Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry addressed the media after New York’s blowout loss to the Cavaliers yesterday.
On one hand, this was a nice show of accountability. Executives rarely face the public, too often leaving coaches and players to explain wider team problems. Mills and Perry built this mess. They should answer for it.
On the other hand, Mills is seemingly passing blame onto Knicks coach David Fizdale.
Even before a startling news conference in the wake of a blowout loss to Cleveland, New York Knicks president Steve Mills had started to lay the internal groundwork for the eventual dismissal of coach David Fizdale, league sources told ESPN.
Mills is selling owner James Dolan on a roster constructed to be highly competitive in the Eastern Conference, leaving Fizdale vulnerable to an ouster only weeks into the second season of a four-year contract that league sources say is worth $22 million.
What Mills didn’t say is that he and Dolan spoke at length during halftime of the blowout loss and, according to one source, Dolan told Mills he was “disappointed” with the team’s 2-8 start. The same source said that Dolan ordered his top basketball decision-makers to address the media after the game, which is highly unusual but interesting nonetheless.
Mills knows how to navigate Madison Square Garden politics. He both preceded and succeeded Phil Jackson running the front office. Fizdale might make for a good scapegoat.
But Mills also faces an external threat.
According to several people familiar with the Knicks thinking, Dolan is plotting to take another run at Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri.
This isn’t the first time the Knicks have been linked to Ujiri. Running the Nuggets, Ujiri famously outmaneuvered Dolan with the Carmelo Anthony trade. Then, with Toronto, Ujiri fleeced the Knicks with the Andrea Bargnani trade. Dolan was so shook, he later vetoed a trade for Kyle Lowry in fear of getting worked again by Ujiri.
That’s the type of executive a team should covet.
Dolan has spent big – just often on the wrong people. Phil Jackson, who had no executive experience, is the prime example.
Ujiri has proven he can assemble a championship team. He can manage an organization, completely. He’s worth a huge offer.
Would Ujiri leave the Raptors? The Wizards reportedly pursued him last summer and came up empty. Dolan’s deep pockets and New York prestige could give Ujiri things to consider.
In the meantime, the Knicks must manage their current mess. That might mean ousting Fizdale. The coach has made negligible clear positive impact. It’d be hard for any coach to do much with this roster, but Fizdale also hasn’t given much reason to save his job.
If New York fires Fizdale, though, that could be just the start of a wider shakeup.