Woodson, Knicks Doomed From Start; Hurricane’s Story Not What You Think?

mike woodson

Howard Megdal

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Doomed to Fail


Mike Woodson’s lineup choices forced Carmelo Anthony to play extra minutes. Now Woodson is gone, and Anthony may follow.

The New York Knicks made official what has been clear from the moment Phil Jackson was hired, firing Mike Woodson and his entire coaching staff on Monday. I mean, they began with Jackson by offering him Woodson’s job. So this was obviously happening.

Despite the clear indicators pointing toward this result, and the months of horrific basketball that preceded it, this was not a move that needed to happen any sooner. But for the Knicks to have gone another day with Woodson at the helm wouldn’t have made much sense, either.

Let’s review the past two seasons. They aren’t overly kind to Woodson. Not this year, a playoff-free campaign in a terrible Eastern Conference. But even the supposed apex of his tenure with the Knicks is problematic as well.

Woodson took over with 24 games to go in the 2011-12 season. The Knicks, despite Linsanity, sat at 18-24. Woodson’s Knicks played 18-6 basketball the rest of the way, earning him a shot at the full-time gig.

The Knicks surrounded Carmelo Anthony with shooters and a pair of point guards, allowing him to maximize his production (and the team’s offense) at the power forward spot in 2012-13.

The Knicks didn’t win 54 games as some kind of fluke. They had a hyper-efficient offense that masked a sluggish defense, flying in the face of Woodson’s reputation as a defensive coach.

But even getting to that point offensively required an injury to Amar’e Stoudemire that forced Woodson’s hand. You’d hear him in postgame comments, and it never sounded like Woodson fully embraced his smaller team lineup. And incredibly, in what was a winnable playoff series against the Indiana Pacers, he tried to match up to their size, rather than win with shooting and forcing turnovers.

It was a recurring frustration to those who follow the Knicks. I still remember covering a Knicks-Clippers tilt earlier this year, and in a 15 minute span, I heard Doc Rivers speak about forcing the Knicks to adjust to how the Clippers play, followed by Woodson insisting that he’d alter his lineups to react to each opponent. The Knicks lost plenty of games in the Woodson era before they started, thanks to this consistent calculation.

Woodson was set up for failure this past offseason, though. The team which had succeeded by putting Anthony at the four and surrounding him with shooters jettisoned two of its better shooters in Chris Copeland and Steve Novak. They brought in Andrea Bargnani, whose reputation as a shooter was undermined by the fact that he hasn’t shot well for a few years now, and a player who only made sense in a lineup, given his defensive limitations, playing at — you guessed it! — the four next to Tyson Chandler.

The other big free agent pickup? Metta World Peace. Another four. Amar’e Stoudemire returned, somewhat healthy, to play the… four.

You begin to see the problem.

And then, magically, Woodson’s roster cleared up. Bargnani? Injured. Metta World Peace? Injured. Stoudemire slotted in nicely as a backup. He didn’t have the shooters, but he had a plausible path to use Anthony effectively.

Still, Woodson resisted. He had a perfectly competent point guard in Beno Udrih, and he took every possible opportunity to bury him. He played Bargnani until his injury ended his season, and did the same with Kenyon Martin, until he had no choice but to utilize a smaller lineup. And even then, he managed to jettison the two point guard idea, returning Stoudemire to the starting lineup, which only increased the need to have Anthony on the floor as often as possible.

The results were a sluggish offense, a porous defense, and ultimately, enough wear and tear on Anthony to break him before the end of the season, for the second consecutive year. In an era where the Spurs are showing everybody the value of resting key players, Woodson relied on Anthony to average nearly 39 minutes a game, leading the NBA.

There were calls to fire Woodson throughout the season. And if you look at the Knicks in a narrow way, those calls made some sense. The team, for all its problems, finished a game out of the playoffs. Perhaps a different coach makes enough of a difference to get another two wins. Ideally, that happens without enough abuse of Anthony to render him ineffective, with a shoulder injury, by the end of the year. And it is easy to fantasize about Anthony taking on that flawed Pacers team, and then…

Right, that’s where it ends. Would a new coach have changed anything? Would Anthony want to come back to a Knicks team operating the same way because of a second-round playoff exit? Does this roster seem like anything approaching a title contender?

Six years ago, Mike D’Antoni was the hotshot coach of the Suns, being courted by the up-and-coming Bulls. Instead,… More» The Knicks need huge changes. Realistically, a great coach, instead of merely Woodson, wasn’t getting these Knicks anywhere near that trophy that has remained elusive since 1972-73.

Whether Jackson can find enough creative ways to fill this roster with Anthony support, assuming he returns this summer, to make 2014-15 interesting remains to be seen. The Lamar Odom signing is an indication of Jackson doing things the right way. Either Odom is a high-upside pickup to help the Knicks, or he is a contract that can be used to make a trade this summer. Both alternatives suggest proactive thinking, a next step beyond the current one, rather than the kind of reactive moves the James Dolan Knicks have been making for years, other than during the brief Donnie Walsh interregnum.

To make 2014-15 interesting, the Knicks need a coach who can recognize and embrace the roster’s strengths inside of three years at the helm. To maximize however Jackson molds the salary cap freer Knicks in 2015-16, the same is true.

Mike Woodson, at some level, was the perfect coach for these Knicks. He was a limited basketball coach who believed in an effort to trump every flaw in his day-to-day plans.

That didn’t work for James Dolan, and it didn’t work for Woodson.


rubin carter

Hurricane’ Carter Was Wrongly Convicted, But He Wasn’t Innocent

by Michael Moynihan



Following his death on Sunday, there’s been a rash response to the famed boxer’s life—both pre and post prison—all of which poses the question: Was he really ‘all love’? “This man right here is love. He’s all love,” announced Denzel Washington while swaddling his Best Actor gong at the Golden Globes in 2000.

The man of love, former boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who died yesterday at 76, rubbed his hands nervously, managing a meek smile as Washington spoke while patting him on the back.

How could one dispute Denzel’s characterization? This paragon of love, who once beat people up for a living, had long since transformed a life of violence, including a 19-year spell in prison, into a crusade for justice, prompting Washington’s award-winning Hollywood hagiography of a man falsely accused and falsely convicted by a corrupt and racist system. But Carter’s past wasn’t simply a story of love triumphing over hate; there were messy details his supporters, screenwriters, and obituarists elided.

In 1964, a Saturday Evening Post profile of the up-and-coming fighter reported that “society had [already] confined [Carter] for a total of 10 years for crimes of violence.” The Newark Star-Ledger, his hometown newspaper, later explained that “he was sent to…reformatory for breaking a bottle over the head of a man from whom he stole a wristwatch and $55.” He confessed to the Post in 1964 that “my partner and me…used to get up and put our guns in our pockets like you put your wallet in your pocket. Then we go out in the streets and start fighting—anybody, everybody. We used to shoot at folks.” He bragged in the same interview that he had once knocked out an uncooperative horse with a single punch. (Bob Dylan sang that Carter wanted nothing more than to go “where the trout streams flow and the air is nice, and ride a horse along a trail,” while failing to mention his penchant for equine assault).

But it was in 1966 when Carter, along with an accomplice, was accused—and later convicted by a jury—of a gruesome triple murder in Paterson, N.J. After a campaign to establish his innocence was promoted by supporters like Muhammad Ali, Carter was paroled in 1976 and granted a new trial, a brief spell of freedom during which he knocked out a 112-pound woman running his “free Rubin” support committee. As she told the Newark Star-Ledger in 2000, “I didn’t see it coming. I felt everything getting dark. I remember praying to Allah, ‘Please help me,’ and apparently Allah rolled me over, and he kicked me in the back instead of kicking my guts out. Allah saved my life.”

The second jury upheld his conviction.

So the “Hurricane” was not always a dealer of love. It was something he managed only after his release from prison, to which he was confined, according to Dylan, “for something henever done.” It was that song from 1975, a brilliant, 8-plus minute attack on Carter’s persecutors and police prosecutors, that helped push the case from the ghetto of radical media into the public  consciousness. Almost all of the detail was wrong, but it’s still the only detail anyone remembers.

Most readers understand that historical films routinely and radically transform complicated and nuanced historical narratives into simple parables.

When Carter’s death was confirmed on Sunday by John Artis, the man tried and convicted as his accomplice in the Paterson shootings, the internet offered encomiums, fulsome Twitter RIPs, and broad condemnations of the criminal justice system (the last one richly deserved). My phone buzzed with pushed updates from the Wall Street Journal, BBC News, and New York Times announcing his passing. Mike Tyson, another boxer who spent time behind bars (exiting humbled and chastened, with an image of genocidal maniac Mao Tse-Tung tattooed on his stomach), tweeted “we a lost a great man today, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the boxer who was wrongfully accused and became a symbol for racial injustice. RIP.”

I have no doubt that Paterson, N.J., was stuffed to the gills with racists in 1966, but I still have suspicions that Hurricane’s versions of events and the ubiquitous media claim that he was “wrongly” convicted isn’t exactly true.

To be clear, Denzel Washington’s film version of Carter’s life is so fanciful that a contemporaneous New York Times account catalogued the “contorted” history, the “major fabrication” of certain events, and the elision of various uncomfortable details surrounding the case. Vaunted lefty journalist Jack Newfield complained that “I knew Rubin Carter, attended his fights, covered his retrial, and I didn’t see much reality on the screen,” while also stressing that the judge who vacated Carter and Artis’s two convictions did “not say they were innocent, only that their rights were trampled on.” In 2000, another New York Times writer reminded readers that “Mr. Carter was never exonerated; he was released in 1985 when a federal judge ruled there had been procedural errors during the second trial, and prosecutors decided not to try him a third time.”

This distinction is important—and is one that rightfully liberated Carter from prison—but it created a “wrongful” conviction of procedure, not of evidence. Cal Deal, who covered the trial for the Herald News, a local paper serving Paterson, New Jersey, has amassed a vast online archive detailing the case against Carter, concluding that the two juries got it right.

Perhaps this is why Bob Dylan hasn’t performed “Hurricane” live since a 1976 benefit concert for Carter. Princeton professor and Dylanologist Sean Wilentz points out in his terrific 2010 book Bob Dylan in America, the singer “had a long since abandoned” Carter when he was finally released from prison in 1985, while noting the “simple sincerity” of the protest song, one that “easily (perhaps too easily)” trusted the boxer’s version of events.

Unfortunately, many skeptical accounts of Carter’s story exist in the gutters and fetid swamps of the internet, promoted by crackpots with far more sinister concerns than Hollywood’s version of the truth. And I suspect most readers understand that historical films routinely and radically transform complicated and nuanced historical narratives into simple parables.

And while viewers who believe “Hurricane” should be treated as reliable history are probably beyond help (just have a look at Twitter to see the effect Washington’s portrayal had on Carter’s reputation), Hollywood is happy to assist in leading them astray with that slippery phrase based on a true story.

By almost all accounts, Carter led an exemplary life upon leaving prison, agitating for the wrongfully convicted while carefully curating the story of his past. And while it’s impossible to know if he pulled the trigger on three innocents that night in 1966, it’s important to remember that his case wasn’t an obvious case of injustice. And Carter wasn’t always all love.

Note from Gamblersdata:  The film was actually modified after boxer Joey Giardello sued filmakers for intimating that his win against Carter was tainted by poor judging.  The filmmakers settled for an unknown amount with Mr. Giardello.  If you are interested in more information, google Larry Elder + Ruben Carter.

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