Mills Out, Mystery Looms
Onwards (and hopefully upwards) we go...
Well…I did not see that one coming.
Do I feel bad that I’ve all but openly called for Steve Mills’ ouster over the last few weeks as I’ve grown increasingly disenchanted with the direction the team was franchise - or more accurately, the lack thereof?
A little, actually, yeah I do.
It’s not that Steve Mills deserved to continue running this basketball team, because I think it became obvious at a certain point that he didn’t.
No, it’s that I legitimately think he did the best job he could while he was here.
Of course that statement is a truism. Absent exigent circumstances, it should always be assumed that rational actors operate in good faith. That’s not what I mean though. I mean that every step of the way (well, almost every step of the way), I got what Mills was thinking, and if you squinted hard enough, you could not only justify his actions, but believe in them as well.
$71 million for Tim Hardaway Jr.? An effort to prove to KP that the organization was serious about winning on his timeline. An overpay, sure, but at a premium position of need.
Hiring David Fizdale? Stars love the guy, and he’s great with the press - a must in this city.
Not handing KP an extension in July of 2018? Let’s see how he heals, and why jeopardize our cap space when we don’t need to?
Trading Porzingis to salary dump the guy he just signed 20 months earlier? Plans change, and what could be worse than being so prideful as to potentially miss out on Kevin Durant just to justify his own signing?
Signing a motley crew of players instead of renting space for picks and letting the young guys play a bunch? I wrote 3000 words in defense of it barely six month ago.
It was up until recently that I was on board with all of it, seeing things from his perspective, understanding that it isn’t always easy to do this stuff.
And then reports started leaking of trading for band-aid vets with bigger names, moving the young guys, and making swing-for-the-fences moves even though we were only working with warning track power, and that’s where I drew the line.
And really, shame on me for waiting so long. Yeah, running a basketball team is hard, and of course it’s easy to sympathize when good intentions go awry, but there’s a reason me and you and other fans don’t do this shit for a living, and a select few people do.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but looking back, every move was roughly the opposite of the one a soundly run organization would have done in the same spot:
Instead of overpaying for Tim Hardaway Jr., be patient until a trade opens up (like the Hawks were when they got Timmy from us, or like the Wolves did last night snagging Malik Beasley).
Hire the best coach, and worry about press conferences and pitch meetings later.
Do everything in your power to repair the relationship with the best player your franchise has had in two decades, and if you couldn’t (or thought his health and/or personality made it unwise), trade him for the best package, not the one that prioritizes unloading a contract at the lowest point in its value to make room for something that you’re pretty sure might maybe happen in five months (and if the thing you’re pretty sure might maybe happen actually does happen, do what the Clippers did with Paul George and pay a premium to unload unwanted salary after the guy is willing to sign on the dotted line, not before). I still refuse to believe that there wasn’t an asset out there somewhere in between the level of a Donovan Mitchell/DeAaron Fox and a Dennis Smith Jr.
Finally, do your homework before your summer spending spree.
On this last point, many of us assumed that Plan B was actually a real plan, not turds thrown against the walls of the Garden in frustration over the whims of a quirky guard and a bum Achilles.
At 15-36, there either was no plan, or the plan stunk. There is no in between.
And that was the final straw. Well, that, or the “Sell the Team” chants from last Thursday night. It would be the height of irony if Dolan’s famously fickle nature combined with his apparent insecurities - the hellish combo that seems to be the genesis of so many organizational issues over the years - is the thing that ends up setting the team on the right path.
But in order for that to (maybe) happen, a man who has only hired the right man for the job once in two decades has to get it right, and then stay out of the way (a lesson he seems to have learned since his meddling shoed off that aforementioned wise hire, Donnie Walsh).
There can be no more correct hire than Masai Ujiri, who trusted sources have told the New York Times’ Marc Stein they believe “intends to maneuver his way to the Knicks.”
I won’t waste your time writing about why Masai is the best candidate. Instead, I’ll just refer you to the Raptors record, and the pace that they’re on - one that is ahead of last year, when they had maybe the best player in the sport, who decided to leave.
The two Dallas picks and whatever draft asset(s) you get for Marcus Morris? Where do I sign up?
From yesterday’s poll results, less than a third of you agree with me on this one, which is fine.
Sam Presti? Also fine. Daryl Morey? Sam Hinke? Neil Olshay? None are as much of a slam dunk as Ujiri or Presti, but I’d happily take my chances.
But aside from the Stein newsletter, those aren’t the names we’ve heard yet, at least not in conjunction with who the Garden is already considering. Instead, it seems like JD is trying to take a page from Golden State’s and LA’s playbook, hiring a player agent who brings with him not only gravitas but a bevy of relationships as well.
We heard from Ian Begley yesterday that CAA’s Austin Brown is under consideration, as is Roger Montgomery. A source (or “sauce,” as Shwin & Drew prefer) told me to keep an eye on Jeff Schwartz as well. Mike Vorkunov reported earlier this year that Bill Duffy - another prominent agent who represents R.J. Barrett, among others - was spotted at Knicks’ practice.
I’d also keep an eye on Mark Bartelstein and Raymond Brothers, two reps who Scott Perry has had a lot of dealings with in the past. Rich Paul looms.
For all I know, any one of these people can do a fabulous job of running a basketball organization. Relationships are the key to any successful business, and you don’t get to become the level of agent that these men have without being fantastic at developing relationships. Having existing relationships with current players is also a bonus, especially stars. As I’ve said in the past, the NBA is Mean Girls with grown men - if you’re good with the “in” crowd, you’re golden.
And you could see the logic behind Dolan going this route. If everywhere he turns, he’s being told that players don’t want to come to New York, well, why not hire someone who knows how players think and what players want better than anyone?
I get that. But it is also only one aspect of this job. Building a sound organization all the way through is obviously much more involved.
And maybe that’s why Scott Perry is still here. We don’t know what things will look like under his watch sans Mills, and maybe there will be improvements.
But Perry has been here for nearly three years now. He’s had three years to leave his fingerprints on everything, from how the organization develops players to moves on the fringes to who they draft to what kind of food spread they have for players in the locker room. It would seem that some or all of the above facets are not operating at max capacity, or so a 61-154 record would indicate.
More than that even, the Knicks seem to need someone to come in with not only a fresh eye but with free reign to change everything and anything they see fit. If Perry remains, how will that process look? Institutional memory is a valuable thing, but if a Ujiri or a Presti came in, theoretically, they would be able to assess which institutional memory (if any) was worth hanging on to.
All of this, of course, hangs over the team with a very important trade deadline now a day and a half away. On that note, let’s hit some news (and h/t to Michael Schatz as always for the help here)…
As I tweeted yesterday, based on way, way too much smoke coming my way for there not to be a fire, I’m fairy confident in saying the Knicks are on the verge of a trade. Marc Berman reported yesterday that Mills was in favor of keeping Marcus Morris, while Perry wanted to move him. Woj then tweeted out that Morris was, indeed, available. Translation: while I haven’t heard this verbatim, I would be shocked if Morris wasn’t moved, and even more so, if there isn’t already a deal in place.
On (possibly) related note, according to Shams, the Knicks have spoken to the Lakers about Kyle Kuzma. Because of salary restrictions, this might turn into a three-team deal, although it doesn’t necessarily need to be.
On the heels of a possibly reputable twitter account saying that the Knicks are discussing Elfrid Payton trade scenarios, he apparently unfollowed the Knicks on Instagram:
Moving Payton makes sense in the context of everything we’ve heard about Mills being more of the “win now” guy. Plus, it would make a ton of sense for the Knicks to hand the reigns completely to DSJ and Frank from here on in, especially with Smith Jr. seemingly reinvigorated of late with more playing time.
Berman also notes that the Knicks are looking to move Alonzo Trier so he can get playing time elsewhere, that Mills wanted to trade down in the draft instead of picking RJ Barrett, and implies that Fiz over Bud was a Mills call as well.
Finally, it’s not news, but check out the most recent podcast, where I answer your mailbag questions with the help of KFS Temp Kris Pursiainen and then am joined by JB to get his take on yesterday’s events.Morning Fans...we got a loaded KFS Pod to start your day, featuring reaction to the firing, & answers to your mailbag questions, a re-enactment of what happened yesterday in Dolan’s office, and giving his thoughts.
That’s it! See everyone tomorrow, surely with much more news.