NY POST: The Long, Winding Road That Brought Scott Perry to Knicks
BY MARC BERMAN, NEW YORK POST
Longtime NBA executive Pat Williams likes a good story — author of more than 100 books. And in new general manager Scott Perry, Knicks fans are getting a good underdog story — a meteoric, three-month rise after his Orlando ouster as assistant GM April 13.
Williams, the Magic’s co-founder and senior VP, couldn’t imagine Perry’s captivating ride since his Magic departure that followed the franchise’s worst five-season stint in history.
“He’s here for five years, working as a right-hand man to [former GM] Rob Hennigan,’’ Williams told The Post. “He was very behind the scenes, the invisible guy. Don’t think he was ever quoted. Suddenly he’s extremely visible. Quoted more in the last two weeks than his entire career.
“He assisted Rob anyway he could. After five years, it hadn’t worked. We had to do something. The Hennigan era ended and ended for Scott as well.”
Within days, Perry emerged as Sacramento’s executive VP — second in charge to GM Vlade Divac. Perry helped run the Sacramento draft, plucked point guard De’Aaron Fox, signed notable free agents George Hill and Zach Randolph, and then was gone.
Perry agreed to terms with the Knicks on July 13 to form an unlikely tandem with president Steve Mills, who will have final say on all personnel moves.
“One of the more amazing front-office sagas I can ever remember,’’ Williams said. “Scott’s dismissed in mid-April, within 48 hours he’s talking with Sacramento and ends up hired by the Knicks in probably the most important front-office job in the NBA — GM of the Knicks.
“All this happens within three months — to say nothing of the contract he got in New York that assures him financial security the rest of his life and has his head spinning. An amazing front-office story. And the real question is: Who is Scott Perry?”
The 53-year-old Detroit native and former college coach has worked for four NBA organizations — most notably the Pistons, where he became a voice during a run to two straight Finals, including winning the 2004 championship.
“He’s not a trumpeter,’’ said Williams, who ran the front office of the Bulls and Sixers in the 1970s and 1980s before becoming the driving force behind the Magic’s expansion arrival in 1989. “But he works and works hard. He’s constantly about his business and gets along with people, has good people skills. He’s had many, many stops. Wherever he was, it was a behind-the-scenes guy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen his picture in the Orlando paper. Now it’s reversed. He’s going to be in the limelight in New York.’’
Twenty five years ago — after the Magic won the draft lottery, delivering them Shaquille O’Neal — Williams was on stage shaking hands with then-commissioner David Stern. Through all the lotteries in Perry’s time in Orlando, the pingpong balls never bounced their way.
“They did not have the great luck of winning lottery in that period,’’ said Williams, who is now in more of an emeritus consulting role in Orlando.
In recent Orlando drafts, the Magic netted Victor Oladipo at No. 2 in 2013, Aaron Gordon at No. 4 and Elfrid Payton at No. 10 in 2014, Mario Hezonja at No. 5 in 2015 and traded the rights of their 11th pick in 2016, Domantas Sabonis, to the Thunder in the failed Serge Ibaka deal.
“They greatly overvalued Payton,’’ one NBA executive said. “He was a bad shooter, and a lot of teams viewed him as a backup and not a starter.”
Oladipo panned out well enough, but Magic brass dealt him to Oklahoma City in a curious trade for free-agent-to-be Ibaka, whom they promptly dealt for pennies on the dollar when Orlando knew it couldn’t re-sign him.
Williams said Perry deserves something of a pass on the draft, noting Orlando’s director of college scouting, Matt Lloyd, held massive influence on their picks.
Instead, Williams commended Hennigan-Perry for their very first maneuver: forced to accede to Dwight Howard’s trade demand in 2012. Orlando came out best in the four-team deal, netting Evan Fournier and Arron Afflalo. It has been downhill since.
“Scott was advising on trades, and some worked out well, some didn’t,’’ Williams said. “I think I give him a B-minus/C-plus. We never coalesced, got over the hump, and our fans were restless. We had to do something.’’
After three years of utter chaos around the Knicks under team president Phil Jackson, the Mills-Perry tandem has been well-received. Jackson’s colossal failure, Williams said, demonstrates that being a superstar head coach does not translate to being a smart front-office executive — as they are entirely different occupations. Few, save Pat Riley, make the transition smoothly, Williams said.
Perry’s “humility,” Williams said, makes this a workable tandem. They are both 53.
“Bottom line: It’s a good hire,’’ Williams said. “Steve needs somebody. A two man operation, it’s a trend now. He needs people around him working with him, not to overpower or outdo him. He’s not going to worry about Scott undercutting him or topping him. His roles with NBA teams has not been lead voice but secondary voice. As far as submitting to authority of Steve, it won’t be a problem. He’s done that his whole career. Many executive-types can not handle that secondary role. It’s a smart hire and effective one.”
As Garden president, Mills, on recommendation from Magic Johnson, hired Isiah Thomas to run the Knicks in 2004. That turned into a well-documented flop and now the two have a distant relationship. After leaving the organization in 2008, Mills returned as Knicks president/GM to start the 2013-14 season before losing all power to Jackson after five months.
“It allows Steve after all of these years to get his arms around this thing,’’ Williams said. “This is Steve’s opportunity. He’s had his ups and downs there. This is his shot.”