Knicks GM Scott Perry a year into the storm, calm and sticking to the plan
BY STEVE POPPER, NORTHJERSEY.COM
NEW YORK — It was just over a year ago that Scott Perry had his plans all set, bags packed and loaded on the moving van from Orlando to Sacramento and a new car trucked across the country to start his new life as the Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Kings.
And that was when his phone rang — while he was in Las Vegas for the NBA’s Summer League — Knicks president Steve Mills calling as he tried to clean up the damage done by Phil Jackson.
“So I started in Sacramento April 24,” Perry said in an interview with The Record and NorthJersey.com, sitting almost unnoticed at a table at Print, the restaurant in the fashionable ink48 Hotel in Hell’s Kitchen. “And we go through the draft, we go through the free agency. I enjoyed my time there. We were actually in Las Vegas Summer League and I hear from Steve Mills, asking did I have an interest in the general manager’s job. Obviously I did.
“The irony of it was after that phone call I immediately got on the phone with my wife because all of our things had been loaded on the truck and the truck was leaving in two days, to move all of our stuff to Sacramento. We hadn’t moved yet. I called her and said, 'Get a hold of the moving company and tell them, pause for a little bit. Don’t leave yet.' Obviously, they never left. They ended up having to unpack the truck, put the things in storage and we came to New York.”
Perry had moved around periodically over the year, from Detroit to Seattle to Orlando and to Sacramento, but what the Knicks were offering was something he’d never had, a chance to run his own show, pairing with Mills, who had ascended to team president in Jackson’s wake.
If New York presented an opportunity, it also provided a challenge, one that had humbled more-experienced executives. Plenty of them had arrived with a plan, but sort of the way that Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” once the meddling would begin or the losses would mount suddenly the desperation would become apparent. Free agency would be the answer, spending their way out of struggles while coaches and players were discarded.
Perry didn’t need anyone to explain what he was walking into as he was introduced. Jackson had been the center of the latest storm, but it was a problem that spanned decades and might never have been worse than what he inherited.
Jackson had alienated Kristaps Porzingis, the last straw for owner James Dolan, who had stuck to his promise of providing the Hall of Fame coach full autonomy as president until this last straw. The long-time star of the team, Carmelo Anthony, was at war with the organization, making the prospects of trading him near impossible.
Perry arrived and immediately began a dialogue with Anthony, the two sides finally agreeing on a divorce that would set the Knicks free to at least begin another path.
“I’m someone who is very measured,” Perry said. “I never get too high, I never get too low. But I have a lot of confidence in my ability to come in and relate with people, connect with people. And I’ve always trusted those qualities in myself throughout my career. I felt that if I applied them when I came in here that could help this franchise calm the waters and feel really good about having a good partner in Steve. That maybe made it that much smoother.”
In his year as general manager, Perry has managed to keep his cool. He didn’t panic when the Knicks went 29-53, missing the playoffs for the fifth straight season. He and Mills did fire the coach after it was over, but Jeff Hornacek was a holdover from the Jackson years.
Now, they have the coach that they wanted, David Fizdale, who as Perry sat for breakfast last week, was in Latvia, working to develop a relationship with Porzingis, who is rehabbing from a major knee injury that could sideline him for the entire 2018-19 season. That might not seem like much, but it’s something no Knicks coach or executive had done last summer when the young star bolted New York for the summer after skipping his exit interview.
David Fizdale poses for pictures with Scott Perry and Steve Mills after being introduced as Knicks head coach. (Photo: Chris Iseman/NorthJersey.com)
It’s baby steps now, but Perry has a plan and he’s sticking to it. That meant drafting 18-year-old Kevin Knox, loaded with potential but aware that it will be a development process. He snared Mitchell Robinson in the second round, another player with tremendous upside and athleticism who needs his talent to be nurtured.
Pairing those two with Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina as well as a handful of former lottery picks trying to make good like Emmanuel Mudiay, Trey Burke and Mario Hezonja provides a basis for hope, a team much more athletic and steeped in youth than the roster Perry inherited. And Perry didn’t flinch when stars started coming on the market this summer with LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, DeMar Derozan and Paul George leading the headlines.
“You know, obviously, we all have a human side,” Perry said. “But I’m very comfortable with our vision and plan. So it’s easy in that sense, that I have a great sense of confidence in where we’re heading. Daily, I can see the steps we’re taking. They may not be for the world to see with the huge names right now, but I can see the steps in the improvement that we’re taking right now. I know we’re heading on the right track. that gives me a lot more confidence, keeps my patience where it needs to be.”
Perry’s patience isn’t the one that anyone really was focused upon as he took the job. It was the fan base desperate for something better in a city that isn’t exactly known for slow rebuilds. The Knicks are the most valuable franchise in the latest Forbes rankings with a $3.6 billion price tag, so the fans had better trust the leadership if those sort of resources aren’t buying talent to compete.
The Knicks have been clear that they will spend again, but hope to do it next summer when they could have a large chunk of cap space to sign at least one max player and maybe two if they work their roster properly.
“I knew in taking the job from afar that New York fan base was very knowledgable and very passionate about the Knicks,” Perry said. “But to come here and live it and now feel it, it’s even greater than I could have imagined. Because as I’ve gone around this city, whether it’s been in restaurants, walking the streets, at the Garden, so many people in the community have stopped me and said, ‘Look, we really like what you’re doing. Stick with your plan. We see the vision. We’re behind you. We can have patience.’
“There was a narrative that patience didn’t exist in New York, but during this first year what I’ve heard from the fan base is different now. Look, I think they can sense in us that we’re trying to build something very sustainable and we’re trying to win as quickly as possible, too. It’s not like we’re sitting on our heels about it, but we want to do it in a very prudent and pragmatic way, which I think we’ve done thus far and we will continue to do.”
Even while the coming season likely promises more of those hard nights, another season devoted to development, Perry has been able to avoid the tabloid headlines, the mistakes that have littered the regimes of his predecessors.
But he knows the tenuous tightrope he walks. His father, Lowell Perry, had been an All-American football player at Michigan and then played professionally for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He then became the first African-American assistant coach in the NFL, even dabbling in broadcasting. He was raised in the sports world and knows the ups and downs.
On this morning as we sat for breakfast, the headlines were blaring out stories of management issues for the Mets and then the Jets unable to come to terms on a deal with their first-round pick, Sam Darnold.
“Look, I read what’s going on in the sports industry,” Perry said. “The thing for me though is it’s always tough. What I would never do is comment and analyze what’s going on in another person’s house because I wouldn’t know. Just like they wouldn’t know what’s happening day to day with us. These jobs are tough.
“You see it, Boy, those are tough times. If you’re in these jobs long enough one way shape or form you’re going to endure some tough times. That’s where you have to have, if you establish the kind of culture you really believe in, it’s very consistent, that it will help you rise through those adverse times. And if you don’t, then it makes it tougher.”