NBA

There’s 1 Man the Knicks Think Can Fix the Franchise

With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, the New York Knicks have swapped one team executive for another in their front office, renewing speculation that they will soon pursue the mastermind behind an NBA championship team.

The Knicks, habitual losers in recent seasons, removed Steve Mills and handed the title of interim president to Scott Perry, who has been serving as the general manager.

The move two days before the trade deadline puts Perry in charge of basketball operations for a franchise that is on its way to missing the playoffs for the seventh straight season. The Knicks had already fired David Fizdale as their coach this season and were 15-36 when Mills was fired.

Steve Mills didn’t last long in the Knicks’ top job

Steve Mills began working for the Knicks in 1999 and rejoined them in 2013 – two days before the start of training camp — as executive vice president and general manager after a stint working for Magic Johnson Enterprises. The franchise’s 178-365 record since his return, which included being promoted to president in 2017, is the worst in the league.

Mills became president following owner James Dolan’s decision to fire Phil Jackson. His first move was signing Tim Hardaway Jr. to a $71 million contract. That marriage lasted 46 games before the Knicks packaged Hardaway in the deal that sent disgruntled Kristaps Porzingis, the team’s best player, to the Dallas Mavericks.

His second signing was guard Ron Baker, who didn’t make it halfway through a two-year, $9 million deal after shooting just 33.9% from the field.

Chants of “Sell the team” began echoing through Madison Square Garden during a recent loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, triggering speculation that Dolan would make someone the sacrificial lamb. The question was who would be let go.

The Knicks have made repeated recent mistakes

The Hardaway/Porzingis trade was supposed to free up space for the Knicks to become big players in the free-agent market by signing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The Knicks landed neither and instead used a portion of their cap space on role players and former lottery pick Julius Randle, the only one of the bunch averaging double figures in scoring this season.

Mills and Perry share responsibility for hiring Fizdale as coach over Mike Budenholzer, who went to the Milwaukee Bucks after five seasons coaching the Atlanta Hawks. At the time of his firing, Fizdale had a 21-83 record running the Knicks’ bench; Budenholzer, a Gregg Popovich protege, took Milwaukee to the conference finals in his first season.

Knicks owner Jim Dolan reportedly covets Raptors executive

Perry, who is halfway through a five-year contract, is not likely to last long in the role of president. Owner James Dolan has had an interest in the past in Masai Ujrii, president of the Toronto Raptors.

Under Ujrii’s leadership, the Raptors won their first NBA championship in 2019. His reputation is that of a man methodical in building his team but also not afraid to take chances.

Ujiri surprised basketball observers when he fired coach Dwane Casey shortly after the Raptors crashed out of the second round of the 2018 playoffs against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He made a deal to land Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, giving up fan favorite DeMar DeRozan, before last season and acquired Marc Gasol before the trade deadline.

The move led to the Raptors winning the NBA title and Leonard being named MVP of the NBA Finals.

If Ujiri is the man the Knicks want and he’s agreeable to moving on to a new challenge, the question becomes how much the Knicks are willing to pay to pry him loose from Toronto before his contract expires at the end of the 2020-21 season. At a minimum, the Raptors would demand draft picks that the next Knicks president will need as part of the rebuilding process.