Schmeelk: Dolan Shouldn't Rush Hiring Knicks' Next President

Steve Mills Left Position On Tuesday

John Schmeelk
February 05, 2020 - 9:35 am

Knicks fans should take a moment to savor this before thinking too much about what’s ahead.

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Steve Mills, more so than anyone not named James Dolan, has been the biggest constant in the franchise’s dark years since 2001. He has served in a variety of roles including the President of Madison Square Garden, General Manager and President of the Knicks.

Mills will survive, like he always does, as a member of the board of MSG’s new spin-off company but he will not impact how the Knicks are run. For a team that needs a fresh start and new leadership, Mills could not be in the equation. Despite saying the right things about building the right way, Mills was not up the task or the arduous work required to slowly build a NBA team.

The timing of the move is odd, but understandable if Mills was ready to make a trade that would compromise the situation the team’s new president (theoretically hired after the season) was walking into. While a player like D’Angelo Russell would have been intriguing, there is no way to know if he was someone the new president would want to build around.

Knicks president Steve Mills

So what’s next?

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Knicks have talked to one candidate about the position and is considering a front office led by a player agent. SNY’s Ian Begley reported that CAA’s (Creative Arts Agency) Austin Brown and agent Robert Montgomery are being given internal consideration for the job.

Wojnarowski also reported that Masai Ujiri would be Dolan’s dream candidate but would hesitate to give up the draft compensation necessary to acquire him. He has also indicated Dolan may not be willing to wait for Ujiri.

In what is going to be the most important decision James Dolan can possibly make as an owner, he shouldn’t rush. It is impossible to have a new president in place before the trade deadline on Thursday at 3 p.m. Once that deadline passes, the next thing the general manager has to worry about is the NBA Draft and any trades done around it. There are months before any other heavy lifting has to be done.

Dolan would be wise to not stray too far outside the box. Hiring a basketball executive with a lot of experience, and preferably a long track record of success should be the most important criteria. Ujiri is the gold standard, but hiring someone else with great credentials that does not require compensation would be preferable.

Names like Sam Presti, Daryl Morey and Kevin Pritchard have been speculated about, but all three are currently employed by other teams. There are so many good basketball executives around the league that should be considered for the job that might not require compensation.

Agents have served as leaders of front offices, including Bob Myers, who runs the Warriors, and Rob Pelinka who runs the Lakers. Myers has many titles to his name, and did acquire Kevin Durant, but both Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry were drafted before he arrived. Pelinka had nothing to do with LeBron James choosing the Lakers, and traded nearly every asset at his disposal for Anthony Davis. It was not the work of team building genius.  

If the idea is that hiring a former agent will make the team more attractive to free agents, Dolan should disabuse himself of that notion. Free agents will come to the Knicks if they are offering them the most money, the organization is stable, and they believe they can win games consistently. Nothing else really matters. There is a chance an agent would make a good leader of a NBA organization but it is a risk given they have never done the job before.

In the short term, if Marc Berman’s and Adrian Wojnarowski’s reports are accurate, this likely means that the Knicks will approach the deadline as sellers. Larger moves, such as trading for D’Angelo Russell, are probably less likely now with Perry in charge.

It will probably start with Marcus Morris, who should be able to attract a package that might be more than a late first round pick. Any of the other veterans on the roster would also logically be available for a trade for a future asset. Scott Perry’s mandate should be simple and clear: fill the war chest with as many future assets as possible so the new president has the best chance possible to build the roster.

Knicks small forward Marcus Morris reacts after a 3-point shot against the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 14, 2019, at Madison Square Garden.
Brad Penner/USA TODAY Images

Acquiring more draft capital becomes even more important if Dolan is really going to pursue Masai Ujiri. The more picks a team has, the less painful it is to let some go in a compensation negotiation.

Despite the Knicks missteps and other mind-boggling decisions during Mills tenure, the team isn’t poorly positioned for the future. They control all of their first round picks moving forward, have the Mavericks first round picks in 2021 and 2023, and have a second round pick in every future draft. The team has a lot of young players, many of which have underachieved, but have promise.

If the new president is given free rein to operate the franchise as he sees fit, and with the near unlimited financial resources of Madison Square Garden at his disposal, it is not an unattractive situation. The Knicks should be able to find a very good candidate to take the job. The only question is whether James Dolan can do something he has failed to do in years past: pick the right man for the job.

Schmeelk’s Snippets

  • Shams Charania reported the Knicks and Lakers have touched base regarding Kyle Kuzma, theoretically with Marcus Morris heading back to the Lakers. Kuzma has one year left on his rookie contract before being owed a qualifying offer. He is a scoring win that hasn’t been particularly efficient. He doesn’t get to the free throw line much and doesn’t shoot the three pointer well. He is a decent young player but would have to be paid soon. The fit with Julius Randle and RJ Barrett is not very good. The Knicks would be better off targeting a draft pick.

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