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NEW YORK — The constant chants of “Sell the team!” and angry Madison Square Garden crowds were too much for New York Knicks owner James Dolan to stomach, so he fired team president Steve Mills on Tuesday morning.
Mills had been around for hirings and firings, regime changes and new plans, but couldn’t survive this underwhelming season — one Dolan expected to be successful as the Knicks entered free agency last June.
But once Kevin Durant couldn’t persuade Kyrie Irving to play for the Knicks, they both picked Brooklyn and the writing seemed to be on the wall — even before the bizarre press conference Mills and general manager Scott Perry were forced to conduct in November after a slow start and then the firing of head coach David Fizdale.
Weird timing seems to be a hallmark of the Knicks franchise, as Dolan fired Mills two days before Thursday’s trade deadline. The Knicks were one of a few teams in heavy conversations Monday, seriously discussing moving Julius Randle to the Charlotte Hornets for point guard Terry Rozier before the Hornets balked at taking Dennis Smith Jr., sources told Yahoo Sports.
Clearly, Mills, under fire for some time, didn’t have an inkling any change was imminent. League sources told Yahoo Sports that Dolan has had intermediaries reach out to other top league executives in the last several weeks with the question, “What would it take to get you to take over this franchise?”
Besides a lot of money and a lot of freedom, no one knows what Dolan is looking for, although league sources believe Toronto Raptors top executive Masai Ujiri is intrigued with the job and the thought of being wanted by the flagship franchise.
Whether Mills knew about his status is immaterial, as he carried on trying to salvage what was left of the season as a lengthy rebuild was occurring — the very thing many believed the New York Knicks would never do to give themselves the best chance to improve.
The Knicks haven’t been a model franchise for quite awhile now, and Mills’ tenure followed that trend, but he did learn how to navigate the waters of Madison Square Garden and Dolan, a task that isn’t easy.
But winning basketball games and fielding competitive squads have been elusive and the reasons are myriad, from the bad luck of lottery balls not going their way (Zion Williamson) to their own decisions backfiring.
Sometimes you can see the logic, but if the strategy doesn’t bear out, someone has to be accountable and it’s Mills’ turn on that merry-go-round. The Knicks signed stopgap free agents in the aftermath of losing the star they hoped to get after trading the player they didn’t believe would become a star in Kristaps Porzingis.
But that’s resulted in another trip to the cellar and the notion of holding onto their cap space, and trading for extra picks and bad contracts seems like a better route than the one they’ve chosen.
Things could be worse. They could’ve made terrible long-term decisions to hamstring their growth and make this job less attractive, but it now looks like fertile ground for whomever replaces Mills, even if Perry finally gets a shot to run his own franchise as he takes over in the interim.
The Knicks are an attractive job at this point for anyone who wants to take over, but can Dolan be trusted to make the right decisions when his long history suggests otherwise?
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