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Former Knicks GM Al Bianchi passed away from natural causes today at the age of 87. He served as the team’s general manage from 1987-1991 and oversaw playoff teams during his entire tenure.
The Long Island native joined the organization with the goal of returning the team back to the NBA Playoffs after a 3 year drought. That team would include a budding Hall-Of-Fame player in Patrick Ewing and their most recent draft pick out of St. Johns: Mark Jackson.
One of his first prominent moves was hiring Rick Pitino as the head coach. During Bianchi’s first season, the Knicks made the playoffs, but exited in the 1st round.
The 1988-89 season showed a 14 win improvement highlighted by the acquisition of Charles Oakley from the Chicago Bulls. Bianchi also drafted Rod Strickland. However, the team regressed in the following season following the departure of Pitino. Rod Strickland butted heads with Bianchi over a lack of playing time and demanded a trade. Bianchi traded Strickland to the Spurs for Maurice Cheeks.
The Knicks squeaked into the playoffs during the 1990-91 season, but internal turmoils over coaching, contracts, and playing time led to Stu Jackson’s dismissal mid-season and eventually Bianchi’s before the end of the year. Dave Checketts subsequently became the team’s president of basketball operations and the rest is history. One of Bianchi’s final moves was signing an unheralded free agent named John Starks in training camp.
After leaving the Knicks, Bianchi moved back to Phoenix, where he spent his earlier years as the Suns’ assistant coach. Bianchi spent most of the 90s and 2000s scouting for both the Suns and the Golden State Warriors. He spent most of the past decade as an independent scout before his death.