It was standing room only at Phil Jackson's welcome back to New York news conference Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. On hand were Jackson's Knicks teammates from the 1970s, key Knicks executives and approximately 250 media members.
Conspicuously absent was Mike Woodson. A team official said the team had held a short practice at its facility in Greenburgh Tuesday, but Woodson's absence didn't bode well for a coach whose team is 27-40 despite being on a season-high six-game winning streak. Nor did Jackson's response when asked about Woodson's future with the team.
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"Mike has shown that he's a very good basketball coach," said Jackson, the team's new president. "He's had a difficult season. He's turning this team into a contender for the playoffs. Hopefully, he can make that happen. We will have discussions at the end of the season with Mike considering going forward."
Jackson plans to meet with the team before the Knicks' game against Indiana Wednesday night, and said he already has spoken with Woodson.
"I had a conversation with Mike Woodson, supporting him and going forward to try to make it to the playoffs this year," Jackson said. "The team has had a little run and we are anticipating . . . that they are going to make the playoffs."
Jackson fell just short of guaranteeing that he is bringing his triangle offense to New York, but he talked a lot about his belief in playing in a system. Those who know him well have predicted he will bring in a coach who can run that offense, with the leading candidate being Steve Kerr, who flourished in the Bulls' offense under Jackson.
"Phil's going to bring in his people," former Bull and triangle devotee Stacey King said Sunday. "There's going to be a cleaning of the house and he's going to bring in people he can trust."
Woodson said Saturday he doesn't feel the need to audition for his job.
Jackson sidestepped several opportunities to say Woodson had a chance to keep his job, although he did praise him and the success he had when the Knicks won 54 games last season. On Michael Kay's ESPN Radio show Tuesday, Jackson admitted he had a mental list of coaching candidates.
Said Jackson: "If I told you in the process of being in this business you didn't know five or 10 guys who really impress you in how they prepare their teams and what their strengths are . . . [I] wouldn't be telling the truth. There are people who you see and you know who are demonstrating a real solid background and coaching and a way to motivate a young man. But, you know, I haven't made any of those [inquiries]."
At least, not yet.