Phil Jackson’s high-profile tenure as president of the Knicks will forever be perceived as a paradox, in some aspects Shakespearean. It is confounding that a man manifestly intelligent with superior basketball knowledge was self-sabotaged by hubris and stubbornness.
It’s an oversimplification to theorize that Jackson was only in it for the $12 million a year salary he was being paid. Money no doubt was a reason he agreed to take on the monumental task of reconstructing the Knicks, but elevating himself above many of the legendary basketball figures such as Brooklyn native and Boston Celtics deity Red Auerbach was also a motivating factor.
Steve Mills, the Knicks’ general manger under Jackson who continues to hold the title and carry out the position’s responsibilities, by his own design, is much deeper under the public radar than Jackson and demonstrably less ego driven.
Yet Mills has been thrust back into the spotlight as the man currently shaping the Knicks’ roster. The well-chronicled Anucha Browne Sanders lawsuit against Madison Square Garden when Mills was the president of MSG sports drew significant media attention to him.
Any decision Mills makes, such as signing Tim Hardaway Jr. to a four-year, $71 million contract, will have a substantial impact on the trajectory of the Knicks for years to come. Which is why there is uneasiness and anxiety among the team’s ardent fan base with the current makeup of the Knicks hierarchy.
Few who closely follow the Knicks are of the opinion Mills, who first began working for Madison Square Garden in 1999 as executive vice president of franchise operations for the Knicks, will be the general manager beyond the next few weeks.
Mills has yet to publicly state his aspirations in regard to his future role with the franchise, but multiple media reports have painted the 56-year-old native of Roosevelt (Long Island), N.Y., as being engaged in a Machiavellian-like attempt to secure Jackson’s former title as the president of the Knicks.
Conspiracy theories aside, why wouldn’t Mills endeavor to become the team’s president? It’s a coveted position even if James Dolan, executive chairman of Madison Square Garden Company and owner of the Knicks, is a hard-charging boss and often comports himself like a bull in a china shop.
Whoever is ultimately named Knicks’ president and GM must develop a symbiotic working relationship, with Dolan staying out of the way, and have a shared philosophy on how to rebuild a team that today is a leading candidate for the No.1 overall draft pick in next year’s draft.
That also entails installing a coach who is competent and given the latitude to implement and execute his own system. Perhaps current head coach Jeff Hornacek will prove to be the right man.
Stability and proficiency are central to the Knicks’ hopeful resurrection, qualities that have been lacking in the front office for far too long.