The New Hierarchy of The New York Knicks

Many people have asked me over the past week or so what my thoughts are regarding the new regime in the Knicks front office. The team announced changes to their basketball operations leadership following the debacle that was the three-year run of Phil Jackson steering the ship.

My answer has been very honest: I really do not know, it is a mixture of emotions. I do not know much about Steve Mills, I know he is loyal to owner James Dolan and that he has been in the front office for a long time, both before Phil Jackson, and now in the “post-Phil era”.

It is my opinion that Mills overpaid to get Tim Hardaway Jr. back in an offer sheet to pry him from Atlanta. The Knicks paid him about four times more money than the next closest offer, this after initially drafting Hardaway Jr., then trading him away, only to pay him $71 million to come back. That is a player acquisition that is just so typical of the Knicks, what a total mess.

The appointment of Steve Perry as the new General Manager is a move I do find positive, if they give him some authority to make certain personnel related decisions. Perry is smart, politically savvy, and well respected around the NBA. He did great work in a short time with the Sacramento Kings, and the move to bring him in from California made a great deal of sense to me and others within the media that cover the team.

Mills and Perry in their introductory press conference towed the new company line that they want to rebuild the team around a young core, they want to reshape the team into a more athletic club. That sounds nice, but it disregards the fact that they have half the salary cap for the entire roster tied up in three veteran players: Carmelo Anthony, Courtney Lee, and Joakim Noah.
Then, they committed huge dollars to Hardaway Jr. and he is essentially the same type of player as Courtney Lee. I am not sure if they could trade Lee without taking back a “bad contract” in return. The issue with Noah is that he is coming off major offseason surgeries and has a prohibitive contract that Phil Jackson doled out to him. The move to trade Noah would be “selling low” because of the injuries, so the Knicks will most likely have to hold on to him for the time being.

Then, there is the Carmelo Anthony saga, with a contract that pays out a ton of money to a player that Jackson tried to make completely miserable. The Knicks had been attempting to move him to either Houston or Cleveland, according to reputable reports, and then paused that process when they named Perry to the GM post.

The Knicks new regime was said to have been looking to mend the relationship with Anthony to bring him back into the fold. Several sources around the league state that Anthony is done with the dysfunction of the Knicks and wants to be traded to Houston to play with Chris Paul and James Harden.

However, trading Carmelo will be complicated because he has a no trade clause (which he has lifted to move to either Houston or Cleveland) that the Knicks front office has reportedly asked him to expand that list so they have more viable options to trade him. He also has a 15% “trade kicker” in his contract that will increase his salary cap hit to the team that obtains him, and the right amount of money has to be sent back in order to meet the regulations of the NBA for trading players.

All of this when taken together means that the Knicks need a fourth team to be involved in a multi-layered deal that ultimately would get Anthony to Houston, would provide the Knicks with cap relief, and also would provide the other two teams in the deal some other assets or cap space to make the deal worthwhile for them. It seems unlikely that will happen at this point because the Rockets will probably wait until closer to training camp to leverage the Knicks into a deal that is better for Houston’s interests.

The Knicks have some talent on the roster and they do need to start the rebuild because they have been spinning their wheels for the past four or five years. The fan base is getting restless, and rightfully so, but as I wrote in the past, the Knicks will continue to sell tickets because tourists want to see games at the Garden. The Knicks will continue to be a money machine because of the allure of playing in New York, which makes the impetus for actually rebuilding the roster a difficult thing for their front office to actually accomplish.

The new hierarchy of the Knicks brings me mixed emotions, I am not sure how much Mills will interfere with Perry trying to make bold moves to revamp the roster. I am not sure how involved James Dolan will be, and if Perry will have his hands tied in trying to improve the team. I guess only time will tell, they have a great deal of work ahead of them.

In the meantime, Knicks fans will wait and see if this new front office will be able to make the moves necessary or if it will be business as usual in the Garden.

Defining Moments

Over the past few weeks I have watched several episodes of a series on MSG Network called “The Garden’s Defining Moments” which focuses on the back story to some of the most iconic events in the history of Madison Square Garden in New York City. The series has featured the visit of Pope John Paul II, now Saint John Paul The Great from the perspective of both the attendees and the event organizers as well as Garden employees.


The series has also included classic sports moments such as Larry Johnson’s unforgettable four point play for the New York Knicks, the incredible hockey playoff series between the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils, and the unbelievable college basketball game between Syracuse and the University of Connecticut which needed six overtime periods to be decided.


I viewed this series as a trip down “memory lane” in my own life, though I was too young to remember the visit by the Pope back in 1979, I found that episode in the series particularly poignant and inspiring. This episode took on increasing significance when you consider that last week we remembered Saint John Paul II because it has been 10 years since he passed away. This holy man was beloved throughout the world but particularly in America, which was demonstrated by the reception he received in the Garden in an event geared toward the youth, which essentially served as the precursor to what would become World Youth Day in the Roman Catholic Church.


Four Points


Another episode in this series on Madison Square Garden’s history focused on the improbable and stunning four-point play converted by New York Knicks forward, Larry Johnson, during a playoff game in the 1999 push by the team to the Eastern Conference Championship. This episode coupled with the before-mentioned Devils vs. Rangers playoff series were the two episodes that evoked the strongest memories for me.


It was Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals with the Knicks and the Indiana Pacers in a series tied 1-1 setting the stage for a pivotal third game at the Garden. The Knicks would be without Patrick Ewing who sustained an injury at the end of the previous game, so the team needed Johnson to have a big game to replace the scoring they were going to lose with Ewing on the bench.


I watched that game, as I did so many other big Knicks games, with my mother. My mother enjoyed watching the games with me, especially basketball, and like all other things she did, she made it feel like a special event. She made sure to prepare dinner early so that everything was wrapped up and the kitchen was cleaned up by the time the game began. The playoff games helped because they generally started a little later in the evening.


I remember that series well, and being a Knicks fan, I was always preparing for the worst possible scenario. I recall thinking that the Knicks were in trouble without Ewing, the Pacers were a tough team, but I remember my Mom being optimistic that they would win because, as she explained: “it was at the Garden”. My mother made a bunch of different “game day” type snacks, and of course she had a nice dessert made too.


The game was dramatic, close, and the Garden crowd was raucous throughout the action. The Knicks and Pacers were like two heavyweight boxers exchanging blows, going toe-to-toe in the center of the ring, each team matching the other: basket for basket, dunk for dunk, and rebound for rebound. The Knicks kept the score close with Indiana largely due to the ability of each player utilizing their strengths and through a standout offensive performance by Larry Johnson.


In the closing moments of the game, the Knicks trailed by three points and the prospects of victory seemed bleak. Larry Johnson attempted a three point shot which he made successfully and a foul was called on the shot attempt giving him a trip to the foul line for one shot. The three point field goal tied the game at 91 and Johnson stepped to the foul line and time seemed to stop too. Johnson knocked down the free throw to give the Knicks an improbable 92-91 lead which would end up being the final score.


The roar of the crowd after that four point play was palpable even while watching it at home on television. My mother and I were elated that the Knicks were able to come from behind and win a pivotal playoff game without their best player and in front of their devoted fans. Of course, my mother also had to basically say “I told you so” and joked that I should have known also that the Knicks would get the much needed win.


The Road Ahead


New York would go on to win the series with Indiana in six games to advance to the NBA Finals to play the San Antonio Spurs, the top seeded team in the Western Conference. The Knicks would lose the series to San Antonio in five games, including losing twice on their home court and by one point in the deciding game 78-77. The Spurs have gone on to win multiple NBA titles since that series, while the Knicks have largely struggled for the better part of the past fifteen seasons.


It was a “defining moment” for MSG, the Larry Johnson four point play, but it also was a defining moment in my own journey. A month after that Game 3 victory in June 1999, my mother would be diagnosed with cancer. The four long years of fighting the disease took us to Philadelphia, where she received treatments. That was during the Allen Iverson days of the 76ers in Philly when they made their own run to the NBA Finals. My Mom and I would watch those games together when we were staying in Philly, and we would debate whether the Knicks teams from the mid-90s could have beaten that Sixers team.


My mother would pass away four years after her diagnosis. Now, when I watch Carmelo Anthony drop 45 points on an opponent I will say to my wife, “Mom would have liked that game” to which my wife will reply, “She did, she saw it with you”. The seasons move on and life moves on, but the memories remain.


The MSG series “Defining Moments” was really enjoyable and well produced. It took me on a trip back through time, into some defining moments in my own life, not only regarding sports, but in bringing me back to some events in my life that I had forgotten about in the busy nature of recent years.


I am grateful for that introspection, for eliciting the memories of nights watching playoff basketball with my Mom, and of times we shared together when life was different than it is today. The NBA regular season ended last night, and while the Knicks failed to make the playoffs, I will be watching the playoff games, and as my wife will remind me, my Mom will be right there watching them with me.