The 13 Knicks Rebuilds Since their Last Title: Rebuild #12

12. The Steve Mills-Scott Perry Rebuild

Orchestrator:

  • Steve Mills as President, with Scott Perry as GM

The Back Story

  • Rumors were that Steve Mills was undercutting Phil Jackson during the last year of Jackson’s tenure, and when Jackson tried to trade Kristaps Porzingis, Dolan finally stepped in and fired Jackson, appointing Mills as his successor.
  • Mills had had a previous tenure with the Knicks — as CEO of Madison Square Garden from 2003 to 2009 — a role in which he participated in Knick strategy — a tumultuous period wherein Mills did not become a fan favorite. Mills left in 2009 to go to Magic Johnson Enterprises, and to many Knick fans’ chagrin — returned to the Knicks in 2013 as executive Vice President and GM of the organization.
  • Mills was appointed GM just after the Knicks stripped former GM Glen Grunwald of power in August 2013. Mills was the GM from Sept 2013 to March 2014, when the Knicks hired Phil Jackson. Mills then supported Jackson — some say like a snake in his midst — until Jackson was fired when Mills took over.

Highlights

  • Signed Tim Hardaway Jr. Before Hiring GM Scott Perry: The first thing that Steve Mills did — even before hiring Scott Perry as GM — was sign free agent Tim Hardaway Jr to a large, multi-year contract. Mills was a fan of Hardaway’s and had been involved with the drafting of Hardaway in 2013 — before Hardaway was later traded by Phil Jackson to Atlanta where he rejuvenated his career.

Hardaway’s contract would become an albatross for NY — as his streaky play and eccentric personality would weigh on the Knicks.

  • Hired Scott Perry as GM — Once Mills took over from Phil Jackson as President of Knicks in July 2017, he hired Scott Perry as GM. Perry had been GM of the Sacramento Kings. The Knicks gave Sacramento a 2019 2nd round pick and cash as compensation.

The hiring of Perry came with its own drama — as the NY media reported on all rumors of who the Knicks were going to hire. Famously, it was reported that the Knicks were about to interview David Griffin — the highly rated GM of the Cleveland Cavaliers –but when Griffin learned he would not have full control of Knick personnel decisions but would need Steve Mills’ approval — he literally turned around at an airport he was at, en route to NY for an interview, and flew back to Cleveland.

2017-18 Started Well — But January Collapse & Porzingis Injury

  • The 2017-28 Team: The Knicks kept Jeff Hornacek as coach and went into the 2017-2018 season with a team featuring Kristaps Porzingis, Enes Kanter, Tim Hardaway Jr, Courtney Lee, and Ramon Sessions, with Michael Beasley, Kyle O’Quinn, Lance Thomas, Doug McDermott, Ron Baker, Willy Hernangomez, and Jarrett Jack coming off the bench.  Sessions and Jack were to help rookie Frank Ntilikina.
  • The Point Guard: Sessions got off to a horrible start, and Jarret Jack took the starting point guard job, as Ntilikina was introduced to the NBA off the bench. Sessions was waived in early January. Trey Burke was signed just before the season started on Oct 11 when he became available and was put on NY’s G-League roster.
  • NY started the year well — and were 17-14 on Dec 22. Things were looking good — but then NY lost 10 of their next 12 including 3 overtime losses and many close loses, and then caved in — with a horrible January and February en route to a horrible 2nd half and 29-53 record.
  • Porzingis Goes Down with Torn ACL — On Feb 6, Porzingis tore his ACL landing on Greek Freak’s foot.
  • Trade Deadline Deal: Mudiay: On Feb 8 2018, at the trade deadline, with NY at 23-33 and having lost 5 straight, NY traded Doug McDermott and a 2nd round pick for Emmanuel Mudiay in a 3-team trade.

Mudiay didn’t help. Without Porzingis, the Knicks slide continued throughout the 2nd half of the season.

  • Trade Deadline Deal: Hernangomez Dealt: the Knicks also traded Willy Hernangomez to Charlotte for two 2nd round picks (one 2nd round pick was later dealt along with Dennis Smith Jr for Derek Rose. Detroit used that 2nd round pick to select Isaiah Livers).
  • Fired Hornacek: At the end of the season, NY fired Jeff Hornacek as the team went 29-53.

David Fizdale & the Beginning of a Youth Movement

  • The Knicks hired David Fizdale in May, 2018. Fizdale talked a good game and many Knick fans thought he’d be the right coach — in fact some fans started calling him “My Coach” (a political reference). Fizdale said the Knicks would stress Defense, move the ball on offense, and protect home court. Pretty much what every new coach ever had said but some Knick fans thought Fizdale was different.

  • Fizdale came from Pat Riley‘s Miami Heat organization.
  • NY chose Fizdale over other candidates such as Mike Budenholzer from the San Antonio organization.

Summer 2018 — the Draft

  • Drafted Kevin Knox with the 9th pick. Many fans wanted NY to pick Michael Porter Jr, who had the biggest upside in the draft but had fallen due to back problems. Others felt NY couldn’t miss with either Mikal Bridges or Miles Bridges (not related). Some said Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the one. NY picked the 6’10 Knox who had only started playing basketball 3 years earlier at age 15 — and his father said doctors estimated Knox wasn’t finished growing yet — and could go to 6’11. Knox was raw but had offensive skills and there were reports that some scouts thought Knox would be another Kevin Durant.

Knox looked good at first with offensive ability — but his defense was horrid, and his motor seemed low. He played great in his initial summer league, and won Rookie of the Month for December in his first season. But he was given too much playing time, and his defense and low motor caught up with him. In year 2 he improved his defense, but his offense suffered — he was awkward on his drives to the basket —  and he got less playing time.

Then in summer 2019 the NBA announced that teams needed to start measuring everyone in stocking feet. Knox measured in at 6′ 7.5″ — an insult that they didn’t even round him up to 6’8. It’s unclear if this rule is still practiced. After COVID hit, delaying the start of the 2020 season, you never heard about the rule anymore. It would be ironic for Knox if players entering the league in 2020 were given the benefit of the doubt on the height they said they were. Since then, many sources truncate Knox’s height to 6’7. He never became the 6’11 Durant; on paper Knox literally shrank. Significantly.

By year 3 Knox had developed a reputation as a reserve, with an excellent 3-pt shot. In year 4 the Knicks traded him for Cam Reddish.

  • Drafted Mitchell Robinson with the 36th pick (2nd round). This pick saved the Knicks in this draft. Robinson had been a top-5 big man in the country in High School — then enlisted into Western Kentucky — a college he didn’t end up liking — so instead of transferring to another school and red-shirting a year, he simply stopped playing. That caused him to fall in the draft and the Knicks took a chance. They got lucky.
  • Signed Allonzo Trier
  • Great Summer League: Knox, Robinson, and Allonzo Trier impressed in the summer league.

Minor Free Agent Signings

  • Free Agency Summer 2018: The Knicks were getting ready for the next summer’s free agent market, when NY’s team salary would come way under the cap, so didn’t do much the summer of 2018 — signing Mario Hezonja, Luke Kornet, and Noah Vonleh to 1-year deals and waiving Joakim Noah.

2018-19 Season — Bad from the Start But with Youth

  • The 2018-19 Team: With David Fizdale as the newly minted coach who so many Knick fans thought was going to be the real deal, the Knicks went into the 2018-19 season with Porzingis expected to miss most of the season still recovering from his ACL injury — although there was hope he’d return in February — and with a young team that featured Enes Kanter and Kevin Knox up front, and Tim Hardaway Jr in the backcourt with young point guard and hope for the future Frank Ntilikina. Trey Burke played himself into the starting rotation as well.
  • The bench had Lance Thomas, Mitchell Robinson, Allonzo Trier, Mario Hezonja, Noah Vonleh, Ron Baker, and Damyean Dotson.
  • Knox was Rookie of the Month for December.
  • Mitchell Robinson was a slam dunking, shot blocking demon — especially adept at blocking 3-pointers on the perimeter.

  • Allonzo Trier was electric off the bench.
  • Trier got his shots but that drew ire from some teammates, most notably Tim Hardaway Jr who yelled at Trier on one play in a game where Trier went up for a layup on a fast break instead of passing it to Hardaway (the ultimate ball hog himself).
  • In February, having won a job and regular playing time, Trier could be noticeably seen trying to pass first on plays, but that affected his game.

Traded Porzingis, Waived Kanter

  • Porzingis Traded: In January 2019, NY traded Kristaps Porzingis along with Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr, and Courtney Lee to Dallas for DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews, Dennis Smith Jr, and 2021 1st rd pick (Keon Johnson — who would traded on draft night to the Clippers for Quentin Grimes), 2023 1st round pick (top 10 protected). Porzingis was still out recovering from the torn ACL, and Mills and Perry appeared to make a determination that Porzingis was not worth re-signing for a Max contract — in that he was injury prone and, as Phil Jackson had put it, didn’t have a big enough ass to become a dominant post-up center in the NBA.
  • Kanter Traded: A month after trading Porzingis, on February 7, 2019, the Knicks waived Enes (later changed his name to Freedom Kanter) and Wesley Matthews.
  • The Tank for Zion: The losing continued — the Knicks tanked and went after the #1 pick that was to be Zion Williamson, with Ja Morant electrifying the NCAA playoffs and looking like a great #2 pick.
  • Successful Tank: The Knicks finished 17-65 under Fizdale — finishing dead last in the NBA and guaranteeing themselves the best lottery chance at the #1 pick in the draft.

Summer 2019 Draft — Barrett at #3

  • Unsuccessful Lottery: Unfortunately, despite the Knicks finishing with the league’s worst record, the Minnesota Timberwolves won the draft lottery to get the #1 pick, and Memphis came out of nowhere to nab pick #2. The Knicks fell back to pick #3.
  • Barrett Falls to Knicks: NY drafted RJ Barrett with the #3 pick in the draft, and Ignas Brazdeikis in the 2nd round.

“Money Ball” Free Agency Summer 2019

The summer of 2019 constituted the bulk of the Steve Mills/Scott Perry rebuild. NY was in tremendous cap-space position, and rumors abounded that NY would make a play for Kevin Durant.

But Durant blew out his achilles in the playoffs, which meant that he’d be out a year at least, and the next time he’d suit up, he’d be 32 years old. Plus rumors had it that Kyrie Irving and Durant wanted to sign together, and Kyrie had worn out his welcome in a young locker room in Boston and before that Cleveland, and it looked like NY wanted no part of him.

Rumors then abounded that NY was looking to sign Durant and Kawhi Leonard — rumors that may have been put out by NY. But then came a report that the Knicks backed out of a meeting with Leonard, and Leonard saying that he never had any intention of meeting with them.

The media reported the Knicks might sign Kemba Walker — but NY didn’t seem to have any interest in him.

In the end, the Knicks went with a “Money Ball” free agency, with the following signings:

Julius Randle was a player that Perry and Mills had begun targeting a year earlier, when NY was run off the court by a more athletic Laker team. It ended up being a fantastic “money ball” signing — getting a player of tremendous value without breaking the bank.

Marcus Morris fell to the Knicks — he signed with San Antonio then changed his mind — and signed with the Knicks for one season, pissing off Greg Popovich.

The national media and the local media bashed and made fun of the Knicks all summer and into the Fall for their free agent signings — as they felt NY was expected to add two big-name superstars. The media was dead wrong — NY had actually done a fantastic job of signing value players to short term contracts.

2018-19 Season — Horror Show from the Start

  • Fizdale Couldn’t Pick a Point Guard: NY started the season with no point guard — coach David Fizdale didn’t make a decision in the pre-season so in game 1 threw Allonzo Trier in as the starting point guard. Trier had a horrible first half, so Fizdale yanked him and turned to first Dennis Smith Jr as the point guard, and then Elfrid Payton. That lasted a game.
  • The Dennis Smith Jr Booed-Viscously-at-MSG Game: In game 3 of the year at Madison Square Garden, Dennis Smith Jr played so badly — missing shot after shot — that MSG fans booed him off the court. Fizdale had a delayed reaction to pulling Smith Jr — allowing Smith to catch a severe verbal thrashing. Besides poor coaching judgement, all of Fizdale’s preseason talk of “Protecting Home Court” was a distant memory. A failed promise. Bull shit. As Knick fans became to know with Fizdale as coach.

  • The Train Wreck & the Apology: By game 10, the Knicks were 2-8 and a Train Wreck. Steven Mills and Scott Perry apologized to NY fans after a blowout loss to Cleveland, saying the team’s off-season free-agent acquisitions were supposed to yield a better team than this.
  • Fizdale Fired: the Knicks fired Fizdale on Dec 6, 2019 with the Knicks at 4-18.
  • Knicks Did Much Better with Mike Miller as Coach: Assistant coach Mike Miller took over for Fizdale as coach. Miller was hired into the organization by Phil Jackson and had won a title in the G League for Westchester. Putting Miller on the Knicks coaching staff the summer before seemed like insurance in case Fizdale did poorly again. The Knicks cashed in their insurance policy — and Miller did well. Within days the Knicks defensive intensity picked up. By late December the Knicks started to win basketball games.

  • Knicks Blow It Up — Remove Steve Mills: On February 4, 2020, 2 days before the trade deadline with NY at 15-36, the Knicks announced that Steve Mills was leaving team, moving away from basketball operations for a job with the entertainment division of MSG (think Circus). They announced that Scott Perry would temporarily take command of the franchise. NY was 15-36
  • The Marcus Morris Trade: 2 days after Steve Mills was removed, on February 6, 2020, Scott Perry made the decision to blow up the season and trade Marcus Morris. The Knicks were 12-18 under Miller, in the middle of a 4-game winning streak — with Marcus Morris and Julius Randle playing well together — when Perry traded Morris to the Clippers in a 3-team trade that netted NY Maurice Harkless and a 2020 LA Clipper 1st round pick. In the trade, the Washington Wizards also traded Isaiah Thomas to Clippers, and the Clippers sent Jerome Robinson to Washington.
    • NY would later trade the 1st round pick to Utah on draft night (November 16, 2020 — Utah picked Udoka Aubuike) along with a 2nd round pick for Utah’s 1st round pick that they used to select Leandro Bolmaro. NY then dealt Bolmaro to get Immanuel Quickley 2 nights after the Nov 18, 2020 draft from Oklahoma City in multi-team trade).

  • Leon Rose Hired: Former agent Leon Rose was hired as executive in charge of the Knicks on March 2, 2020 — effectively ending this rebuild and beginning the next one.
  • COVID Strikes: On March 11, 2020, the Knicks beat Atlanta in Overtime in the last game of the season as the remaining part of the season was suspended indefinitely due to COVID. The Knicks would not play another game.
  • Miller would go 17-27 as coach — and had 15 games left in the season to do even better when COVID struck.

Result:

  • Still in progress — but so far:
    •  bad coaching hire, but
    • good decisions were made on Free Agency, getting team under cap, utilizing and picking up draft picks, and bringing in young talent.
  • This rebuild essentially laid the foundation for the current (at this writing) Knick team: Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson, RJ Barrett, and trades that netted draft picks that would become Quentin Grimes and Immanuel Quickley, all while keeping the Knicks in good salary cap shape.
  • The Fizdale hiring was a disaster. NY should have hired Budenholzer — if they had, maybe Steve Mills is still the Exec in charge of the Knicks.
  • Having Mike Miller in the wings as insurance to Fizdale was a good move, but COVID caused Miller to run out of time to prove himself as an NBA head coach.
  • Trading Porzingis was a smart move, as he has not provided Max Contract value to this day — having been traded from Dallas to Washington. The Knicks ended up getting Quentin Grimes with one of the draft picks acquired for KP. The Knicks still own a 1st round pick from Dallas from that trade — in this June’s draft.
  • The “Money Ball” Free Agent signings of summer 2019 were brilliant — the Knicks got the last laugh on the media who knocked them.
    • Julius Randle ended up being a terrific signing — an All Star player at a very decent salary.
    • The Marcus Morris signing was also terrific — he played well for NY before being traded to the Clippers for a 1st round draft pick that would eventually be Immanuel Quickley.
    • Bobby Portis and Reggie Bullock were also good signings. Portis was let go as NY didn’t seem to like his temper; Scott Perry instead signed Nerlens Noel who did well in NY until a knee injury (see next rebuild).
    • All the signings except Randle’s were for short-term deals, enabling NY to remain in excellent salary cap space.
  • In essence — the Knicks traded Porzingis so as not to sign him to a Max contract, and signed Julius Randle for a lot less money. Randle signed a contract making $18 to $19 M a year for 3 years that NY later extended to $25 to $29M thru 2026. Porzingis makes $31 to $36 M a year through 2024.
  • The Kevin Knox draft pick didn’t work out — NY could’ve picked Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, or Mikal Bridges, or Miles Bridges, or Kevin Porter Jr. But on the other hand, Miles Bridges has had domestic issues and is currently serving a suspension, and Porter Jr. signed a Max Extension and has had recurring back issues. NY traded Knox for Cam Reddish, who has talent, is 6’8, but currently is out of the NY rotation.
  • The RJ Barrett pick has worked out — Barrett is on the rise as an All Star caliber shooting guard.
  • The Mitchell Robinson pick was a steal — grabbing him in the 2nd round — he has become one of the elite defensive centers in the NBA.

Tune back in for Rebuild #13. Follow us on Twitter and we’ll notify you when the post is up.

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