Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
We know that team president Steve Mills' future with the Knicks is uncertain. We also know that people of influence at Madison Square Garden are, in the words of one source, 'obsessed' with Toronto president Masai Ujiri.
We don't know what, specifically, the Knicks would need offer the Raptors to land Ujiri, who is under contract through 2020-21.
But we have a pretty good idea of where New York's compensation package would have to start: one NBA team recently demanded two first-round picks when another team inquired about letting its exec out of an existing contract, per SNY sources. The transaction - which would have involved an exec generally considered a tier below Ujiri, sources said - didn't get to the finish line.
But teams talk, and a baseline of two first-round picks is where multiple SNY sources familiar with the dynamic of such negotiations expect any Knicks-Ujiri talks to start.
When talking about the Knicks-Ujiri hypothetical, it's fair to assume that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment chairman Larry Tannenbaum will want at least two firsts in a package for Ujiri.
So if and when New York makes a play for Ujiri, owner James Dolan will have to ask himself if it makes sense for a Knicks team in the middle of a rebuild to surrender two first-round picks for an executive.
Of course, we also don't know definitively whether Ujiri would have interest in the Knicks. Various reports suggest he would. But it's worth pointing out that Ujiri enjoys a ton of freedom in Toronto (which he's earned). Those that do business with him say he has the freedom to spend significant time away from the Raptors during the season (which he's earned).
Would Ujiri have the same allowances in the early stages of his Knicks career from Dolan? If not, does that change how he views the job?
If the Knicks ultimately move on from Mills, but decide that they can't pay the price to get Ujiri from Toronto, there are a number of other top-level executives who should be on their list.
They'd need someone with a proven track record and respectability - and preferably someone with a title on their resume. Here are notes on a few executives that fit some of those criteria:
Donnie Nelson, Mavericks: Scouting and player development are two areas of concern at MSG in the wake of how things have gone in recent Knicks seasons. Dallas has a proven track record in both areas under Nelson, whose organization was among those at the forefront of international scouting. Nelson, according to sources, is, in essence, an at-will employee in Dallas. So the Knicks, presumably, wouldn't have to offer compensation to the Mavs to bring Nelson aboard if they indeed are in the market for a new team president. (Though owner Mark Cuban may feel differently about that).
RC Buford: At the moment, it seems like you can cross Buford off of any potential Knicks' wish list. The top Spurs exec also has a coveted position in the organization - CEO. Per a source, he's also under contract for multiple seasons beyond this one. And those who've worked with Buford see it as highly unlikely that he leaves San Antonio for New York if the Knicks have a vacancy.
Sam Presti: The OKC exec has plenty of fans at Madison Square Garden. In one sense, it's an ideal time for him to leave the Thunder for another opportunity. Oklahoma City is in the first year of what looks like a long rebuild. Presti has had significant autonomy to build the Thunder in his own way, a way that's worked well. Does he want to test himself in a bigger market? Will he get the same autonomy with the Knicks if they were to move on from Mills? Autonomy is a prerequisite for any top exec thinking about filling a potential vacancy in New York.
Kevin Pritchard: Need evidence to show you that Kevin Pritchard is a top exec? Just look up the Paul George trade. Pritchard has helped build strong teams in Indiana despite having the 27th-highest payroll in the league. He'd certainly have more money to spend in the Big Apple. Pritchard has two years remaining on his current contract.
Two other execs - Golden State's Bob Myers and Portland's Neil Olshey, recently signed new deals with their respective clubs. If the Knicks move on from Mills, here are few names to keep an eye on that may not cost New York significant compensation: Trajan Langdon and Swin Cash of New Orleans and Michael Winger with the Clippers.