GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Mike Woodson didn't mince words the first time he met with the Knicks before training camp started. He told this veteran group of players that they'd better buy in or they would be out.
The Knicks are the only unbeaten team in the NBA at 4-0, with their depth, defense and execution keying the start. But it also seems they have listened to Woodson and his no-nonsense message.
"If we're talking about trying to win a title, win at a high level, and win our division and host the first round at home, you got to leave your egos at the door," Woodson said. "I'm not going to deal with guys who have bad egos. If they got a problem, they have to go. That's how I look at it.
"It's been great. I think it will continue to be great because the guys that we have fielded are true pros from the word go. I'm very happy and pleased with the direction we're going. Guys got to continue to play when they get their minutes on the floor."
Things are always great when you're winning. No one can complain about not getting enough touches or minutes.
But the Knicks, who open a three-game road trip in Orlando on Tuesday, are likely to hit a rough patch at some point. They definitely will go through a stretch in which pleasing everyone will be difficult for Woodson, particularly when Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert return from their knee surgeries. Woodson isn't concerned.
"I don't owe anybody minutes," he said. "I'm trying to win games and it's all about winning. That's all it is."
This subject arose because Kurt Thomas went from preseason starter to first big man off the bench in the first three games to not playing in Friday's 10-point win over Dallas. Woodson gave Rasheed Wallace more minutes and Marcus Camby played for the first time.
The 40-year-old Thomas is a consummate professional and wasn't bothered about not playing. He understands the situation and knows he will be called upon again. He also believes his teammates will be as understanding if and when their minutes are cut.
"We're deep," Thomas said. "A lot of people think we're old, but we have a lot of guys who can get it done. Once Amar'e comes back, guys are going to have to adjust with their minutes out there on the court again.
"Guys in this locker room, they want to win. You're in New York and the fans expect a lot out of you. I think we just have to do whatever we need to do to get the job done."
Woodson was tested somewhat in training camp when he declared that J.R. Smith would come off the bench. Smith wanted to start. After being asked about Woodson's decision Smith said, "Disappointed would be an understatement."
But Smith is off to a strong start, averaging 17.5 points as the second scorer the Knicks need behind Carmelo Anthony.
"These guys have been around long enough," Woodson said. "They want to win. Their clock is ticking too. All of our clocks are ticking. We're not getting no younger. These guys want to win. I want to win. I think they're on board and they're willing to do what it takes to get it done."