Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.


The roller coaster will soon reach the station, perhaps as early as 9:30 tonight, marking the end of a journey that has been at turns invigorating, exasperating and thoroughly discombobulating.

That is fine as far as it goes, because who doesn't enjoy the occasional brain-rattling, stomach-churning thrill ride?

Here's the thing, though: Rarely is it a good idea to get right back aboard for another round.

So it is for the Knicks and their fans, who would benefit from a bit of stability at this stage. And that is one good reason the team ought to turn Mike Woodson from interim coach to coach of the near future.

Is this really the time to bring in a big name and start from scratch, especially with a drama king such as Phil Jackson or John Calipari?

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There is drama enough on the roster as it is, as the Knicks prepare for an offseason in which they must figure out how best to deploy an interesting assortment of talent and personalities.

From what we have seen, Woodson is a well-grounded fellow who in a short time has made a good impression on players as well as the news media and fans. He took over a team that was 18-24 and guided them to an 18-6 finish, earning the Knicks a second straight playoff berth.

When Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire endorsed the coach Tuesday before heading for the airport, they sounded sincere.

"I would love to see him back," Anthony said. "I support that. Everybody knows what he did since he's been here in a short period he's been the head coach. There's no need to cut it off right now. We're just getting started."

Said Stoudemire: "As players, we all love his philosophy on both ends of the court. He has a good understanding, and we all get along very well. It'll be great to build something solid, and sooner than later."

Of course, most players said nice things about Mike D'Antoni, too. But the evidence thus far suggests they might actually do nice things for Woodson on the court.

More stability points: He played at Indiana with current Knicks general manager Glen Grunwald, and the two remain close.

Bashful Woodson is not, including publicly criticizing his players. Just this past Friday he flatly stated Anthony must work on both his game and his conditioning before next season. No one has lashed back, so far.

Woodson has been careful not to be drawn into a detailed public discussion of his future, including Tuesday, when he denied a report that he has been in talks with the Knicks about a long-term contract.

"Again, you guys write the articles," he said. "That's not true, not at all."

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But even as he has insisted his focus is on coaching the Knicks right now, he has not been above defending himself and his resume with the Hawks. Tuesday, he said, "Hey, I went 53 and 29 in Atlanta [in 2009-10] and was out of a job."

Monday, when a reporter noted the personal playoff losing streak he snapped in Game 4, he said, "I have lost some games in a row, but I was also capable of taking a young team and putting them in the playoffs and getting to a second round; that counts for something."

We will not know until at least this time next year whether Woodson was the answer. But why at this stage raise more questions for a team that has been through one of the most peculiar seasons in NBA history?

"I was given an opportunity to take a team over and I have to finish it," Woodson said. "This is not finished. When it's done I'm sure we'll sit down and talk. But at this point it's about the guys in uniform and us getting ready to board this plane and get to Miami and try to get a win."

By all means, men, buckle up. But when this is over, it will be time for the "fasten seat belts" light to go off and for the Knicks to settle down for a while, with Woodson at the controls.

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The Dolan family owns controlling interests in the Knicks, Madison Square

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