The Role of the General Manager
When fans assess the outlook of their team, they tend to focus on their best players and the head coach. That makes sense since the NBA is a player’s league and the head coach manages the team during the actual games. However, head coaches tend to get too much of the credit and the blame for the team’s performance. A head coach can’t be successful if he doesn’t have good players. The head coach can only do so much to maximize his team’s potential. The responsibility for the construction of a team’s roster belongs to the General Manager (GM). More goes into building a team than just scouting players in the NBA and in college, a GM also needs to scout players in high school as well as players in other leagues around the world. But having a keen eye for talent is not enough, a GM must also know how to manage the salary cap, negotiate trades and hire coaches.
If you’re a fan of the Knicks, then you know that the team hasn’t had great GMs. Part of the reason is the mandate handed down from ownership. It has been to compete now at all costs. This has resulted in the team consistently mortgaging the future in an attempt to win now. The Knicks have traded four of their last ten 1st round picks. This “win now” mentality didn’t start with James Dolan; it dates back to the glory days of the 1970s. However, that mind set started to change under Phil Jackson and has continued with Steve Mills. This has expanded the role of the GM which is key as every GM needs to utilize all the tools at their disposal: draft picks, free agency and trades in order to build a consistent winner. A GM also needs time to execute his vision, a minimum of 3 years.
Enter Scott Perry
On July 14, 2017 the Knicks hired their current GM, Scott Perry. The Knicks had to give the Sacramento Kings a 2nd round pick and cash considerations for the right to hire Perry. This seemed like too much to give up for a guy that has never been more than an assistant GM. But since the moment he was hired, Perry has been behind the eight ball. He inherited a mitigated mess. Phil Jackson had just drafted players that fit the triangle offense which new president Steve Mills didn’t want to run. Mills also just overpaid for Tim Hardaway Jr. and Ron Baker. Then there was the task of having to trade Carmelo Anthony who had a no-trade clause in his contract. Also, there was the eventual buyout of Joakim Noah’s contract. As you can see this was not an ideal situation for someone tasked with building a winner. But the job did have its allure. Aside from it being his first opportunity to be a GM, the franchise had a budding star in Kristaps Porzingis, and it was New York City after all.
Carmelo Anthony Trade
The Carmelo Anthony trade turned out to be a win for the Knicks. Despite not having any leverage during negotiations with Sam Presti who is considered one of the best GMs in the league, Perry got him to include a 2nd round pick in the deal. While unloading Kanter’s contract was a win for Oklahoma City, the Knicks got a look at a young player with upside in Doug McDermott and the draft pick that netted them Mitchell Robinson. The Thunder ended up dumping Carmelo Anthony after a year and the Knicks ended up getting their center of the future. Who would have thought that less than two years later Carmelo Anthony would be considered the least desirable player in that trade? If the Thunder had a chance to go back and redo the trade, they would not have included Chicago’s 2nd round pick. They had no idea that a high school All-American, that would have been a lottery pick if he had played in college would be available at that spot in the draft. You have to give Scott Perry an “A” for that trade when you consider the circumstances.
The Importance of the Draft
As mentioned earlier, the Knicks historically have not made the draft a priority. If you look back at the team’s drafts over the past 40 years, the Knicks have only drafted 3 players that have appeared in an all-star game as a Knick; Patrick Ewing, Mark Jackson and David Lee. Of the three, only Patrick Ewing has been a multiple time all-star as a Knick. Kristaps Porzingis was the selected to an all-star game, but unfortunately, he tore his ACL prior to the game and never played for the Knicks again. Now compare that to the best franchises in the game today; the Spurs and the Warriors. The Spurs have drafted 4 multiple time all-stars since 1997; Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard. The Warriors have drafted 3 multiple time all-stars since 2009; Stephon Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. These two franchises have won 8 of the last 20 championships. Of the 8 all-stars, only 1, Tim Duncan was drafted in the top 5. In fact, 3 of the 8 were drafted in the 2nd round. This shows the importance of drafting well. We didn’t even mention the Thunder, imagine if Sam Presti was the GM of the Knicks instead of the Thunder? The Knicks would have never broken that team apart, there might be a lot of issues in New York, but money isn’t one of them.
Scott Perry has overseen the last two drafts and they have gone better than expected. The draft is an indicator of a team’s future outlook, while it’s still early, it looks extremely bright. The team landed 3 players in the 2018 draft: Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson and Allonzo Trier. While a case can be made that the Knicks should have drafted Shai Gilgeous- Alexander over Kevin Knox. Remember the Knicks had a log jam at the guard position and a gaping hole at small forward. As for the 2nd round, no one can dispute that Mitchell Robinson was the best pick. Then there is Allonzo Trier who has been the best of the undrafted free agents. If they were to redraft the 2018 class, Knox and Robinson would be lottery picks and Trier would be a mid to late 1st round pick. Trier hasn’t been playing much this year, but that is because he doesn’t fit the scheme, not because of his talent.
The 2019 draft has produced the best young player the Knicks have had since Patrick Ewing, that is RJ Barrett. He is only 19 years old and won’t turn 20 until after the season. While fans were disappointed that the Knicks didn’t land a higher pick so they could get Zion Williamson or Ja Morant, the early returns on Barrett have exceeded expectations. As for their 2nd round pick, Ignas (Iggy) Brazdeikis, the Knicks traded up to get him as he was projected to be a late 1st round pick. He isn’t very athletic, but he did impress in summer league and put up 36 points in his G-league debut. Fizdale has compared him to a couple of other crafty lefthanders; Chris Mullin and Sarunas Marciulionis. Iggy will be considered a steal if he just slightly resembles these two players. What people also don’t realize is that he has been friends with Barrett since they were 7 years old and they have played together for team Canada. They have chemistry on and off the court which is a plus.
We couldn’t do an article on Scott Perry without mentioning the other major trade he orchestrated. While the Kristaps Porzingis (KP) trade hasn’t looked good, it is difficult to imagine them doing much better. To the uninformed fan it looks like a horrible trade. It looks like the Knicks used KP to dump salaries so they could sign big time free agents, which they didn’t. But context needs to be provided, first KP was rehabbing a torn ACL. Also, he didn’t want to be in New York if he wasn’t going to get a max deal. Then there was the rape accusation that was about to come out in the press. He was also about to leak his trade demand which would have resulted in the Knicks losing leverage in any trade. He threatened to play in Spain if he wasn’t traded to one the four teams on his list. One could argue that the Knicks should have called his bluff, but the reality is that he was already becoming a cancer with his diva like attitude. The Knicks had to act quick and they did. So surprisingly quick that they had agreed to the trade with Dallas just before KP’s trade request was leaked to the press. The swiftness with which Perry acted earned him the nickname “Ninja P” by the followers of The Knick Of Time Show.
As for the haul, the only actual player the Knicks still have on their roster is Dennis Smith Jr., which many people have undervalued. He is a player that addresses one of the biggest needs on the roster which is a penetrating point guard. He is also a former lottery pick that is only 21 years old and has shown flashes of brilliance. He went to the free throw line 19 times last year in a game the Knicks played against the Pistons. Only superstar players are able to get to the line so many times in a game. While he has gotten off to a bad start due to injuries and family issues, it’s still too early to give up on him.
Regarding free agency, it’s easy for the mainstream media to paint the Knicks as buffoons that risked trading KP in exchange for a puncher’s chance at big time free agents. The media conveniently forgets that Kevin Durant (KD) hadn’t torn his Achilles tendon when the trade was made. That injury had a seismic impact on free agency. He could no longer pick the team he wanted to go to and attract other players to follow him. He had to join the team Kyrie Irving wanted to go to. Don’t think backroom deals weren’t made before the KP trade. If you know anything about this front office, you know that they don’t toss caution to the wind. They are very meticulous in every move they make. The issue is that the Knicks can’t say they had a backroom deal before the KD injury, so the media takes advantage of that. As for the two protected 1st round draft picks, we don’t know what will result from those picks. They might actually turn into good players or be packaged in a deal for a desirable veteran player.
2019-20 Roster Construction
This article would not be a balanced assessment of Scott Perry if we didn’t address what many are calling the unbalanced roster. The Knicks were criticized for using their cap space on veteran players instead of absorbing bad contracts in exchange for draft picks. While that critique might look justified considering the team’s early season record, there is something to be said for veteran mentorship and competition. The best way to develop young players is by surrounding them with better more experienced players and making them earn their minutes. Veteran players can also be an extension of the coaching staff.
As for the actual signings, we must remember that the original plan was to sign Reggie Bullock to start at small forward instead of Marcus Morris. Bullock’s salary was decreased from $10M to $4M once it was discovered that he needed neck surgery that would sideline him for almost half the season. I not assuming this team would be much better if we swapped Bullock for Morris, but the roster construction would have made more sense. The Knicks would have a true small forward that can spread the floor and who’s game complements Julius Randle’s more than Morris’s. The Bullock injury left the Knicks scrambling as free agency was drying up, so getting a player of Morris’s caliber at that point in time was the only good option.
The only signing I had an issue with was Elfrid Payton. Not because he is a bad player, on the contrary he is a solid point guard. My issue is that the team is heavily invested in Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank at that position and he is not a player that they can play in the same backcourt with either one of them. Also, he is Perry’s guy, as he worked for the Magic when they drafted Payton. This concerns me as he might get more opportunities than he should. I just don’t believe Payton’s upside is worth hindering Smith Jr. or Frank’s development. I personally would have preferred an older point guard that could be a mentor, like when the Knicks signed Jason Kidd for the 2012-13 season.
What about the Future?
It’s still early in his tenure but Scott Perry has been one of the best GMs in the league. The team is in a better place now than when he started. He has navigated through all the turmoil and obstacles as good as can be expected. The team’s salary cap flexibility is better than as it’s ever been, there are no bad contracts on the books. Aside from Julius Randle, the team is not locked into any of its other free agent signings beyond this season. For the 2020-21 season the Knicks will still be able to free up over $50M in cap space and even more in the summer of 2021 when Randle’s contract is only partially guaranteed. Another thing I like about Perry is that he has continually made low risk high reward moves. While none have worked out yet, they have all been worth the risk. Remember he was with the Pistons when that strategy landed them Chauncy Billups. You have to figure that one of these moves will eventually work out for the Knicks. But most importantly, the Knicks have not had this much of young talent on their roster in 30+ years and might be even better after the 2020 draft. It looks like the Knicks found the right man to lead the next great run in Knicks history, we the fans just need to be patient and trust the process.