on a two-year deal. Even in recent days, all signs pointed to Walsh’s staying on as president.

Glen Grunwald, the senior vice president for basketball operations, will serve as the team’s interim general manager, starting July 1, until Walsh’s replacement is hired. Barring a labor stoppage, Grunwald will be in charge when free agency opens.

Walsh, who was the Indiana Pacers’ chief architect for two decades, is one of the ’s most respected front-office executives. In New York, he will be remembered for saving the Knicks from the misery and mayhem of the Thomas era.

Walsh replaced Thomas in 2008 and spent the next two years purging the roster of bad contracts and bad characters. The payoff came last summer, when Walsh — after missing on LeBron James as a free agent— signed Amar’e Stoudemire, providing an instant dose of credibility to a long-suffering franchise. The Knicks just completed their first winning season in 10 years.

Walsh has been slowed by operations to his hip and neck, but he said Friday that his health was not an issue. He had said for months that he had no intention of retiring soon and that he wanted to complete the job of rebuilding the team. In Friday’s conference call, Walsh suggested that his age was a factor.

Walsh said that he wanted to continue as the team president for perhaps another year or two, but that Dolan wanted a longer commitment.

“I don’t know that I can commit to that, because I’m getting older,” Walsh said, invoking his age for the first time in his Knicks tenure. “I do this job only one way, and that is full forward ahead. It’s 24-7 with me, and I think that’s what it takes, to be honest.”

Walsh said, “It took me a lot of energy the last three years to do this,” then added with a laugh, “I’m running out of energy.”

The diplomatic approach was consistent with Walsh’s philosophy. He values discretion, disdains controversy and believes in keeping disputes private. He was uncomfortable when his uncertain contract status became a news story in February.