What's Next For the Knicks After Firing President Steve Mills?

With the NBA trade deadline two days away, the Knicks are set to enter another transition phase after firing president Steve Mills. So what should be New York's next move?
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The New York Knicks’ curious and oft-bewildering front office saga rolled onward on Tuesday as the organization showed the door to team president Steve Mills, as first reported by ESPN. One one hand, that decision was not altogether unsurprising. There had been rumblings around the league for the past couple months, after a 4–18 start to the Knicks’ season and the firing of head coach David Fizdale, that ownership would ultimately opt to clean house. Mills had been a Knicks executive on the basketball side since 2013 and moved into the top role in 2017. New York went just 178–365 over the past six seasons. It remains somewhat jarring, in the end, that New York chose to fire Mills in such close proximity to Thursday’s trade deadline, as an exclamation point on an era and the start of another transition phase, in what’s felt like an endless series of them.

The confluence of his shaky job status with the impetus for teams to make trades naturally created a degree of confusion in opposing front offices as to who in the Knicks’ front office actually held decision-making power as far as major personnel moves were concerned. General manager Scott Perry will reportedly head basketball operations for the time being, but the immediate flurry of reports suggesting the Knicks have real interest in Raptors president Masai Ujiri—who remains under contract through 2021—will do little to assuage concerns surrounding New York’s capacity to execute major moves in the next 48 hours. To make matters even murkier, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Tuesday that Knicks owner James Dolan had already called on at least one potential candidate to run the team moving forward.

Even with all that instability coming to the fore, multiple reports in recent days indicated the Knicks had been active in trade talks, including discussions with the Hornets, but New York, like the rest of the league, had yet to make a major move entering Tuesday. Rather obviously, this is not ideal way to operate as the rest of the league strategizes over the next two days. Not much of anything has gone according to plan for New York over the past year or so, as the decision to trade an unhappy Kristaps Porzingis has moved along with little payoff, and the Knicks striking out in free agency after angling to sign Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, who ended up across the river in Brooklyn.

So what now? The Knicks have veterans to trade, including Julius Randle and Marcus Morris, the products of last summer’s cap space, and a decision to sign second-level talent to short-term deals, creating flexibility. New York had postured in differing ways regarding the future of those players, with the 30-year-old Morris said to be part of their long-term plans, despite the youth of their roster and general distance from playoff contention. There is little of long-term substance on the roster beyond R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson, both of whom have had their struggles, but are generally viewed with at least some degree of optimism as prospects. It’s clear at this point that it would behoove the Knicks to extract any asset value they can for their veterans, and simply try again. But given the circumstances, it’s unclear how active they can or should be, with a potential overhaul lying in wait.

Knicks will need the right type of personality to rebrand basketball operations to top players and their representation, whether that’s Ujiri or another candidate. So if New York makes a substantial deal this week, it’s hard to see those types of decisions falling entirely in Perry’s hands, one way or the other, given he may not be around for what comes next. The message from ownership will surely dictate strategy, with the eventual change in leadership still pending. Whatever they do should come with an eye toward enhancing the job’s appeal. Taking on other team’s for draft picks could even be too much to ask, lest they muddle the cap sheet. Logic suggests they’ll be open for business and aiming to clean the slate. All that said, logic and the Knicks have not always been friends.