Sixty-two games into the season, Mike Woodson and Josh Smith got into another spat the other night. We have watched this for five years. If their relationship were any more dysfunctional, they would be in the ownership group.
This is March, not November. The playoffs start in six weeks. This is when NBA coaches are supposed to be finalizing rotations and good teams should be coming together. This generally is not when a head coach spontaneously combusts at halftime and benches one of his best, even if impetuous, players for the next two quarters.
Notwithstanding Saturday’s 87-83 win over Detroit, the Hawks remain too inconsistent for us to assume they’re coming together. More often of late, they look like they’re coming apart. They have several issues, but the biggest is Woodson’s and Smith’s inability to coexist.
They both arrived here in 2004. It hasn’t been a marriage. It’s been a pie fight.
One of two things happened Friday night in Charlotte: Either Smith committed a violation so egregious late in the first half that Woodson felt the player had undercut his authority and was ripping the team apart.
Or Woodson overreacted to something, anything, a noise in the ventilation shaft.
I lean toward the latter.
Regardless, this can’t happen now. The team is 14-18 since a 21-10 start. Even with the win over the Pistons, they’re only 6-6 at home in that span. Bottom line: They can’t assume Philips Arena will solve their problems. Or their wars.
“The past is the past and the future is now, and everything is good,” Smith said.
Thank you, Annie.
It’s not unusual for coaches and athletes to feud. It’s worse when both are stubborn. Woodson too often acts like his mentor, Bobby Knight, except without the resume. Smith too often plays like he’s tired from carrying his resume, and passing out copies.
Five . . . years.
Fact is, neither guy has developed that well.
One can’t play for a coach.
The other can’t coach a player.
Pick your poison.
Last Sunday against Cleveland, Woodson benched Smith for the entire fourth quarter. Smith probably had it coming. He had only eight points and three rebounds. The Hawks lost 88-87. Five nights later, Smith was having a strong first half against the Bobcats (13 points, four rebounds, two blocks). Then he missed a three-point shot with two minutes left in the half and a lay-up in the final seconds. Clearly, tempers flared between the two at halftime, because the next time we saw Smith on the court was Saturday.
He bounced back with a strong game: 19 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks. He and Woodson say they’ve cleared the air. They say all is well. Start the clock.
When Woodson was asked what he has learned after five years with Smith, he said: “I’m a coach and he’s a player. The bottom line is he gets paid to play and I’m paid to coach.”
I’m not sure. But isn’t that old news?
Why still feuding?
“It happens,” Woodson said. “As a coach I think I dealt with it the best way I can and now it’s time to move forward. I’ve never held grudges against my players.”
Not for more than a half, anyway.