A little more than two weeks after the New York Knicks rid themselves of Phil Jackson and moved on from a front office experiment that was tumbling toward failure, the franchise has found a new executive to help chart a new path forward: recently hired Sacramento Kings vice president of basketball operations Scott Perry.
Perry isn’t a direct replacement for Jackson. Jackson’s role as team president will be assumed by Steve Mills, who served as the Knicks’ general manager under Jackson and is now in charge of the show. Perry will take Mills’ GM role. It’s his first time taking the GM title after stints lower on front-office totem poles in Detroit, Seattle, Detroit again and Orlando.
Perry took the VP of basketball ops job in Sacramento this past April. The Kings reportedly granted Perry permission to pursue the Knicks job, which is viewed as a promotion, despite Perry only being in Sacramento for less than three months. They reportedly sought cash compensation in return; they’ll get it, as well as a 2019 second-round draft pick, according to Sam Amick of USA Today Sports.
With compensation sorted out, the Knicks will sign Perry to a five-year contract to be their new general manager, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The new agreement ends a long, winding journey to retooling New York’s front office that wasn’t without hiccups.
The Knicks reportedly discussed making runs at Toronto’s Masai Ujiri or Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti, but wouldn’t have been willing to part with required compensation packages that likely would have included draft picks. In Perry’s case, the Knicks relented. They’re in line to get the two worst 2019 second-rounders from a group of three teams: the Magic, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Houston Rockets. New York wound up agreeing to send the Kings the better pick of the two they end up receiving.
New York was also reportedly in talks with former Cleveland Cavaliers general manager David Griffin, but Griffin reportedly rebuffed the Knicks over concerns about how much control he would have over basketball-related decisions. The Knicks reportedly balked at the possibility of completely turning the front office over to Griffin and allowing him to bring in his own staff.
That’s what should concern Knicks fans about the Perry hire. It’s not Perry’s competence. It’s that, from New York’s perspective, one of the qualifications for the GM role seemed to be a willingness to slot into the old regime rather than start anew.
To truly move on from Jackson, and to overhaul a front office that has led the team to precisely one playoff series win this century, the Knicks could have sought out a new president of basketball operations, ceded control of the front office to the new hire, and restructured from the top down. But they haven’t done that. Instead, they’ve ceded control to Mills, whose résumé isn’t exactly sparkling.
He’s worked with the Knicks in some capacity for more than 10 years, first on the business side of the team and Madison Square Garden from 2003-09, and then as vice president — briefly president, before the Jackson hire — and general manager from 2013 to the present. It’s unclear how much say Mills actually had in matters during his stint as GM. He was either second or third in command. But it hardly matters. If he did wield influence, he was a key accomplice alongside Jackson throughout a disastrous four years. If he didn’t, he would appear to be unqualified to run the NBA team in the nation’s biggest market.
Or maybe Mills still won’t have autonomy. Maybe the most prominent voice in the franchise’s operation will remain the one belonging to owner James Dolan. Maybe Dolan wants to seize power again after his latest attempt to delegate backfired so spectacularly. Maybe Dolan will be haunted by the Jackson era, refusing to grant any other team president or GM the same level of power he bestowed upon Jackson.
Dolan, for his part, said that won’t be the case. “As Steve and Scott move forward,” he said in Friday’s press release, “I will continue to not be involved in the operations of the team.”
The hope for Knicks fans is that Perry brings stability to the franchise, just as he brought stability to the Kings this past spring. Perry arrived in Sacramento in April, and helped engineer the most competent three months of front office management that basketball fans in California’s capital have witnessed in years. The Kings were winners at June’s 2017 NBA draft night, when they brought home a haul of De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles and Frank Mason. Then, they approached free agency rationally, adding three solid veterans to help bring along an extremely young core.
Perry’s tenure in Orlando, however, was less auspicious. He was fired along with GM Rob Hennigan in April after Hennigan’s regime ran the Magic into a dead end. Nothing from Perry’s second stint in Detroit seems to stand out much, either.
But Perry was reportedly impressive during the draft process and free agency with the Kings, and the Knicks are clearly impressed, too. Now, we’ll find out just how impressive he’ll be as a general manager and decision-maker … if, in fact, he does much decision-making at all, with final say resting with Mills.
There is no unequivocal evidence that the Knicks are doomed, or that they’ll overrule and waste the talents of their new GM. But in situations like these, there are certain franchises that deserve the benefit of the doubt, and there are others that don’t. If you’ve been following the Knicks’ performance over the past 17 years, you can probably figure out which category they fall into.