By John Schmeelk
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When the Knicks let Phil Jackson go, the best thing they could have done to replace him was find a career NBA executive with a ton of experience that didn’t have a big name.
He also needed to be well respected around the league, and not cost a ton in compensation.
The Knicks found exactly that in Scott Perry.
Perry’s history is a mixed bag when it comes to success and failure. He was part of Joe Dumars’ staff when the Pistons won the 2004 championship. He was in the Sonics’ front office when they drafted Kevin Durant. He returned to Detroit to be the VP of basketball operations from 2008-12 when the franchise unsuccessfully transitioned from the older players on their title team. The Pistons have struggled to win since.
Perry then joined the Magic, but they’ve struggled to rebuild behind underachieving draft picks and a questionable trade for Serge Ibaka. They also signed Bismack Biyombo to a four-year, $72 million contract. Perry was fired by Orlando before joining the Sacramento Kings this past April as their executive VP of basketball operations under Vlade Divac. Perry was credited for helping to stabilize the Kings with a smart offseason.
It’s impossible to judge Perry by his history because he wasn’t ultimately the one making the decisions. It was Dumars in Detroit, Rob Hennigan in Orlando, and Divac in Sacramento. More important is Perry’s reputation inside the NBA, which according to reports appears to be stellar. He has the respect of the league and the experience to back it up. The Knicks didn’t go for flash or a big name. Instead, they hired someone that was a good basketball man.
It was a good hire by the Knicks.
There’s only one problem. Perry is not team president. How much decision-making power does he have? Steve Mills is eventually going to be named president of basketball operations, so everything will go through him. Isiah Thomas held that title, Donnie Walsh held that title, and so did Phil Jackson. The buck stopped with those men, and it will with Mills as well.
David Griffin turned down the Knicks’ GM job last week because he reportedly wouldn’t have been allowed to reorganize the front office by bringing in his own people, or have final say on basketball decisions. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ian Begley reported that Perry will “be afforded tremendous freedom to operate as he chooses” and that “He will be the day-to-day voice running the basketball side.”
Those are easy words to say to someone coming to join the front office of the Knicks, but how it operates in practice is something worth watching. The more power Perry is given to run the team the way he chooses, the better off the Knicks will be. Mills doesn’t have near the experience making player personnel decisions or evaluations that Perry has.
The fact that Mills was making significant decisions, such as giving Tim Hardaway, Jr. $71 million over four seasons before hiring a new GM is not a great signal that Perry will be the true guiding hand. If the Knicks were truly looking for someone to make all the significant basketball decisions, they would have waited to hire that person before making an investment like the one they did with Hardaway. Instead, it was Mills, who is still in place and is a career trusted lieutenant of owner James Dolan, that made that call.
The most cynical of observers could suggest Mills brought in an outsider like Perry just to be a fall guy if things go poorly. Mills, like many others in the Knicks front office, is a survivor. If the Knicks’ next plan fails, could Mills pin the blame on Perry while avoiding the axe himself? It smells of a conspiracy theory, but this team’s front office has been described in the past as cutthroat by observers.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to know what’s going to happen. Knicks fans are going to have to wait and see if this promise of a new front office and accompanying direction will be reality or fiction. Will Perry be swallowed up by the corporate sharks the same way Donnie Walsh and Glen Grunwald were? Or will he become an insider himself and ingrain himself in the organization and out-maneuver Mills to more power? All fans can do is wait and see.
No one should be optimistic that Madison Square Garden will change. History has informed us too well to be that naïve. But even the most jaded fans have the right to a very cautious and fleeting hope. Even if Perry’s hire isn’t a game changer, adding another good experienced basketball executive that will have a major voice running the Knicks can’t be a bad thing.
Only time will tell if Perry’s arrival will mean real change for the better, or more business as usual for the Knicks. All fans can do is hope.
For everything Knicks, Giants, and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk