Following Steve Mills‘ ouster from the Knicks‘ basketball operations department, rumors linking New York to Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri have resurfaced. Ujiri has long been viewed as the Knicks’ dream candidate, and while that interest hasn’t gone anywhere in the past, Marc Stein of The New York Times suggests there’s a chance this time could be different.
According to Stein, two “long-time Ujiri watchers” whom he trusts have been saying since December that they think the Raptors’ president intends to maneuver his way to New York. Both of those sources even said Ujiri may try to bring along Toronto general manager Bobby Webster, per Stein. One source told Stein that Ujiri’s relationship with Raptors chairman Larry Tannenbaum is strong enough that the defending champions would likely approve the move if Ujiri wants it badly enough.
Still, Stein cautions that there are caveats. Even if Ujiri wants to make the move to New York, his contract runs through 2020/21, so the Knicks and Raptors would have to agree on draft compensation. Toronto’s asking price would be even more significant if Ujiri wants to bring Webster along, since the young GM looks like Ujiri’s obvious replacement in the Raptors’ front office.
Stein also points out that there’s a belief around the NBA that commissioner Adam Silver and the league office want Ujiri running the Knicks. If team owner James Dolan is sensitive to the idea that the franchise needs Ujiri – who fleeced the Knicks in a pair of trades with Denver and Toronto – as its savior, he may be turned off by the league pushing the idea. For what it’s worth, NBA spokesman Mike Bass told Stein (Twitter link) that the notion of the league pushing Ujiri to “rescue” the Knicks is “100% false.”
In his own look at the Ujiri situation, Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca writes that even though the Raptors’ president is under contract through 2021, his future will likely be determined in the coming months.
“If something is going to happen with Masai and the Knicks it will happen quick, probably a few days after (this) season is over,” a source told Grange.
Interestingly, Grange suggests that Ujiri’s contract may include an out for the coming summer, though he cautions that it’s not clear whether that’s a formal out or “more of a gentleman’s agreement.” Even if Ujiri can’t formally become a “free agent,” the Raptors are unlikely to force him to stay if he wants to run the Knicks, Grange notes.
While Stein and Grange both lay out the case for a Knicks/Ujiri marriage being plausible, they also both believe it’s possible Dolan has already gotten over his apparent infatuation with the Raptors’ president. We heard on Tuesday that New York may be targeting an NBA agent to run its front office, like the Warriors (Bob Myers) and Lakers (Rob Pelinka) have done. Grange’s source seemed to think Dolan might be more intrigued by that path.
Veteran agent Austin Brown and Kevin Durant‘s manager Rich Kleiman were among the possible candidates mentioned on Tuesday. Sources tell Ian Begley of SNY.tv (Twitter link) that Roger Montgomery is another agent receiving internal consideration from the Knicks for their front office position.