While other teams are primarily focused on whether or not they can improve their current rosters before Thursday’s trade deadline, the Knicks are attempting to replace one of their top executives, and James Dolan might not even have the patience to wait for his top target to become available.
If your scalp is feeling particularly itchy, it’s because this one’s a head-scratcher. Let’s break it down before you break down from the stress the Knicks have been causing the last few days.
The team is currently involved in an assortment of trade rumors, and Scott Perry is presumably running the show. But the franchise also just reassigned Steve Mills, and it didn’t take long after that news broke before a familiar rumor arose: Dolan wants Masai Ujiri, the current Toronto Raptors president of basketball operations who twice in the last decade has swindled the Knicks, first by pressuring them to give up the farm for Carmelo Anthony and then by convincing New York to trade for Andrea Bargnani.
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.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 4, 2020
Ujiri is under contract through next season, but despite this popular clip in which he says he hates the Knicks, the idea of him leaving Toronto to try and turn things around in New York didn’t seem so crazy at first. The possibility of Ujiri being anointed the next Knicks savior was further bolstered when Marc Stein of the New York times wrote the following:
Two people in the league whom I trust deeply for their reads on this situation have been telling me since December, when the Knicks fired Coach David Fizdale after a 4-18 start, that Ujiri intends to maneuver his way to the Knicks after his moves helped the Raptors win a championship last season.
Both people, who were not authorized to share their insights publicly, went so far as to proclaim that Ujiri may even try to bring along Bobby Webster, Toronto’s well-regarded general manager.
One told me he is convinced that Ujiri’s relationship with the chairman of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, Larry Tannenbaum, is such that the Raptors would ultimately bless the move if Ujiri wants it badly enough.
Further, at least two trustworthy Raptors reporters seem to believe that Ujiri might not be long for Toronto. Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star noted in a Tuesday column that Ujiri was not offered a contract extension over the summer, and wondered aloud whether that could signal his impending departure.
Meanwhile, Michael Grange of sportsnet.ca, connected some dots in a piece of his own and said that “taken together, a picture seems clear.”
The Raptors haven’t offered Ujiri an extension, he’s determined to become a free agent and he may have an out on his deal this coming summer.
Short answer? Ujiri is gone.
For a few fleeting hours, it felt as if Ujiri to the Knicks could be a match made in heaven. A genuine basketball executive might want to come save the Knicks, and Dolan has never shied away from dropping dollars in order to get his guy. No one has ever said Dolan wants the team to be as bad as it has been. Moreso, the issue has been that he hasn’t hired the right people, or, the few times he did hire the right people, he got too involved and ruined it.
There is unfortunately a ‘but’ here, and not the kind that powerfully and impressively shakes on your TV during the Super Bowl halftime show.
On Wednesday, Marc Berman of the New York Post reported that Dolan is already beginning to believe Ujiri is not the answer. Berman’s article also notes that Dolan made the Mills move now, two days before the trade deadline, so he could start searching for a new person to run the team before news that he was going to get rid of Mills leaked.
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 of Ujiri, with the mounds of publicity he has gotten as a candidate and using the Knicks as leverage with Toronto.
Apparently, Dolan also isn’t fond of the fact that the Knicks would have to trade assets for the right to hire Ujiri since he’s still under contract, even though that’s exactly how the Knicks pried Perry from the Sacramento Kings.
Kings and Knicks have reached an agreement on Scott Perry's NY GM deal, I'm told. Kings get a 2019 2nd round pick & cash considerations.— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) July 14, 2017
There have also been reports that the Knicks could consider a front office model that is similar to that of the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers, except not in the sense that they are guaranteed to build a winning team. Instead, this scenario would see the Knicks follow in those teams’ footsteps by hiring a player agent to work in the front office.
ESPN Sources with @ramonashelburne: Knicks owner Jim Dolan is already considering a front office model that is working with Golden State (Bob Myers) and the Lakers (Rob Pelinka): Hiring a top basketball executive out of the player agent ranks.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 4, 2020
In a separate report, Berman wrote that Rich Kleiman, who manages Kevin Durant, could be someone to watch out for if that’s the case. Kleiman was supposed to deliver KD to the Knicks this summer, but as you may have heard, Durant is not currently on the Knicks and is instead on the Brooklyn Nets. Hiring the guy who failed to get you KD? That’s called playing 4D chess.
People from Creative Arts Agency have also been bandied about as potential front office recruits, while names like Daryl Morey and Sam Presti are being discussed by fans but have yet to be named as actual realistic targets.
There’s certainly a lot of uncertainty surrounding Madison Square Garden, but one thing is for sure: the trade deadline is Thursday at 3 p.m., and no one has any clue what the hell is going to happen.