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James Dolan’s fast pace doesn’t appear to bode well for the candidacy of Raptors president Masai Ujiri, who has been high on the owner’s wish list. According to a source, Dolan has been leery on Ujiri, with the mounds of publicity he has gotten as a candidate and using the Knicks as leverage with Toronto.
Mills negotiated with teams on trades up until Monday, according to the source, and several packages are in place for acting Knicks president Scott Perry with which to work. Trading Marcus Morris for a collection of assets and dealing with Golden State for point guard D’Angelo Russell are still on the table, according to the source.
A few notes in the wake of the Knicks' removal of Steve Mills as team president: We know that there was some division in the organization over the direction to take at the NBA trade deadline. Some wanted to remain patient, hold on to draft picks, and preserve cap space. They felt that was the best way to build out the roster, generally, and to remain in play for top free agents in future summers.
Last month, the Knicks hired Steve Stoute and his agency to help bolster the team's brand and ties to the fan base. Since being hired, Stoute has had strong influence with Dolan and the organization, as you'd expect. His hiring was endorsed by LeBron James. When reached last night by email to ask about his influence in the organization, Stoute said, "I work with Jim and his leadership team...I'm proud to be a part of this organization...We haven't even gotten started yet...There are great things ahead for the NY Knicks."
So how can the Knicks break out of this terrible stretch and get back to respectability? Shaquille O’Neal laid it out on TNT Tuesday night. “When Mr. Dolan was walking out of the arena the other day, the whole crowd was yelling ‘Sell the team.’ So whoever he hires, I just hope he doesn’t micromanage,” Shaq said. “You need to let a guy be able to do his thing. When I was playing in Miami, Pat Riley ran the show. Micky Arison owns it, but Pat Riley ran the show. When I was with the Lakers, Jerry West ran the show. So whoever they hire, I just hope Mr. Dolan just stays out the way.”
If Dolan can make the right hire — perhaps Masai Ujiri — and leave that person alone, it could help lure superstars back to the Garden. “I don’t really understand why people don’t want to come to New York. I’ve talked to a lot of players on why they don’t want to come to New York,” Shaq said, “and basically they said the management stinks.”
Neil Olshey: The Blazers leader and former Clippers executive is originally from Flushing. According to sources, Olshey has never been enamored living in a small-market town. He was once an aspiring soap-opera actor and has the flair to run the Knicks.
The first is one of availability. Is he willing to go and is Toronto willing to let him walk? He’s reportedly under contract through 2020-21, and the Raptors could presumably sign him to an extension if they wished. There is scuttlebutt out there that he’s itching for another challenge and has eyes for a large American market (this point also came up in league circles when the Washington job was open) and that the Raptors’ ownership might be okay letting somebody else pay him an eight-figure salary while they promote GM Bobby Webster.
With owner James Dolan looking at making various agents as potential presidential candidates, don’t sleep on Kevin Durant’s man, Rich Kleiman, according to NBA sources. Kleiman, a native New Yorker, has always desired to run the Knicks. Kleiman was a force in having Durant at least consider the Knicks last year. The scuttlebutt was Durant would join the Knicks and Kleiman would take on a prominent front-office role. That possibility slammed shut when Durant chose the Nets, along with Kyrie Irving.
If Kleiman were to run the Knicks, sources close to him said he’d likely hire former St. John’s star Mark Jackson as head coach. Kleiman has a long relationship with Jackson and, sources said, he believed that Jackson should have been the hire in 2018 when David Fizdale got the gig.
Besides a lot of money and a lot of freedom, no one knows what Dolan is looking for, although league sources believe Toronto Raptors top executive Masai Ujiri is intrigued with the job and the thought of being wanted by the flagship franchise.
Some league insiders also have questioned whether Dolan is as all-in on Ujiri as advertised, because of the perception in various corners that the league office (specifically N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver) is pushing Ujiri as the ideal candidate to try to rescue the Knicks. Memories of Ujiri famously fleecing the Knicks in the Carmelo Anthony trade when he was in Denver in 2011, and again in the Andrea Bargnani trade in 2013, are likewise described as potential Dolan turnoffs.
We now know that Steve Mills is out with the Knicks. We also know that people of influence at Madison Square Garden have been, in the words of one source, 'obsessed' with Toronto president Masai Ujiri. We don't know what, specifically, the Knicks would need offer the Raptors to land Ujiri, who is under contract through 2020-21.
But teams talk, and a baseline of two first-round picks is where multiple SNY sources familiar with the dynamic of such negotiations, who were polled in December, expect any Knicks-Ujiri talks to start. When talking about the Knicks-Ujiri hypothetical, it's fair to assume that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment chairman Larry Tannenbaum will want at least two firsts in a package for Ujiri.
Marc Stein: The Knicks' statement on Steve Mills' exit ...
Adrian Wojnarowski: Masai Ujiri has long been Jim Dolan's dream candidate to run Knicks, but here's what's already complicating that pursuit: Ujiri's contract, and Knicks reluctance to give up draft compensation to Toronto, sources tell ESPN.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Dolan has already had converations with one possible candidate, sources tell ESPN. The process for a successor is likely moving faster than the time needed to wait on an Ujiri courtship.
Marc Stein: There have been strong rumblings since December that the Knicks believe they have a real shot to lure Masai Ujiri away from Toronto to take over. Of course, many also believed the Knicks knew they were getting Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving when they traded away Kristaps Porzingis
Adrian Wojnarowski: Knicks owner Jim Dolan is targeting Toronto president Masai Ujiri to ultimately oversee New York’s operations, league sources tell ESPN. He is under contract through 2020-2021 in Toronto.
Ian Begley: Knicks owner James Dolan will interview new candidates for team presidency, sources say. Expect Masai Ujiri to be at the top of the list.
Either way, decisions will have to be made on the front office after the season. Both Mills and GM Scott Perry have separate mutual contract options for next season, according to a source, meaning they’d have to be picked up by both themselves and the Knicks to return. Dolan would love to pry Masai Ujiri out of Toronto, but there’s skepticism it can done with the team president under contract. Such a deal would be very complicated if the Raptors play hardball. Another name being mentioned around the league is Thunder president Sam Presti. Rockets president Daryl Morey is expected to be a free agent but is saddled with the China controversy. According to ESPN, Morey’s tweet supporting Hong Kong cost the NBA between $150 million and $200 million in Chinese-driven revenue. The league can say whatever for PR purposes but the preference is Morey’s departure.
"I've been talking about this the last 5-10 years. This is not a new low for the Knicks because you can't get any lower than they've already been," Pierce said. "Everybody is waiting for this franchise to get some relevancy. "Free agents are passing on them. Losing (Kevin) Durant and Kyrie (Irving) to Brooklyn, not getting Zion (Williamson). Something has to change for the Knicks and I truly believe once they get new ownership you'll see change. You saw it with the Clippers. Look what happened with the Clippers. Now they're a perennially playoff team, they got better ownership and they're a championship-contending team now."
Leonard told New York reporters he did not consider the Knicks a free-agent option during this past offseason. Knicks brass, however, did not consider Leonard’s comment a blow. In fact, it only confirmed the decision to pass on a meeting with the 2019 Finals MVP that would have taken place four days into free agency. The Post reported then that the Knicks considered themselves extreme long shots for Leonard. When they found out a meeting couldn’t take place until after he met with the Lakers, Clippers and Raptors, they decided to move on and sign players to fill their $70 million worth of cap space.
Several teams in touch with the Knicks recently came away with the impression that they aren't solely focused on acquiring draft picks, expiring contracts or young players who have struggled with other teams in trades. Those teams say the Knicks have shown an interest in acquiring starter-level players who can help the team in the short-term and in future seasons, per sources.
Steve Popper: Doc Rivers talking about the impromptu press conference Mills and Perry held 10 games in: "That was bad. I think we all know that."
According to an NBA source, Blatt, who coached in Israel, Turkey and Greece, will do some European scouting. Though his title as consultant to basketball operations is vague, he will be used in many capacities in evaluating players — and perhaps will help unlock the mystery that is French point guard Frank Ntilikina. Evaluating and giving input to Miller also will be part of Blatt’s gig.
The Knicks on Wednesday announced the hiring of Blatt, who played at Princeton alongside Steve Mills, their president of basketball operations. It’s a strictly front-office position for Blatt, who also announced his retirement from coaching on Wednesday, four months after he said in a public letter that he had multiple sclerosis. “I look forward to the next step in my career as I officially retire from coaching and pursue other opportunities in basketball,” Blatt said in a statement.
That Mills was able to add to his basketball operations staff may be interpreted in some corners as a positive sign for the under-fire executive. The Knicks’ team owner, James L. Dolan, is widely believed to be considering the pursuit of a more established lead voice for the front office — such as Toronto’s Masai Ujiri — after a 4-18 start led to the recent firing of Coach David Fizdale.
David Blatt has joined the Knicks as a basketball operations consultant, the club announced Wednesday. Blatt, the former head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, was one of the finalists for the Knicks' head-coaching vacancies in 2016 and 2018. Those jobs ultimately went to Jeff Hornacek and David Fizdale, respectively. Blatt has retired from coaching and is expected to consult with the Knicks' front office in scouting and player evaluation for the NBA club and the Westchester Knicks, the franchise's G League team.
Blatt was at the Knicks' facility on Wednesday chatting with Mills, Perry, and Allan Houston, the assistant to the general manager. He also spoke with interim head coach Mike Miller. "I think it's a great resource for the organization," Miller said Wednesday of the Blatt hire.
Jeff Van Gundy, who could be a Knicks coaching candidate if they move on from interim coach Mike Miller, admitted the franchise has not showed proper direction since former president Dave Checketts left the organization in 2001. Van Gundy said Checketts was “a great leader.’’ “Since then they’ve never settled on a direction of leader from a general manager standpoint or a coach,’’ Van Gundy said on Sirius Radio on Friday prior to the Knicks beating the Kings 103-101. “It’s been constant change and unfortunately that amount of change has led to an inconsistency of philosophy, of belief, and I just think they have to settle and give whoever they pick next the opportunity to grow and evolve.
A source said last week that Mills and Perry are under significant pressure following the firing of head coach David Fizdale. If Mills is let go the Knicks will likely turn their attention to Toronto exec Masai Ujiri. Sam Presti also has fans within the organization. If Mills was let go in season, the expectation is that Perry would take over for the remainder of the year.
Just don’t expect him to get involved with the Knicks’ current situation. While the league’s most popular team in its biggest market is 4-19 this season — and on its way to missing the playoffs for the seventh straight year and 13th out of 16 — Silver told WFAN Radio in New York last week that he will be hands off. Here is the exact quote, with transcription via Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News. “I wouldn’t. It’s not my role,” Silver said Thursday on WFAN. “Of course, I work for 30 teams. And the 29 other teams want to beat that team. That’s not to say me getting involved (would be good) and that I’m in any better position to know what to do. We set the rules. And then we try to have a level playing field for the teams to compete.”
Will the Knicks have a shot at landing Ujiri? That's unclear. But once the Knicks started struggling last month, multiple Madison Square Garden people in positions of influence have been 'obsessed' with - and 'enamored' by - the Raptors executive, per SNY sources. In order to land Ujiri, it will probably take significant money and full autonomy. Whether Knicks owner James Dolan will grant that kind of autonomy remains to be seen.
Influential voices in the NBA have strongly advised Ujiri not to take the job, if it's ever offered, sources say. But those same sources say Ujiri might do it anyway, if the money is right, if he's granted the necessary autonomy and if Dolan funds Giants of Africa as generously as the Raptors ownership group has. Ujiri's contract is believed to run through 2021 but with an out clause under certain circumstances. He turned down a lucrative extension last summer, sources said, leaving the impression that he wants to keep his options open.
The Knicks have hired and fired five lead basketball executives since 2004, including legendary NBA figures from Isiah Thomas to Donnie Walsh to Phil Jackson. All departed under clouds of various shapes, sizes and despairing shades of gray. Maybe it will be different for the next guy. Maybe the Knicks get lucky and lure a gifted executive like Toronto's Masai Ujiri to fix this mess. Some NBA sources believe it's possible.
Sources say Dolan is indeed enamored of Toronto's Masai Ujiri, who has twice fleeced the Knicks in trades (again, see Anthony, Carmelo and Bargnani, Andrea) and who last June presided over the first championship in Raptors history.
With Knicks president Steve Mills on shaky ground until the club shows progress, owner James Dolan could make another run at Raptors president Masai Ujiri. According to a source, if Mills is fired after the season, Dolan likely would renew his quest for Ujiri, who built the Raptors 2019 title team. “Why wouldn’t he — he’s the best GM in the league,’’ one NBA source said.
These last two seasons fall directly on Mills, who, according to sources, will either be reassigned or simply removed from the building. His expiration date is long overdue. The Athletic reported last month that Dolan will try again to pry Raptors President Masai Ujiri from Toronto. If that doesn’t work, maybe NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will point Dolan toward R.C. Buford, Sam Presti, Neil Olshey and Daryl Morey. The Knicks are in the early stages of another massive overhaul that will only work if Dolan gives his next executive savior full autonomy.
Tommy Beer: Good morning. Steve Mills has been a part of the Knicks organization for 13 of the past 16 seasons, and NY posted a losing record in each of those 13 campaigns. Dating back to 2001, the Knicks have had far more head coaches (13) than playoff wins (7).…
If Fizdale is fired in-season, he'll have two years left on his contract, according to reports. It's unclear if those two years are fully guaranteed. Mills and Perry also have years remaining on their deals. Mills, per sources, has a double option on one of the remaining years of his deal. So Dolan would pay them money not to work if he decides to fire them.
If Mills fires Fizdale, the next question is if he and Perry will keep their jobs beyond this season. In a conversation with Mills and other front office members after the Mills/Perry press conference, Dolan gave off the impression that Mills and Perry would be safe if the team showed progress, as SNY reported. Just how Dolan defines progress is unclear. But if Fizdale is fired, it seems as if the Knicks would have to play much better under the interim coach for Mills and Perry to keep their jobs and have a chance to hire another coach in the offseason.
Dolan had interest in pursuing Ujiri, the former Nuggets GM, after firing Phil Jackson in 2017, but the draft compensation was too large, according to sources. Instead he promoted Mills. There’s speculation Dolan would make another run at Ujiri if he gets a chance. “He’s the best GM in the league, why wouldn’t Dolan be interested if there’s an opening,’’ one NBA source who has spoken to the Knicks said.
Regarding the front office, Mills and GM Scott Perry are likely to last the rest of the season, according to sources. That could change if James Dolan gets cranky, but, regardless, the front office is far from safe in the offseason. Names are already being floated across the league of executives who might replace Mills. They include: Masai Ujiri, Sam Presti, Kiki Vandeweghe (who is interested in the job, according to a source), Daryl Morey (who probably won’t last in Houston following the China controversy), Trajan Langdon and Sam Hinkie.
Knicks owner James Dolan spoke with team president Steve Mills and others in management on Monday, the day after Mills and GM Scott Perry held an impromptu press conference to express their frustration with the Knicks. Dolan speaks with Mills and other top decision-makers regularly, just as most NBA owners do, but this conversation seemed to carry a little more weight. Sources familiar with the conversation told SNY that management came away with the impression that their jobs would be secure as long as the Knicks 'showed progress' this season.
Several people familiar with the matter told SNY on Monday that Mills, Perry and Fizdale are all under greater scrutiny amid New York's 2-8 start. "Everyone's on notice," one source said. So the notion that Mills, who has served as either president or GM of the Knicks (under Phil Jackson) since 2013-14, would be immune to the consequences that would come of New York continues to underperform is inaccurate.
When free agency approached, the Knicks were optimistic that the worst season in franchise history would be saved by Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant coming to the Garden. The two marquee free agents also had other ideas and chose the Brooklyn Nets. While the Knicks have spun this notion that they didn’t want meetings with either player — as well as Kawhi Leonard — a team source insists that management was “stunned and depressed” when they learned that Irving and Durant picked the other team in town.
Mills has been the one constant throughout this historic losing run. He was hired as general manager prior to the 2013-14 season and then replaced Phil Jackson as president two years ago. Under normal circumstances Mills would appear to be in trouble but his boss likes him and believes in him. For now. “Steve still has the support of Dolan,” said a person familiar with the Knicks thinking. “He knows how to talk to him. Heads of other departments call Steve and ask for his advice on how to deal with Dolan.”
Mills brushed off their failure to land a star in free agency while the rival Brooklyn Nets welcomed Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. “This is a team that’s consistent with how we said we’d build the team,” Mills said during Monday’s Media Day. “This is a team – New Yorkers are going to like this team. The grittiness of these guys. The toughness of these guys. It’s a group of guys that had places they could’ve gone. They made the decision to come here – to New York and play for the Knicks. These are guys are fans are going to like, the toughness they bring every day they come to the court.”
Both Burke and Payton are considered Perry guys while Mills, according to sources, hasn’t given up completely on Ntilikina. If nothing else, the differing opinions on the 21-year-old guard are a microcosm of some of the internal struggles taking place at Madison Square Garden. According to league sources, the scouts and executives brought in under Perry have clashed with some of the scouts and executives under Mills that survived the purge when Jackson was fired, and Mills was promoted. “That’s always been the case,” says one former Knicks executive. “They keep a lot of people from different regimes and that causes some friction.”
The following statement has been issued by Josh Robbins, president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, regarding the New York Knicks’ ban of New York Daily News journalists from a news conference introducing the Knicks’ 2019 draft picks.
“The New York Knicks’ decision to ban New York Daily News journalists from RJ Barrett’s and Ignas Brazdeikis’ introductory news conference Friday was unprofessional and unacceptable. James Dolan, the owner of the Knicks franchise, previously has said that barring Daily News employees from media availabilities sends the Daily News ‘a message.’ In reality, the only message he is sending is that he is a bully who retaliates against legitimate news outlets that publish content he dislikes. Members of the Professional Basketball Writers Association support our Daily News colleagues, and we condemn the Knicks’ attempts to hinder journalists’ ability to do their jobs and inform the public.”
When asked if they felt immense pressure following the footsteps of such influential men, both Perry and Mills admitted they were cognizant of the attention they attracted, and how important it was never to do anything that might reflect poorly on their family name. Still, they also affirmed they felt properly prepared for what they would encounter. "I never felt it was a heavy weight mainly because of his approach with me," said Perry of his father's tutelage. "He said, 'Look, don't worry about trying to chase my path. All I ask is anything you do, always give 110%, and I'm gonna support you.'" "A lot of times kids look for role models externally, but I always told everybody mine was right at home. So, that was a blessing," added Perry.
When both Steve and Scott are prodded to discuss what their predecessors would be proud of them for, each explained how they hoped their fathers would be able to take satisfaction in their success. "My father would just be so proud of the position I'm holding right now. As a kid growing up, we really couldn't afford to go to the Garden for games," said Mills. "He was so proud of my journey in the NBA, especially when I first started working for the Knicks. He was so proud to see that his son had done that. I really wish he could see where I am now." As for Perry, he also wishes his fathers could experience him realizing his dreams first-hand. "He passed away in my first year working in the NBA. He knew I always talked about wanting to become a general manager. I said that at age 22. To see that manifest itself now, I'm sure he would be extremely proud. Secondly, I think he would just be proud of the man I am... and that I try to continue to live his legacy in terms of paying it forward."
Whether it’s winning the draft lottery, or signing Kevin Durant and a star companion, or making trades to ease into their massive salary-cap space, Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry won’t back off from the giant optimism displayed in a recent letter to season-ticket holders. “I firmly believe [in] what we’re doing, and we’re going to get there,’’ Perry told The Post on Wednesday. “One way or another, we’re going to get there.”
“This is New York City,’’ Perry said. “It’s the greatest city in the world. There’s a lot of appeal here. Even though the team has struggled, it’s a definite attraction to becoming a player in this city who can help turn this organization around. I think that’s something that gives us excitement that it’s out there — the storied nature of this franchise and what the franchise meant to the NBA that still resonates.”
“We’re hopeful and we’re excited,’’ Mills said. “We’re excited because now we’re in position. There’s a lot of noise and a lot of guys are interested in New York. They like Fiz. They like some of the changes we made in the organization. We hear that from agents. We read it from guys getting interviewed about what guys feel about the Knicks. We hear that from other players. At least we’re in the game, and hopeful something really good happens. But we won’t know until it happens. It also gives us the opportunity that if things don’t happen in free agency, we’re sticking to our plan. We’re not going to sign the wrong players just because we have room and the fans have great expectations. They should have expectations we make the right decisions. It gives us the opportunities to eventually explore trades and take guys into [that] room.”
The 33-year-old also declined to address comments from Mills, who was the GM when they signed Noah to a $72 million deal but distanced himself from the association. “I’m not throwing Steve Mills under the bus. Or talking s--t about him. I’m not talking s--t about Hornacek. That’s not my style. I take ownership in what I did, what I could have done better. And I know that there was 10 things that went wrong that year. But it is what it is, I’m in Memphis. And the Memphis Grizzlies beat the New York Knicks tonight.”
Mike Vorkunov: Enes Kanter wasn't surprised by MSG's "We want Kanter" chants. "They want me out there. They love me." He thinks Knicks org. doesn't like hearing them. "It's a little embarrassing. Because after all this trade and everything that the fans still want me to go out there and play."
Adrian Wojnarowski: Porzingis wants to play for a winner in New York, but is searching for clarity on his future role with the team and Knicks direction. Porzingis -- out with an ACL injury --- can be a restricted free agent this summer.
In stating his evaluations of the current roster and the team’s dreadful record, Mills was more measured with his words. He is smart to call this season a rebuilding year, especially with Porzingis sidelined until at least February. Mills then lowered expectations in advance of this summer’s free agency. If the Knicks strike out, Mills can simply say we’re building through the draft. That’s a wise strategy.
What Mills can’t say publicly, because it would violate the NBA’s tampering rules, is that the Knicks are all in on free agent-to-be Kevin Durant. The Warriors superstar is and should be the Knicks’ number one free agent target. And for what it’s worth, according to several NBA executives who attended last week’s G-League Showcase in Las Vegas, the general consensus is the Knicks are still very much in play to land Durant. “Everyone says Knicks,” said one prominent player agent.
According to NBA sources, Knicks brass no longer views 2019 as a make-or-break free-agent summer. The 9-25 Knicks feel their plan can still go on even if they do not sign a big fish in July. Adding a potential top-five lottery pick, developing their three rookies — Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier — as well as former lottery picks Frank Ntilikina and Emmanuel Mudiay, and easing Kristaps Porzingis into action are deemed larger priorities.
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May 18, 2021 | 2:25 pm EDT Update