Mike Woodson was the choice all along. Not Phil Jackson or John Calapari or anyone else. Woodson was the New York Knicks’ man and the team finally made it official Friday night with the announcement that he was signed to a contract worth up to $12 million for three years.
“I’m very humbled and honored to continue coaching the franchise where I started my NBA career,” said Woodson, who was drafted by the Knicks in 1980, in a statement. “Our goal is to build off the success we had at the end of last season and to continue our quest of bringing an NBA championship to Madison Square Garden.”
Woodson took over as coach of the Knicks on an interim basis when Mike D’Antoni stepped down March 14. Under Woodson, the Knicks finished the regular season 18-6 and in seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
He coached the team to a win in Game 4 of its first-round playoff series against the Miami Heat, which snapped the franchise’s NBA-record 13-game postseason losing streak.
“Mike took over the team under challenging circumstances and made it clear, starting on Day One, that he was going to hold every player on our roster accountable,” Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan said in a statement. “We saw a significant improvement since Mike took over and believe our team will only keep improving under Mike’s direction.”
Knicks GM Glen Grunwald said the team never considered the 66-year-old Jackson, the most successful coach in NBA history, or Calapari, who led Kentucky to the NCAA championship in March.
Woodson’s new contract calls for $4 million a year for two years, with an option for a third year, according to sources.
“I think Woody earned the right to be the first person we talked to and turned out to be the only person we talked to,” Grunwald said. “We thought he was the right guy for this team at this time. Obviously, there are some great coaches out there that, had we opened up the search, would have been called. Namely Phil Jackson, who was the most successful coach in the NBA history. We felt Woody was our guy and he showed it during the season and in our discussions after the season.
“We told Woody he would get the first crack at the job and he hit it out of the park,” Grunwald said.
Woodson and Grunwald played college basketball together at Indiana. There was speculation that Woodson’s candidacy for the full-time job greatly improved when the Knicks removed the interim tag from Grunwald’s title late in the regular season. But Grunwald said at the time that hiring the team’s next coach would be an “organizational” decision, not his alone.
In addition to the support of Grunwald, Woodson had the backing of many Knicks, including Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. “The ability to work successfully with players in the NBA is a key to success and Woody showed that,” Grunwald said.