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Mike Woodson, J.R. Smith have developed a winning relationship

J.R. Smith gets congratulated by Mike Woodson after

J.R. Smith gets congratulated by Mike Woodson after being named the 2012-13 NBA Sixth Man of the Year at a news conference held at Madison Square Garden Training Center. (April 22, 2013) Credit: James Escher


Time will tell whether Mike Woodson makes a historical dent in New York sports, or whether in the end, he was just passing through.

But we already know this about the Knicks' coach: He's the right man at the right time for this particular New York team.

That was evident Monday during a daylong hugfest -- both figuratively and literally -- at the team's training facility, where the previously incorrigible J.R. Smith was presented the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award, prompting a series of heartfelt thoughts from coach to player and back.

It was the sort of stuff one usually hears in the corny confines of college basketball, not from hardened, cynical pros. So they must really have meant it.

It helped that bringing Smith off the bench was Woodson's grand plan in the first place, no matter how much Smith originally balked. He eventually accepted his role, thanks in large part to his respect for Woodson.

"Coach Woody and I talk so much, our communication is, not a day goes by where we don't have a conversation about the way I am playing or off the court or whatever it is," he said. "He's just such an influence as a coach, the most I've ever had."

Smith spoke a few hours after Woodson gave him a "big hug" and told him things have a way of working out in life, and 90 minutes after the coach told reporters how proud he is.

"He didn't like it, but he bought in," Woodson said. "It couldn't happen to a better person because he put in the time and he worked his butt off to get to this point and he got rewarded for it and I'm happy for him."

Smith clearly has grown up since his days frustrating early-career coaches such as Byron Scott and George Karl. He is not the only one who credits Woodson with an assist.

"He's changed in a lot of different ways," his father, Earl Smith Jr., told Newsday in January. "The main thing is because of Woodson -- telling him how to dress, telling him how to be a professional, in your ear all the time."

Woodson has reined in Smith in part by loosening the reins, allowing him to shoot his way out of trouble on nights when he is cold. He also allows his superstar, Carmelo Anthony, plenty of leeway, even while demanding a commitment to defense from him and everyone else.

Voila: In the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the first-round series against the Celtics, the Knicks had seven steals and held the visitors to eight points.

Woodson has yet to establish a clearly defined public image in the big city. It's generally best to let one's record speak for itself anyway.

So let's see. He is 72-34 in the regular season at the Knicks' helm, and in seven full seasons as an NBA head coach with the Hawks and Knicks, he has improved his winning percentage every year.

He has managed a creaky roster of faded All-Stars through a long, injury-filled grind, deployed Anthony at power forward to allow him to torture less agile defenders and, perhaps best of all, mentored Exhibit A on and off the court.

"He's figured it out," Woodson said of Smith. "I don't see him going the other way. I'm just happy for his growth. It's nice."

New York Sports