James Dolan

Raptors’ Chairman: Masai Ujiri “Here To Stay”

As one report after another links Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri to the Knicks, Raptors chairman Larry Tanenbaum tells Michael Traikos of The Toronto Sun that there’s no reason to believe Ujiri won’t remain in Toronto beyond the expiration of his current contract in 2021. Given Ujiri’s track record, interest from the Knicks – and other teams – comes as no surprise, but the Raptors don’t plan to just let him walk away.

“He is the best,” Tanenbaum said. “But no team can come to talk to him. That’s tampering. And every owner knows that. Masai is here to stay.”

A recent Howard Beck report suggested that Ujiri has turned down a lucrative contract extension offer from the Raptors, but that was disputed this week by Michael Grange of Sportsnet. Tanenbaum confirmed to Traikos that Ujiri hasn’t rejected a contract offer.

“We haven’t talked (about an extension) at this point in time, but if you ask him, his intentions are pretty clear,” Tanenbaum said. Asked why the Raptors haven’t yet offered Ujiri an extension, Tanenbaum explained: “Masai has a contract that goes for another two years — this season and next season — so there’s really no need at this point (to re-sign him).”

ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski reiterated in a report this morning that there have been no extension talks yet between Ujiri and the Raptors, but said Toronto ownership might make an offer in 2020 that expands Ujiri’s responsibilities and increases his compensation.

As Shelburne and Woj note, Knicks owner James Dolan has long been interested in Ujiri, who has consistently won trades with the Knicks, dating back to when he extracted a significant package for Carmelo Anthony as the Nuggets’ head of basketball operations. Dolan has privately expressed a fascination with Ujiri and shared those feelings with common friends, sources tell the ESPN duo.

Latest On Knicks’ Potential Front Office Search

The Knicks are planning to make a run at top Raptors executive Masai Ujiri and Marc Stein of The New York Times reports (via his latest newsletter) that there are many around the league who believe Ujiri can be lured to New York.

Even though the Knicks have been laughable on the court, the prestige of the franchise and of winning it all in the arguably the greatest city in the world carries weight with top executives in the NBA. Entering Madison Square Garden’s latest rehabilitation project and coming out with a championship remains a unique and coveted prize.

Regardless of whom New York lands, the franchise’s next architect will face his share of challenges. It’s not certain if owner James Dolan is finally ready to give his top executive something that resembles “real autonomy,” Stein writes. Even Phil Jackson, who was relieved of his duties before his contract was up, didn’t get nearly enough freedom to make internal moves that could have impacted the culture. Stein adds that Dolan has given zero indication that he will sell the team.

In addition to Ujiri, Stein mentions R.C. Buford (Spurs), Bob Myers (Warriors) and Donnie Nelson (Mavericks) as names to keep an eye on when it comes to a potential top executive search in New York.

Knicks Notes: Fizdale Fallout, Potential Long-Term Replacements

The Knicks fired David Fizdale earlier today while also relieving Keith Smart of his duties as assistant coach. The move comes after a 4-18 start, which ties a record for worst in franchise history.

While Fizdale repeatedly told reporters that he had owner James Dolan’s backing, Jabari Young of CNBC.com hears from an agent who represents coaches around the league that the firing was “inevitable.” Assistant coach Mike Miller will now take over as the interim head coach with 60 games to go in the season.

Former Warriors coach and Knicks guard Mark Jackson has been linked to the team as a long-term candidate for the role (any major hire is likely to come in the offseason) and Young reports that Spurs assistant Becky Hammon would be interested in the job should the team be willing to offer her a long-term deal. Young mentions four or five years as the necessary length of the contract.

Young also mentions former Coach of the Year (2007) Sam Mitchell as a good candidate for the short-term, as Mitchell has a reputation for getting top effort out of players.

Here’s more on the Knicks:

  • Jeff Van Gundy, Jason Kidd, and Tyronn Lue are among the former NBA coaches that Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic names as options for the Knicks. Vorkunov also lists several potential candidates without former head coaching experience, such as Jarron Collins, Stephen Silas, and Ettore Messina.
  • The firing of Fizdale won’t clean up the Knicks’ issues, Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today explains. Zillgitt believes that the front office should shoulder the blame for putting together this roster and simply expecting Fizdale to produce results with it.
  • Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post argues that the Knicks should fire team president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry. The regime put together a plan of signing big-name free agents and failed to deliver.

Knicks Notes: Fizdale, Kanter, Player Development

The Knicks are in the midst of another dreadful season but one Western Conference scout tells Ian Begley of SNY.tv that the team has more talent than its 4-16 record indicates. So why does the team have a worse record than it did at this point last year? “Some of the blame [for the Knicks’ struggles] has to be put on [David] Fizdale,” the scout said.

The Knicks have trailed by at least 20 points in seven of the team’s 16 losses and Fizdale’s future with the club is far from certain, with reports last month suggesting that the front office was laying the groundwork for his dismissal.

As of this writing, Fizdale remains the coach of the Knicks, so let’s take a look at more notes from New York:

  • Despite the struggles this season, Knicks players are still supporting Fizdale. “He can’t go out there and play for us. Obviously, everybody points at the head coach with that. But it’s on us to go out there and perform well,” Bobby Portis said (via Begley in that same piece).
  • Former Knick Enes Kanter recently said that he and owner James Dolan are “text buddies” and reiterated that Dolan gets too much criticism for the team’s struggles and lack of free-agent signings, as Begley relays in the same piece. “I got no problems with him. Some other people have problems with him, but I have no problem with him,” Kanter said. “And I will say this: it’s terrible they blame it on this guy every time. I feel like he has done nothing to do with it.” Kanter said in September that he believed a negative perception of ownership is a factor in free agents not considering the Knicks, but has suggested he doesn’t necessarily share that perception.
  • Fizdale will not be judged solely on the team’s win-loss record but also by the progress he makes with the team’s young talent. Marc Berman of the New York Post ranks the importance of each young player on the team in terms of player development goals.

Knicks Eyeing Masai Ujiri, Sam Presti For Potential Front Office Opening?

Knicks management has reportedly been put on notice with owner James Dolan expecting the front office to make “progress” in order for several members of the front office to keep their jobs. Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News hears that if New York finds itself hiring a new head of basketball operations, the team’s wish list begins with Raptors team president Masai Ujiri and Thunder GM Sam Presti.

Dolan has long been a fan of Ujiri’s. The Wizards took a stab at prying the executive from Toronto this past offseason with no success. Perhaps Dolan believes the Knicks will have better luck.

Presti has been with Oklahoma City for 12 seasons and he has arguably the most unique resume of any GM in the league. He drafted Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden to build a true contender and after each player left has molded a different team, ranging from contender to mid-tier playoff team to one in a rebuild again.

Bondy also mentions Trajan Langdon – who helped the Nets turn their franchise around before moving onto the Pelicans – and Kiki Vandeweghe – who currently works in the league office – as potential targets. Bondy hears that Vandeweghe would have interest in the job.

Knicks Management Need To Show “Progress” To Keep Jobs

Earlier this week, reports surfaced that the Knicks front office was laying the groundwork for the eventual firing of David Fizdale and that may not be the only change that could impact the team’s hierarchy.

Sources tell Ian Begley of SNY.tv that owner James Dolan had a heavy conversation with the team’s front office that left management under the impression that their jobs were in jeopardy unless the Knicks “showed progress” this season.

What does “progress” mean? It’s not clear what Dolan has in mind with regard to the improvements he wants to see. The conversation took place before the team’s 18-point loss to the Bulls and those kinds of outings don’t do much to provide Fizdale with more security.

Begley adds that in addition to Fizdale, team president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry are also on notice. However, the pair of executives are expected to be given the remainder of the season regardless of what happens with Fizdale.

New York’s offseason was filled with failure with regard to its goal of attracting max free agents. The club was able to add non-star talent, though the collection of new players has led them to a record of 2-9 so far.

Knicks Notes: Fizdale, M. Jackson, Ujiri, DSJ

Asked today about his reaction to an ESPN report that suggested team president Steve Mills is laying the groundwork to eventually fire him, head coach David Fizdale told reporters that he talks every day with Mills and GM Scott Perry, and that they’ve been supportive of him (Twitter links via Ian Begley of SNY.tv). However, it doesn’t sound as if Fizdale hasn’t received any specific assurances about his job security.

I got a two-and-a-half year contract,” Fizdale said, per Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic (Twitter link). “That’s my assurance. That’s our business. The assurance is that I have a contract.”

According to Begley (video link), Knicks ownership isn’t expected to have a “heavy hand” in the team’s head coaching decision. Any move involving Fizdale would be made solely by Mills, says Begley.

As we wait to see what’s next for Fizdale and the Knicks, here are a few more notes on the team:

  • Chris Mannix of SI.com tweets that Mark Jackson is a name to watch if the Knicks make a head coaching change, since Jackson is a Perry favorite who was a candidate before the team hired Fizdale in 2018. Sean Deveney of Heavy.com identifies Kenny Smith, Chauncey Billups, Mike Woodson, and Tom Thibodeau as others who could emerge as candidates in that scenario, while Newsday’s Steve Popper (Twitter link) mentions Jason Kidd.
  • In response to a report that the Knicks may pursue Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri again next year, Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca tweets that he doesn’t believe Ujiri would ever want to work for Knicks owner James Dolan under any circumstance.
  • While the Knicks have been criticized for their return in last season’s Kristaps Porzingis trade, the club remains hopeful about Dennis Smith Jr.‘s long-term prospects and those two first-round picks coming their way, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. “We don’t know what Dennis Smith is going to be,” Fizdale said. “He’s 21 years old. We’ve still got two first-round picks out of that. Who knows who that’s going to be? We won’t know exactly what comes out of that for a year or two.”

Knicks Execs Express Disappointment In Slow Start

Following a blowout 108-87 loss to the Cavaliers on Sunday, Knicks president of basketball operations Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry held an unscheduled press conference to address the team’s early-season struggles. New York is off to a 2-8 start in 2019/20 despite making a series of veteran free agent additions aimed at helping the club compete for a playoff spot.

“Given that this is our 10th game, we felt like we had an obligation to come and speak to you guys,” Mills told reporters, including Ian Begley of SNY.tv. “Obviously, Scott and I are not happy with where we are right now. We think the team’s not performing to the level that we anticipated or we expected to perform at and that’s something that we think we have to collectively do a better job of delivering the product on the floor that we said we would do at the start of this season.”

Mills added that he and Perry still believe in the Knicks’ plan, their roster, and the coaching staff, but reiterated that the results so far have been disappointing. According to Mills, the Knicks’ top execs felt as if it was important to communicate that dissatisfaction to fans, stressing that they’re “committed to making this better.”

As Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News observes, the timing of the impromptu press conference appeared to be related to a halftime meeting involving Mills, Perry, and team owner James Dolan. A source tells Bondy that Dolan expressed his disappointment during that meeting, while Frank Isola of The Athletic hears Mills and Perry were ordered by Dolan to address the media after the game.

Jim still believes in the plan that we put together, but he’s passionate as we are about this,” Mills said after the game, per Begley. “So he would want us to have better results on the floor as well, but I think Jim is a fan and believes in what we’re doing. But he has the same expectations that we have and this is really about how we feel about what we should be doing, what we should be delivering as a group. We all take responsibility for that.”

Based on Sunday’s presser, it’s fair to wonder just how hot head coach David Fizdale‘s seat is getting. Multiple sources told Begley that there’s no indication that any head coaching change – or management change – is imminent, but those same sources said nothing has been ruled out with regard to in-season changes.

For his part, Fizdale claimed responsibility for the Knicks’ struggles so far and admitted he’s beginning to feel some urgency to start winning games, as Bondy relays. However, he also pointed out that there’s plenty of time for New York to turn things around.

“A good friend of mine told me to never overreact to overreactors,” Fizdale said, according to Steve Popper of Newsday. “We’re two games from the eighth seed. The team that’s in the eighth seed right now has four wins. So it’s not that like, oh my God, everybody’s acting like the world is coming to an end. It’s not. We just have to find our consistency in our games so we can start playing better basketball.”

Sean Deveney of Heavy.com writes that Fizdale has the support of several Knicks players, including RJ Barrett, which is one factor working in his favor. Marcus Morris and Bobby Portis were among those to publicly back their head coach on Sunday, according to Bondy.

“Fiz is a great guy, great coach. He’s a frontline dude,” Morris said. “He’s always going to speak on it first but he’s not coming out and giving up 20-point leads. At the end of the day, f–k the X’s and O’s. We have to come out and we have to be better.”

Although a head coaching change is typically the first move made by a struggling team looking to shake things up, Mills and Perry shouldn’t necessarily be considered safe either, Isola writes. As of last week, the plan was to give the Knicks’ top executives at least the rest of the season to figure things out, but that’s not set in stone, per Isola.

Several people familiar with the Knicks’ thinking believe Dolan intends to take another run at Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri next year, according to Isola. It’s safe to assume the Knicks would be willing to make it worth Ujiri’s while financially if they pursue him, but the Wizards reportedly attempted a similar push in June and had no luck (they later denied having interest). There’s also no guarantee that Ujiri would view working for Dolan as an upgrade on his current job.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Knicks Notes: Porzingis, Robinson, Dolan, Fizdale

Kristaps Porzingis wanted out of New York even though he was committed to staying in the weeks prior to the trade, Ian Begley of SNY TV writes. Something led Porzingis to change his mind in January prior to the blockbuster deal with Dallas, Begley continues, and it’s fair to assume that Porzingis didn’t have enough faith in team president Steve Mills and others in the current regime to create a winning environment.

The Knicks feared that Porzingis would accept their qualifying offer after last season and then become an unrestricted free agent next summer, which led to their decision to comply with his trade request, Begley adds.

We have more on the Knicks:

  • Porzingis regrets the way he reacted after the trade, Begley writes in a separate story. “It definitely wasn’t the way I wanted it to happen,” he said. “There wasn’t really another way how to do it, and with all the emotions going on (during) that moment when I got traded, I put out some stupid Instagram stories laying in my bed late at night. We all make mistakes — it wasn’t perfect. … It got a little bit ugly, but it’s in the past right now.”
  • Second year center Mitchell Robinson is sidelined with a concussion suffered against Detroit on Wednesday, Marc Berman of the New York Post tweets. He’s been ruled out of the team’s game at Dallas on Friday, the team’s PR department tweets.
  • Investor Clifton S. Robbins, whose Blue Harbour Group hedge fund owns a 4 percent stake in MSG, is pressuring owner James Dolan to increase the value of the team by selling off stakes to wealthy investors, Josh Kosman of the New York Post reports. A spinoff has been planned to separate MSG’s sports teams from its other assets, such as Radio City Music Hall. Robbins believes the Knicks and NHL’s Rangers combined worth should be approximately $7.2 billion, rather than the $5.55 billion price tag they have been given by Forbes, Kosman adds.
  • MSG’s plan to separate its entertainment and sports holdings has been unanimously approved by its board, Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic tweets.
  • Coach David Fizdale has taken heat for the team’s slow start but he’s heard nothing but positive feedback from the front office, according to Berman“They’ve been incredibly supportive,” he said. “We talk every day. The beauty of what’s happening inside our building is everyone is connected. They all see the work that we’re putting in.”

Knicks Notes: Fizdale, Robinson, Barrett, Ownership

Knicks coach David Fizdale is already feeling the heat after a 1-5 start, Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post writes. “Fire Fizdale” chants were heard from the home crowd as the team was getting blown out by Sacramento on Sunday. While the team plays hard, its interior defense is lacking and there are long stretches of inefficiency on both ends, Vaccaro adds. However, a coaching move would be costly. Fizdale has two more years remaining on his contract after this season.

We have more on the Knicks:

  • Fizdale is making a mistake by prioritizing free agent signee Julius Randle over second-year center Mitchell Robinson, Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News argues. Robinson is averaging just 19.2 MPG through six games, more than 10 minutes fewer than he averaged in the final 11 games of last season, Bondy notes. Fizdale moved Bobby Portis into the lineup at Robinson’s expense on Sunday in an effort to get the slumping Randle going offensively.
  • Fizdale bristled when reporters questioned why lottery pick RJ Barrett played 41 minutes in the blowout loss to the Kings, Marc Berman of the New York Post relays. “We’ve got to get off this load-management (nonsense),” he said.Latrell Sprewell averaged 42 minutes for a season. This kid is 19. Drop it already.” Barrett has quickly established himself as a serious contender for the Rookie of the Year award by averaging 18.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG and 3.3 APG in 35.7 MPG.
  • Silver Lake Partners — a firm known for its investments in Tesla and Alibaba — is seeking a big stake in the Knicks and the NHL’s New York Rangers before they’re spun off into a publicly-traded company, Josh Kosman of the New York Post reports.  Silver Lake owns close to 10% of Madison Square Garden and wants a bigger stake but only in its sports teams, Kosman continues. James Dolan will continue to control both teams for the foreseeable future, even as MSG spins off a majority of the teams’ value to current shareholders.