Too Much or Not Enough?

Once upon a time, I started a short-term, contract job I accepted through a temp agency. The position was in a field I had a significant interest in and I was thrilled to get started. During the first week, I realized both the job and the field of interest weren’t a fit. My boss knew it too. I privately planned my exit the second week and went back to another place I had turned down, asking if the position had been filled. One afternoon of the third week, I was offered that role and verbally committed. The goal was to sign my paperwork and give my notice the next day.

In a twist of fate, I received an email from my recruiter at the temp agency the day I verbally agreed to leave. “Can we talk later this afternoon?” It was lunchtime, I had an incredible amount of work to do, and I wanted to break the news that I was leaving to her the next day. She wrote back saying no. “We really need to chat today.”

Oh shit, I thought. I’m getting fired.

I started laughing.

As I waited to learn of my fate over the next three hours, I did… nothing. I did no work. I went on Twitter. I answered some personal emails. I read over my new job offer. Why should I do anything to benefit this company when I know my time there was short and that I would be leaving soon anyway? I was going to do what was best for me.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and Steve Mills has Littlefinger’ed his way through the Knicks’ organization by playing the game. There are only enough buses for him to throw others under before he gets the axe himself.

If Mills and Perry believe they’re not long for this team, then I have two fears: 1) They’re going to be buyers and try to make a more competitive roster because they’ll feel the need to act within their own self-interests, or 2) They’re not going to do anything because they know they’re about to get fired.

The front office has taken a risk by firing Fizdale. They have removed the one person who shielded them from intense scrutiny. However, we’ll soon see that Miller, a former G-League Coach of the Year Award winner, is a better game manager and X’s and O’s coach than Fizdale. If anything, not riding with Fizdale for the rest of the season shows that Knicks brass has every desire to turn the season around. Seven of the team’s 22 games under Fizdale were decided by five points or less and the team went 2-5 in those contests. The Miller tenure is a one-game sample size, and the Knicks lost, but he’s one for one in giving this team a winning chance.

I recently wrote about why top-five picks are imperative to a franchise’s success, and that the way you guarantee yourself a top-five pick is by finishing with the worst record. Suddenly, losing appears to be the one thing that can create systematic changes at the top. That could either motivate the front office to add more wins and state its case to stay, or it could demotivate them enough to be apathetic to New York’s cause.

Ask yourself how many former Knicks executives and head coaches have found jobs within the NBA. Scott Layden was terrible for the Knicks, and maybe it’s rightfully so, but he went 13 years without a front office job. Donnie Walsh was able to return to the Indiana Pacers because he’d been there for about 25 years before joining the Knicks. Outside of that, the Knicks have been the last stop for executives. New York has parted ways with 12 coaches since 2001, and only two of them, Mike D’Antoni and Mike Woodson, have made it back to an NBA bench. Perry, and especially Mills, are two men who could do whatever they can to stay in power, because a front office safety net isn’t guaranteed for either of them like it was with Walsh. To thrive is to simply survive.

Buying would be the biggest disaster, but not selling, let alone not selling assets at their highest value, is a close second. Think about how many players Mills and Perry either traded when their value was on its way down, or didn’t trade and should have. Marcus Morris is shooting 50% from three on 5.7 attempts per game. That’s phenomenal! He’s also due to regress. Any potential team knows this, and his trade value should be reflected as such, but there’s a difference between trading him before he likely regresses and after he has already regressed. An interest in buying means not selling, and not selling means limiting the capitalization of your assets.

It’s easy to look at New York’s record and say there’s no chance the team makes the playoffs. The Knicks are 4-19, have the worst record in the league, and are 7.5 games back of the eighth seed, the Orlando Magic. The team has a four-game trip to the west coast, a seven-game mixed bag, and then another four-game west coast trip. Coaching change or not, the season feels cooked.

A normal organization understands mistakes will be made but it’s how you learn from them that’s paramount. The Knicks operate differently, but if the front office sold Dolan on a competitive roster, punting on the season is admitting that you took a step back. Even if fans knew this season would be a rebuilding one, the front office implying in any way to Dolan that this team would be competitive is a fireable offense in itself. Under-promise and over-deliver: that’s the way to go.

The funny thing is that I truly don’t believe the Knicks are that far away from contending for a playoff spot, generally speaking. This year is absolutely a wash but I can’t help but look at some of the most pressing flaws – poor free throw shooting, better three-point defense, badly constructed roster, simply being too young – and see improvements as a result of a better front office, smarter coaching, and time. The nucleus feels solid, and while solid never won a championship, it’s a start. 

An ideal scenario if the Knicks don’t start selling this month is that Miller proves to be a viable coaching candidate going forward, he utilizes the strengths of his players so that their values increase, the team loses, the selling commences, and sweeping changes are made at the top not long after. That’s all to say that the fates of Mills and Perry aren’t sealed already.

I was, in fact, let go that day. I owed the company nothing and the company owed nothing to me. The same can be said about the Knicks with Mills and Perry, and that’s what’s so worrying. The main difference is I already had a new job – a better job – in hand. The same likely can’t be said about Mills and Perry.

If the duo of Mills and Perry feels they have to prove their worth to Dolan by competing, that could put future assets in peril. However, if they know there’s nothing that can be done to save themselves, nothing is exactly what they could do.

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