Shumpert says another reason the Knicks enjoy playing for Woodson is that he keeps it simple. He sets basic, achievable team goals that are easy to understand. The main one is, notably, a defensive one: Hold the other team to 25 points or fewer a quarter, 100 or fewer a game. “He says if we do that, we’ll win,” Shumpert says. “At the end of every quarter, we can just look at the scoreboard and see if Coach is gonna be happy or not.”
Simplicity was certainly not a D’Antoni hallmark. His system was so complex that either everybody bought in or there was madness. When D’Antoni was here, he was known as a natty dresser and wine-rather-than-beer kind of guy, a coach who loved coaching but maybe loved life more. Woodson is comparatively dull. He lives in White Plains and says he rarely makes it into the city except for games. (He could name only three restaurants in town: Quality Meats, Cipriani’s, and Red Rooster.) His only real distinguishing attribute is that rather epic goatee, which is so solid and rectangular that it almost looks as if it’s attached to his head by Lego. “It ain’t hard to maintain,” he says. “I’ve got a good barber.” Woodson is just an old-school guy, a gym rat, someone who coaches his ass off, and, well, that’s it.
So will that work? The Knicks have had so much drama the past few years—the past few months—that it would seem impossible for Woodson, or anyone, not to get caught up in it. Already the team has faced another Amar’e Stoudemire knee injury, and with Rasheed Wallace around, you know something is going to happen.
But then again, that is why Woodson is here and why he might be the perfect coach for this team. Whatever happens, he keeps everything focused on the comparatively boring world of actual basketball. No fire extinguishers, no Linsanity, no backroom backbiting. Just thirteen guys trying to win games. Nothing else matters.
Of course, even if everything goes perfectly for the Knicks—if Woodson clamps down on outside issues, if the oldest team in NBA history stays healthy all year, if everybody buys into the 100-points-or-less maxim, if the Knicks have the season of Jim Dolan’s dreams—it’s unclear if that will be enough. The Miami Heat are still the best team in the NBA by a wide margin, and the Knicks don’t look, even at their best, to be in a position to seriously challenge them. That’s not to mention the Thunder or the Lakers out West, the Celtics or Pacers in the East, or, for that matter, the upstart immigrants across the bridge, in their new Jay-Z-endorsed home.
Sitting behind his desk, Woodson makes no Rex Ryan–like championship guarantees or even vague predictions. Instead, he says: “I feel real good about our chances and the makeup of our ball club. I’m anxious to see how far we can go.” It’s boilerplate, drama-free coachspeak. Finally.