Safety First

With the news that Scott Perry is remaining as GM, we have to ask: where's the line between stability and comfort?

For as long as I can remember, every move the Knicks have ever made has been met with one of two reactions:

  • “This is defensible” or

  • “This is horseshit”

I’m not ashamed of the fact that I made my bones on Twitter consistently taking up the first position. It wasn’t hard. After all, I believed every argument I made, and optimism was a natural default for me.

And then something began to change. More and more over the last year, I started to dip my toe in the waters of horseshit.

Was it as simple as me assessing the available evidence? Was I becoming more jaded as I heard more and more anecdotes from behind the scenes at MSG? Had media bias started to seep into my pores once I started covering the team for SI.com? Or was I just becoming older and more crotchety?

Whatever the reason, I’m self aware enough to realize the change. Once upon a time, I’d have heard yesterday’s news about the Knicks keeping Scott Perry on as GM for the 2020-21 season and responded with something like this:

“Smart move by Leon. With everything going on, stability is the most valuable commodity in sports right now. Perry’s far from perfect, but he knows the lay of the land, and with Aller here, it shows Rose is already relying on new voices. Good job being patient here.

Yeah. That one got left in the ole’ Tweet deck:

So who’s right? Rational Jon or Angry Jon?

(FWIW, multiple NBA personnel men who have had their fair share of dealings with Perry reached out to tell me that my concerns weren’t off base, although one was also quick to add that I was overreacting and not to make too much of the move.)

Ultimately, I stand by one overarching though, and it is this: In theory, the title of “Knicks General Manager” still caries some weight around the NBA, maybe not for your cream-of-the-crop Mike Zarren’s and Bobby Webster’s of the world, but for a lot of other smart front office people throughout the league. Someone good - maybe someone very good - could have been had with that carrot next season. Perry, meanwhile, could stay aboard at the same pay and with a different title, and Rose could have had his cake and eaten it too. Thus, this is a wasted opportunity.

Would it have been incredibly hard to properly find, interview and vet this person in the middle of a pandemic? Of course. But running a basketball organization is a hard job, and Leon Rose was brought aboard because he is theoretically more than capable of executing the requirements.

Would there have been risk in making the “wrong” hire? Yes of course. Perry could have balked and walked, the new person would be walking in somewhat blind, and after starting off on uncertain footing, blown what figures to be an important draft and offseason for the team. Thats a real downside outcome.

But would there be any more risk in that than in keeping the status quo?

Even if we hold Perry blameless for the KP trade and a draft record that is either spotty or promising depending on your point of view, and even if we say that last summer’s poorly executed Plan B was the result of Steve Mills pushing those moves to retain his job, as the general manager, Perry should be held most directly responsible for all the moves on the margins since he came aboard.

“Margin moves” are what I’m calling all the stuff around the edges - smaller signings (let’s say under $10 million) and trades that have a low hit rate, but like baseball, if you’re successful three out of every 10 times, you’re going to the Hall of Fame.

Here’s the list of the Knicks’ “margin moves” since Perry came aboard:

  • Michael Beasley

  • Ramon Sessions

  • Xavier Rathan-Mayes

  • Nigel Hayes

  • Jamel Artis

  • Jarrett Jack

  • Trey Burke

  • Isaiah Hicks

  • Emmanuel Mudiay (trade)

  • Troy Williams

  • Mario Hezonja

  • Luke Kornet (re-signed)

  • Noah Vonleh

  • Kadeem Allen

  • Tyrius Walker (Exhibit 10)

  • Phillip Carr (Exhibit 10)

  • John Jenkins

  • Billy Garrett

  • Paul Watson (Exhibit 10)

  • Jeff Coby (Exhibit 10)

  • Henry Ellenson

  • Wayne Ellington

  • Reggie Bullock

  • Taj Gibson

  • Kenny Wooten

  • V.J. King (Exhibit 10)

  • Amir Hinton (Exhibit 10)

  • Lamar Peters (Exhibit 10)

  • Zak Irvin

  • Ivan Rabb

There’s a saying that you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. Well, if you’re the Knicks’ front office since 2017, apparently you miss 100 percent of the shots you do take as well.

Yes, there are still some unknowns (Lamar Peters and Kenny Wooten are interesting, and I will die on Kadeem Allen hill), but none of the guys brought in over the last three years are what anyone would define as a “hit.” Even Reggie Bullock, who you could argue is on a value contract, was only signed to that pact because of an unexpected injury.

If you want to give me a “Yeah, but…” with the Melo trade, the Mitch pick, the Willy trade and the Morris trade, that’s fine. Every one of those deals were solid, and the Mitchell Robinson pick (even if it was because Perry was friends with Mitch's agent at the time and a blind man could have seen Robinson was too talented to fall any further) was an absolute home run. Perry gets the credit.

If that’s your stance, then I ask: if Perry was released tomorrow, how quickly would he get scooped up by another team, and for how high a position in their front office?

This, of course, isn’t a fair question. Perry’s value to the Knicks right now is higher than it would be for any other organization. Institutional memory is valuable, as is organizational stability, especially during uncertain times. Upsetting the apple cart when you’re not allowed to go to the store without a hazmat suit to buy more goddamn apples is potentially unwise.

All of this is to say that keeping Perry aboard was a responsible move. But it was also a comfortable one, and that’s what’s been eating at me.

Ever since it was announced that Leon Rose was taking this job, I can’t help but feel that James Dolan made that decision because he was comfortable with Leon in the role, just like he was comfortable with Mills before that, and just like he was comfortable with Irving Azoff buddy Phil Jackson before that, and Cheshire Cat Isiah Thomas long before that.

Comfort often rules the day at MSG, which is why you hear about men who have had jobs in the front office for more than a decade. I was hoping, more than anything, that Leon Rose would be OK getting a little uncomfortable. The team’s record over the last 20 years would seem to indicate that maybe, just maybe, this wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Scott Perry has done a wonderful job maintaining flexibility, drafting some legit young talent, and stocking the coffers with more draft picks than the Knicks have had since I’ve been alive. For that alone, he deserves credit, and Leon Rose should be thankful he gets to walk into a situation that isn’t bad, all things considered.

But as I said on yesterday’s podcast, this screams of playing not to lose as opposed to playing to win. Sometimes that’s ok, and maybe, with Rose new to the job and the world essentially shut down, this is one of those times. But even if the score is 0-0, it sure feels like we’re last year’s Bengals playing last year’s Chiefs.

In the end, I guess I’d feel a lot better about where the Knicks are headed if Scott Perry had set this beautiful table for someone other than, well…

Scott Perry.