New York Knicks rumors: Steve Mills out as president; Masai Ujiri ultimate target

According to the latest New York Knicks rumors, club president Steve Mills will part ways with the organization as owner Jim Dolan eyes Masai Ujiri.

In a move that has been looming for awhile now, Adrian Wojnarowski reported Tuesday the New York Knicks and team president Steve Mills will go their separate ways as owner James Dolan chases his prized front-office acquisition, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri.

According to Wojnarowski, Knicks general manager Scott Perry will remain in place.

The 49-year-old Ujiri was named NBA Executive of the Year when he was GM of the Denver Nuggets in 2012-13 and assembled the roster that culminated in Toronto’s NBA championship run last season. He came to the Raptors as general manager in the summer of 2013 and was named team president prior to the 2018-19 season.

Mills, 60, spent 16 years working in the NBA offices in New York before he was named chief operating officer and sports business president at Madison Square Garden in 2003.

From there Mills left the Garden and worked with Magic Johnson Enterprises until September 2013, when he was named executive vice president and general manager of the New York Knicks.

Mills was the primary personnel decision-maker in the New York front office for only six months though, as he took on a secondary role with Phil Jackson joined the organization as team president in March 2014.

In July 2017, Mills was named president to replace Jackson, who had been fired in late June. Perry was named general manager at the same time.

Under Mills’ watch, the Knicks were 61-154 over parts of three seasons under three different coaches — Jeff Hornacek (29-53) in 2017-18, David Fizdale (21-83) from 2018-19 through Dec. 6 of this season and interim coach Mike Miller (11-18).

New York hasn’t made the playoffs since 2013 and finished last season with the worst record in the NBA, but with the same lottery odds as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns wound up dropping to third — the only one of those three teams to land in the top four — and selected Duke’s RJ Barrett.

There were two low points in Mills’ tenure. The first was in January 2019 when he traded the player expected to be the franchise’s cornerstone, Kristaps Porzingis, along with Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee to the Dallas Mavericks.

The Knicks got back DeAndre Jordan (now with the Brooklyn Nets), Wesley Matthews (now with the Milwaukee Bucks) and Dennis Smith Jr. (averaging 16.0 minutes per game, playing a little more than half of New York’s 51 games thus far). New York also got a 2021 first-round pick and a top-10 protected 2023 first-rounder.

The expectation last season was that the Knicks would deploy its copious amount of salary cap room into making runs at premier free agents, with much speculation centering around a pairing of Golden State Warriors superstar Kevin Durant and Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving.

The Athletic’s Frank Isola (subscription required) reported in early April 2019 that Durant and Irving were debating who would sign with New York first.

The duo did wind up signing in New York … but both committed to the Brooklyn Nets on June 30, shortly after the free-agent negotiating window opened.

So instead, the Knicks signed seven free agents, including three power forwards — Julius Randle, Taj Gibson and Bobby Portis, a combo forward in Marcus Morris, wings Reggie Bullock and Wayne Ellington and point guard Elfrid Payton.

It wasn’t exactly the bonanza fans had been expecting and when the New York Knicks stumbled out to a 4-18 start, Fizdale was fired, with Miller installed as interim head coach.

As for Dolan’s interest in Ujiri, well, that could be a high hurdle to clear, considering how outspoken Ujiri has been about the New York entries in the NBA.

In an interview with CBC’s George Stroumboulopoulos in April 2014, Ujiri said:

“Please clap after this. I hate the Knicks. I don’t care.”

When his Raptors were facing the Nets in the 2014 playoffs, Ujiri had strong words to say about Gotham’s other team as well, telling a rally in Toronto:

“F*** Brooklyn.”

We’ve seen people in professional sports do many strange reversals when it came to money, prestige or control, so it’s entirely possible Ujiri could be enticed with enough zeroes on the contract.

Speaking of contracts, Ujiri is signed with the Raptors through the end of next season and it would likely take a boatload in compensation to get him out of that deal early.

Ujiri has done a pair of deals with the Knicks during his career as an NBA executive, both of them notable.

The first was the February 2011 blockbuster that sent Carmelo Anthony to New York along with five other players, with the Knicks most notably shipping out Danilo Gallinari, three other players, two first-round picks and two second-rounders to Denver.

Ujiri’s first move after getting to Toronto was to ship former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani to New York for three players in varying stages of decay (Marcus Camby, Steve Novak and Quentin Richardson), along with a 2016 first-round pick that became Jakob Poltl and a pair of second-round selections.

In any case, the New York Knicks have moved on from Steve Mills, with Scott Perry potentially getting an audition to show what he can do as Dolan plots to pluck Ujiri from The North.