By John Schmeelk
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I’m putting my Knicks season-ticket-holder hat on today. I’m writing this as a fan who is tired of all the losing and garbage I’ve had to deal with from the Knicks the last 17 years.
Knicks fans got snookered again. We’re all fools. Are there any easier marks? When the Knicks parted ways with Phil Jackson, the team’s press release said general manager Steve Mills, along with the help of former Raptors executive Tim Leiweke, would “develop a go-forward plan.”
For any normal organization that would mean finding a new team president to replace Jackson, to make the type of big basketball decisions that often separate the good teams from the bad ones. Despite how much Knicks fans want to believe that their organization is normal, it isn’t. The Knicks aren’t about to go out there and find a new president. Steve Mills is the new team president. It’s the job he wants, and it is going to be his, results be damned.
David Griffin pulling his name out of consideration for the Knicks job isn’t of itself a disaster of epic proportions. He would have been a very good hire with his past experience as an executive in the NBA, but his tenure as general manager of the Cavaliers was not flawless and was also certainly affected by the presence of LeBron James. He isn’t Pat Riley.
Griffin removed himself from consideration because the Knicks are a Chernobyl-level disaster. Thanks to great reporting by Adrian Wojnarowski, Ian Begley, Ramona Shelbourne, Dave McMenamin, Stefan Bondy and other Knicks beat reporters, we know Griffin turned down the Knicks job because he wouldn’t actually be in charge. According to these reports, Griffin was not confident he would have autonomy to make basketball decisions. He would also not be allowed to bring in his own people to replace executives already in the Knicks’ front office, such as assistant general manager Allan Houston.
Any basketball exec worth his salt would request the ability to have control over basketball decisions and bring in some of his own people to help run the team. They are not big asks. It is business as usual in the NBA. No one worthy of the job is going to come and work for the Knicks because of the restrictions placed upon him. Jackson was convinced by $60 million over five seasons, and he wasn’t even allowed to make the changes he wanted.
The Knicks aren’t going to have a real basketball person come in and change the culture because they won’t be allowed to by the people already in the building that owner James Dolan wants to keep in place. It’s a problem at Madison Square Garden that isn’t going to change. The Daily News’ Frank Isola correctly hammers this point home again and again, but Knicks fans too often don’t want to hear it because it sucks away whatever hope they might have for the future. The Garden is a shark tank that chews up and spits out anyone that jumps in. It won’t change because Dolan keeps the sharks in the tank. He wants them there. It is the culture he has created. Mills might be the biggest one in the tank.
In retrospect, anyone who thought this Steve Mills-led search would end with anyone winding up in charge not named Steve Mills was fooling themselves. Mills was the sports business president of Madison Square Garden during Isiah Thomas’ regime. He was forced out of the job in 2009 after being embroiled in the Anucha Browne Sanders sexual harassment trial. She testified that Mills threatened her to stay quiet about some of the things she objected to that were happening inside the Garden. Mills and the Garden denied the accusations.
Mills’ hiatus, however, was a short one. He returned in 2013 and eventually replaced Glen Grunwald as the Knicks’ general manager. He was the man in charge of the basketball side of things until Jackson was hired as team president. Why would Mills want to hire anyone who would usurp his own power? Put simply: He wouldn’t. The fact that Dolan brought Mills back at all after the accusations leveled against him during the Browne Sanders trial shows his affinity for Mills. In most other companies around the world, charges and testimony like that would make someone impossible to retain or rehire in the same organization they had their issues. That person would be radioactive.
Not for Mills. He is running the Knicks. The man who has been in the building for all but four years since 2003 and has had the most consistent power of anyone in the Knicks’ organization other than Dolan is going to be guiding the Knicks into the future. He has Dolan’s trust. A person who has been in the building to oversee all of the losing, dysfunction and incompetence is now in charge with few, if any, checks on his power.
I’m a Knicks season ticket-holder, so it pains me to say this, but Knicks fans shouldn’t be optimistic. At this point, hope would be blind. Sure, there are good, young players on the roster who could grow together into a good team. Kristaps Porzingis could develop into a perennial All-Star. But there is absolutely no reason to believe the Knicks will be managed well enough to put the right pieces around him to challenge for a championship in the future.
What has happened in the past 15 years to make anyone think that Mills has the basketball mind and savvy to be creative enough to get the Knicks where they need to go? He already overpaid for an improving player in Tim Hardaway Jr. who could have been had for less (or a similar player) if he would have just exercised some patience and prudence. But when have the Knicks exercised either of those things?
Mills is now going to have to navigate the difficult journey of finding a trade for Carmelo Anthony that won’t hamper the Knicks’ salary-cap situation and flexibility moving forward. They already have very little as it is, so getting the Anthony trade right is essential.
At Hardaway’s news conference Monday, the Knicks will not make Mills available to the media. Instead, Hardaway and coach Jeff Hornacek will be forced to answer questions they aren’t equipped to because the man running the team doesn’t want to explain his role and plan moving forward. It’s standard operating procedure at Madison Square Garden. It’s not changing,
The way the Knicks have operated the past 15 years will continue unabashed with Mills at the helm. Even if he hires a general manager, based on what was reported this week, it will be Mills and the other permanent residents at Madison Square Garden who will be in charge. Nothing will change, and Knicks fans will continue to suffer for it.
For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk