1. Current GM Steve Mills will want some authority over basketball decisions going forward, no matter whom the Knicks bring in.
2. Knicks owner James Dolan won’t allow any executive from the outside to come in and fire/reassign the Knicks’ current executives to bring in his or her own people.
Those, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, were two major sticking points in conversations between Griffin and the Knicks. (Griffin met on Friday night with Mills). And those were two major reasons Griffin pulled his name out of the running.
It makes sense that Griffin would want autonomy and final say over front-office staffing: That's typical for any executive who comes in from the outside.
Now, it seems clear that Mills will have at least some -- and maybe full -- autonomy when it comes to making basketball decisions. It's hard to see a big-name executive agreeing to join the Knicks without autonomy and freedom to bring in his or her own staff -- something the Knicks to date have been unwilling to grant.
Mills, of course, served as the top decision-maker in New York for a brief time in the 2013-14 season. Phil Jackson was hired in March of 2014 and had been consulting the Knicks on personnel moves before that.
So this could be the first time that Mills, who previously was president of MSG Sports from 2003 to 2008, serves as the top basketball decision-maker for an extended stretch. (His stint as president of MSG Sports included poor results on the court and an embarrassing episode in which executive Anucha Browne Sanders filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the Garden in which a jury awarded her $11.6 million.)
Mills, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, will guide the Knicks through at least the 2017 free-agency period. It’s not hard to imagine Mills taking over as president full time for the 2017-18 season (and promoting a general manager from within) after Griffin pulled himself from consideration.
The Knicks were, of course, intrigued by Griffin because of his success in Cleveland (three straight NBA Finals, one title). They also liked Griffin because they wouldn’t have to give up any compensation in the form of a first-round pick to hire him.
Compensation was an issue in the Knicks' pursuit of Toronto’s Masai Ujiri and would be a roadblock in potential pursuit of Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti or any other top executive.
Would Griffin have been a strong executive to lead the Knicks? Based on his track record, it sure seems so. He helped get the Cavs to three straight Finals. The Cavs lost two of them to Golden State, and Griffin deserves some blame there (particularly for not building a strong bench). But plenty went right in Cleveland under Griffin.
Of course, some want to give LeBron James -- and not Griffin -- credit for the Cavs’ successful personnel moves. But that’s a bit unfair and hyperbolic. Griffin deserves credit for getting the Cavs into three straight Finals amid plenty of on-court and off-court drama.
So what's next for the Knicks? If they stick with Mills as the top basketball decision-maker, can he succeed? That remains to be seen.
As Wojnarowski and Shelburne note in this story, the Knicks have become a perennial lottery team, rife with organizational discord and dysfunction.
Can Mills and those executives under him, many of whom have been in positions of influence during the discord and dysfunction, turn things around?
It doesn't appear there will be any major overhaul of the front office going forward. The organization has been hesitant to make sweeping changes to the group, which has, of course, survived several unsuccessful regimes, league sources told Wojnarowski and Shelburne.
Mills & Co. have made one splashy move since Jackson moved on: signing Tim Hardaway Jr. to a four-year, $71 million offer sheet. Many opposing executives were stunned when, with the blessing of Dolan, Mills offered Hardaway that deal to pry the restricted free agent away from Atlanta.
“Everyone here is baffled by that one,” a Western Conference executive said.
Hardaway's pact pays him an average salary of $17.7 million. In other words, he’s getting paid like a starting shooting guard. If Hardaway can continue to progress in New York (particularly on the defensive end) the way he did in Atlanta the past two seasons, this deal will probably look much better than the way it was framed in the immediate aftermath.
There's reason to believe Hardaway will excel in the Knicks' offense.
Mills will give head coach Jeff Hornacek the opportunity to run the offense this season how Hornacek sees fit -- a freedom the coach didn't have for most of last season under Jackson. We'll see how all of that comes together starting in September, when the Knicks get together for training camp.
For now, Mills will turn his attention to trading Carmelo Anthony, finding a veteran point guard and figuring out how to make the organization's relationship with Kristaps Porzingis work going forward.
On the point guard front, the Knicks are looking at several different veterans and hope to bring one in on a short-term deal. One free agent they’ve remained in touch with is Rajon Rondo, per sources. There is interest from both sides, sources say.
Rondo has clashed with members of his previous organizations, but young players in Chicago and Sacramento rave about his ability to mentor and develop them. That’s what the Knicks are looking for -- someone to help guide rookie Frank Ntilikina.
Don’t be surprised if the Knicks look to trade for a veteran point guard, as well. Per sources, the Knicks had strong interest in trading for Houston’s Patrick Beverley before Beverley was dealt to the Clippers in the Chris Paul trade. It’s unclear which point guards are available via trade at the moment, but it’s long been rumored the Suns want to move Brandon Knight. Some people around the league believe that Knight or Eric Bledsoe could be available via trade at some point.
On the Anthony front, the Knicks and Anthony feel good about the possibility of completing a deal that sends him out of New York, according to sources. The Knicks and Rockets have talked about an Anthony trade recently, with Wojnarowski reporting that “the Rockets have been persistent in their pursuit of Anthony, who is willing to waive his no-trade clause to join Paul and James Harden in Houston and the Knicks do not imagine a scenario where Hardaway is sharing the floor with Anthony to start the season.”
Any deal that would send Anthony to Houston is a complex one in which a third team is likely needed. It is unclear at this point where talks are, but it doesn’t appear that any deal is imminent. What is clear is that the Anthony trade or buyout -- one of the most important moves in the recent history of the Knicks -- will be Mills' deal to make.