By Lenn Robbins
“We hear from people all the time. From players, from representatives, it’s about who wants to come. We can’t respond because of the NBA rules, etc., but that doesn’t stop them from telling us, and they do. I can tell you from what we’ve heard, I think we’re going to have a very successful offseason when it comes to free agents.” – Knicks owner James Dolan, March 12, 2019, ESPN radio
Before Knicks fans replace “Sell The Team,” with “Hire Masai Ujiri,” they should remember the words spoken by their out-of-touch owner less than a year ago. The Knicks didn’t sign any of their elite free agent targets. They didn’t even get visits from some.
The fall guy for that, the Knicks 15-36 record, and most of all, those “Sell The Team” chants that reverberated around The Garden and into Dolan’s ears last Wednesday, was president Steve Mills. When “In Denial Dolan” feels he’s been wronged, a head has to roll.
“Steve and I have come to the decision that it would be best for him to leave his role as president of the New York Knicks,” Dolan said in a prepared statement. “We thank Steve for his many years of service to our organization and look forward to continuing our relationship with him as part of our board.”
Mills joins the legions of Knicks fans that have orange and blue pumping in our veins until they bleed out courtesy of all the cuts and slashes that Dolan inflicts season after season.
Consider the timing of this latest move: The NBA trade deadline is Thursday. Thursday! Dolan could not have picked a more tumultuous time to fire the team president, unless, of course, he did this tomorrow.
Dolan reportedly has had his eye on Ujiri for a while now. There’s a lot to like about Toronto’s president. Ujiri put together an NBA championship team in the toughest of places by making the most precarious of trades – rolling the dice on Kawhi Leonard.
Because of Canada’s high taxes, NBA players have been reluctant to go North. Raptors fans have long believed they are a victim of NBA conspiracy – they get the worst schedule and refs. They’re seldom on national TV.
But the fan base is flat out bonkers for their Oh Canada team. Ujiri embraced that, attending rallies before playoff games. He was fined prior to the 2015 playoff series against the Nets for telling the crowd to, “F$%k Brooklyn!”
Leonard did his championship one and done but the Raptors have kept winning, proof Ujiri built a franchise. He’s smart, knows talent, has a passion that would play here.
But does Dolan think Ujiri, and the rest of the NBA – players and executives, trainers and coaches – aren’t taking note of the toxic environment that hangs over the Knicks? Does Dolan think Ujiri doesn’t see the petty owner point out the teenager chanting, “Sell The Team,’ to security personnel.
Does Dolan think the revolving door of coaches and presidents, the ludicrous contracts given to disinterested employees (see Phil Jackson), the snubs by NBA free agents falls on deaf ears and blind eyes?
Does he think the bizarro timing of his latest head-scratching move goes unnoticed?
Yet Dolan has three things going for him, known them named James Dolan:
The Knicks again have nowhere to go but up. The Garden remains the most magical of basketball arenas. And Dolan is willing to offer life-changing contracts. It’s a hard combination to walk away from.
Getting Ujiri, who is under contract with the Raptors until the end of the 2021 season, would likely require a stiff price. It would be so typical of the Knicks, who have wisely held onto their first-round draft picks, to unload at least one of those No.1s on a president, not a superstar.
Regardless of what Dolan offers, it still might not convince Ujiri to leave Toronto. Because what Dolan sees and hears is not what the rest of the NBA does.