Don’t overlook the two key words in the statement released by Garden executive chairman James Dolan on the announcement of the new Knicks hierarchy:
After three tumultuous seasons of constant change, a battle over offensive systems and, to use Phil Jackson’s own word, “rebelliousness,” the Knicks are a franchise in desperate need of a culture change.
It is a franchise in desperate need of a plan, of direction and, most importantly, of an identity.
Mills offered a view of his direction in his statement following the signing of Tim Hardaway Jr. last week. Mills pointed to the effort to form “a roster emphasizing youth, athleticism, accountability and unselfishness.”
Dolan echoed that in his comments when he said Mills has “an ambitious plan that centers on building a young team focused on player development, communication and teamwork.”
Perry joins the front office with a wealth of experience as an NBA executive with several franchises. This is his first time, however, in the driver’s seat as the GM, and it’s an opportunity he had been waiting to accept.
Let us also emphasize one other key point made in the announcement by Dolan:
“As Steve and Scott move forward,” the team owner said, “I will continue to not be involved in the operations of the team.”
This is their show now.
While Perry comes in highly-regarded among NBA executives, well-connected among his peers and widely-respected by media members, Mills is moved into the hot seat for the first time in his career.
A decade ago he served as Garden president and mostly oversaw the Knicks when it was run by Isiah Thomas. More recently, he worked under Jackson. Now he has final say on basketball-related matters. Now the analysis of every move made by the franchise stops at his desk.
While he has been around for some of the toughest years in recent history, this is the first time he will be in complete control. Mills has, as my radio co-host and Super Bowl champion Chris Canty likes to say, “blood in the ground” at The Garden.
Guiding this franchise back to respectability is not just business for Mills, it’s personal.
I remember a conversation I had with him before he and Jackson held a Town Hall-style meeting with season ticket holders in April 2015. We talked about learning from the mistakes of the past. He was adamant about one thing in particular:
“The days of trading away first-round picks are over,” he said to me.
The plan that Mills has been wanting to employ involves using those first-round picks to build the foundation of a team.
Seven years ago, the Knicks cleared salary cap to make a big splash in free agency. There was a prevailing belief that New York had enough cachet to attract the big stars. That plan failed to result in a championship. It did not provide sustained winning. It did not create a culture.
So now the reset button has been pressed.
But, remember, there is no magic wand. This is not a quick-fix situation. As I said in a previous blog, paraphrashing Hamilton, drafting is easy, developing is harder. This is going to take some time and effort. And, yes, patience.
That includes Carmelo Anthony, the 33-year-old veteran star who does not fit in the plan of a team emphasizing youth and athleticism. There were reports of trade talks with the Houston Rockets, who want to appeal to newly-acquired point guard Chris Paul by adding his pal to the mix there. But new reports say talks have ended, for now, as the new Knicks hierarchy huddles to formulate a plan that’s best for the franchise.
One plan could include keeping Melo on the roster to start the season. Perhaps offers get better in December or before the February trade deadline. Perhaps Melo would be willing to waive his no-trade for another team that seems poised for a title run (Cavs?).
What this shows is the Knicks are not merely hell-bent on trading Melo that they’ll be willing to make the Patrick Ewing mistake all over again. That trade resonated for years.
Mills wasn’t around for that trade, but when he did arrive he saw the after effects. This can not be an impulse decision. Whatever comes of Melo has to help advance the plan.
But for now, at the very least, there is a plan.