Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck reported over the weekend that New York Knicks owner James Dolan is “enamoured” by Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri and that Ujiri in turn “would be intrigued by the challenge of fixing the Knicks.”
However, Beck also doesn’t see any reason for Ujiri and the Raptors to part ways.
“If you were asking me my opinion,” Beck said Monday on Sportsnet 590 The FAN’s Good Show, “I would say I can’t see a single reason why he should leave.”
Dolan and the Knicks are no strangers to pursuing top quality talent.
Just last March, Dolan went on “The Michael Kay Show” on ESPN radio and announced emphatically that “New York is the mecca of basketball. We hear from people all the time, from players and representatives about who wants to come.”
With an upcoming off-season that featured superstar free agents such as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, a sure-fire future star in Zion Williamson headlining the draft, and Anthony Davis asking to leave New Orleans, the Knicks appeared to be in good shape to finally — after years of being turned down by big name player after big name player — make a splash, and many took Dolan’s declaration as an indicator of things to come, especially after Kristaps Porzingis — the roster’s lone silver lining — was dealt to Dallas for cap space.
Fast forward to the present.
Durant and Irving have taken over Brooklyn, Davis has joined forces with LeBron James in Los Angeles, and Williamson is residing in New Orleans after the Knicks were awarded the third overall pick in the draft lottery.
New York, meanwhile, has gone on to have a dismal start to the 2019–20 season, sporting a record of 4–19 and sitting dead last not only in the Eastern Conference, but in the entirety of the NBA. It was this embarrassing beginning that led to the Knicks firing head coach David Fizdale on Friday, making him the sixth coach released by the team over the past 12 seasons and the latest casualty of the front office’s consistently regrettable decision-making.
Now Dolan, never one to get bogged down for long, has turned his attention to Ujiri — who according to Beck has an out clause in his contract, is signed through to 2021 and reportedly turned down an extension from the Raptors last summer — as a possible front office replacement for current president Steve Mills.
“He is one of the top executives in the NBA,” Beck said on Good Show. “So whether it’s Washington, whether it’s the Knicks, whether it’s anybody else, you’re going to continue to hear, until he either goes or doesn’t, you’re going to continue to hear teams wanting to chase him. Especially those in large markets with a lot of cash to throw around.”
Despite the Knicks’ evident longing for Ujiri, the reasons for him to balk at the opportunity are plentiful. Dolan is at the root of those reasons, as he’s been a constant meddler in the team’s affairs since becoming the owner in 2000, creating havoc in a multitude of ways, from forcing Glen Grundwald’s hand in the 2011 Carmelo Anthony trade and the Andrea Bargnani trade in 2013 to ejecting Charles Oakley from the Garden in humiliating fashion in 2017.
Ujiri also famously told George Stroumboulopoulos on his show in 2014, during a previous period in which the Knicks were looking to pursue him: “Please clap after this: I hate the Knicks. I don’t care.”
And while that comment certainly holds less weight almost six years later, Ujiri more recently told reporters — this past June, in fact — curious about his future plans that “For me, it’s always been about Toronto… For me, the blessing is being wanted here and finding a place that makes you happy and finding challenges that really make you grow as a person. And this place has made me grow as a person. I identify with this place, and I love it. In my mind, I’m here.”
Still, there’s an allure to the notion of saving such a discombobulated franchise, says Beck. And if the Knicks are dangerous in any way, it’s in the fact that honour and glory undoubtedly awaits the individual who finally manages to right the ship in one of the league’s largest markets.
“He probably thinks,” Beck said, “as many others have: ‘If anybody can do it, I can. And if I pull it off, I’ll be celebrated like a hero like no one else has before.’ That’s attractive to people who are competitive.”
But unless the pull to potentially restore the Knicks has a monumental effect on Ujiri, the odds seem fairly positive for Toronto, who would certainly like to retain the architect of the organization’s lone title for as long as possible.