NY TIMES: Scott Perry, New Knicks G.M., Likes Things ‘Clean and Neat’

BY MALIKA ANDREWS, NEW YORK TIMES

Scott Perry, the Knicks’ new general manager, has been in New York for more than a month, but the walls of his office at the team’s practice center in Tarrytown remain bare. A copy of ESPN The Magazine with Aaron Rodgers on the cover was on the wooden coffee table. Perry said he hadn’t had a chance to read it yet.

His desk, too, was largely unadorned: a black computer monitor, a white Mac keyboard, a pen, a bottle of Fiji water, a small stack of papers and a photograph of his wife, Kimberly, and their daughter, Chelsea. Throughout an interview recently, Perry constantly adjusted the pen and water to be in line with the keyboard. He made sure they were perpendicular to the edge of the desk.

“I am a minimalist,” Perry, 53, said slowly in an accent that makes some people believe he is from the South though he is from Detroit. “I like things clean and neat.”

Which is what the management of the Knicks has not been of late. His personality and manner might face the ultimate test cleaning up a team that is a basketball Superfund site.

But those who know Perry and his disciplined manner insist he is exactly what the team needs.

He lives by the belief that a cluttered environment leads to a cluttered mind. When he returns home from road trips at 2 a.m., Kimberly said, he insists on opening the mail and unpacking his bags immediately. It cannot wait.

“I think that all the pieces of the puzzle have prepared him for this,” Kimberly said during a recent interview in a sitting room in their Upper West Side apartment. “It is important to him to get it right, but he feels prepared for it. Sometimes people get their shot really young — you see G.M.s at 20 or 30 and they aren’t always ready. That’s why he might seem really calm: It’s because he’s like, ‘Finally.’”

Perry is taking his time getting to know his players. He has watched televised games of Kristaps Porzingis playing in the off season in the European League and he has sat in on some of the rookie Frank Ntilikina’s workouts at the practice center in Westchester County.

So far he has hired five people in the front office and other divisions and last week he signed the veteran guard Jarrett Jack and power forward Michael Beasley. When all of the Knicks are back in New York, he said he intends to get more acquainted with them.

They will find not only a meticulous manager but a basketball veteran.

In the late 1970s, if you were looking for a pickup basketball game in Detroit you would ask Perry. B.J. Armstrong, a childhood friend and current N.B.A. agent, recalled Perry being the one who knew where every after-school game was going to be.

“He was an organizer even back then,” Armstrong said in a phone interview. “That’s what he does. He’s an incredible organizer. You always went to Scott to find out what was going on. It was, ‘What we doing today? Let’s ask Scott.’”

The go-to spot for pickup basketball games in Detroit was St. Cecilia’s gym, a red-brick hoops cathedral that attracted some of the sport’s biggest stars. It was where Scott first met Kimberly when they were participating in a middle-school basketball camp. They began dating when Scott was a senior and Kimberly was a junior in high school.

“I would say every winter since we’ve met, we’ve been in a basketball gym,” Kimberly said. “First watching him play, then watching him coach after we got married and then, now in the N.B.A. front offices. It’s been our whole life. When he graduated from college, he said, ‘I want to be the G.M. of an N.B.A. team someday.’ I said, ‘O.K. You’ll get there.’”

The Knicks’ president, Steve Mills, center; Jeff Hornacek, the team’s head coach, right; and Perry at a news conference in July.

After graduating from Wayne State University, where he played basketball, Perry began working as a volunteer assistant for a high school team while sending out resumes to high school and college programs. The way Kimberly remembered it, he called the University of Detroit Mercy to ask about an assistant coaching job so many times, they finally agreed to meet with, and eventually hire, him.

Chelsea was born in 1994 while Perry was an assistant coach of the star-studded “Fab Five” team of Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson at the University of Michigan. Kimberly went into labor while Scott was at a tournament in Hawaii with the team, and Scott had to rush back to be at the birth. During the Wolverines’ next game — with Kimberly and Scott still in the hospital with their new baby — Dick Vitale congratulated the couple during the broadcast.

Perry made his jump to the N.B.A. in 2000 when he was hired as a scout for the Detroit Pistons, and by 2002 he was working in their front office. The early 2000s Pistons that Perry helped build were a juggernaut, advancing to six consecutive Eastern Conference finals and two N.B.A. finals. They won the title in 2004.

Perry said he sees similarities between that team and the Knicks team he is inheriting.

“People forget, our very first season in Detroit, we were 32-50,” Perry said, again adjusting his pen, water and keyboard on his desk. “We knew we had rebuilding to do. We had lost Grant Hill in free agency. So, I’m not afraid of building projects or whatever. It takes a lot of hard work. It takes — first and foremost — establishing a culture of accountability.”

Leaning back in his chair and placing his thumb and forefinger on his chin, Perry stopped short of elaborating on what a culture of accountability looks like for the Knicks, a wayward franchise that seems to produce new calamities on a weekly basis. The bar is low.

Consider last season, when Joakim Noah, their starting center, was suspended for failing a drug test. Or the game when Derrick Rose, their starting point guard, did not even bother to show up. Or the other game when Madison Square Garden security, at the behest of the owner, James L. Dolan, had Charles Oakley arrested and hauled out of the arena in handcuffs. (Oakley, who just happens to be one of the franchise’s most beloved former players, has since filed a civil suit.)

And let’s not forget the team president, Phil Jackson, who somehow managed to alienate both of his star players, Carmelo Anthony and Porzingis, as a disastrous season dragged on. Porzingis, clearly disgusted with the direction of the franchise, went so far as to skip his exit interview with Jackson, who retaliated by shopping Porzingis on the trade market ahead of the draft. Dolan finally pulled the plug on the Jackson experiment a few days later.

Before joining the Knicks, Perry worked for three months as vice president for basketball operations for the Sacramento Kings. Kimberly was still living in Orlando, working on selling their house, and planning to join him permanently in Sacramento. Chelsea had just finished her final year at the Tisch School of Arts at New York University (she completed her first three years at the University of Michigan and spent her senior year as a guest student in New York). She was living in Brooklyn and pursuing a career in film.

“There might’ve been no one happier when I got this job than her,” Perry said of Chelsea. “The job itself commands me wanting to be here. With that being said, what are the odds of the opportunity opening up for her family to move here and be alongside her? I was teasing her. I said, ‘Now, O.K., you have to make sure Mom is comfortable and that she knows how to get around and get on subways and where to go eat.’”

Before her parents moved to the city, Chelsea was working at a fast-food restaurant and was on call as a production assistant. With her family in town, she has quit her restaurant job and is doing freelance film and production work while interning for a fashion photographer.

“It’s nice because I like having the laundry in building and I don’t have to pay for groceries,” Chelsea said. “I never thought about them living in New York, so it’s just really funny and it hasn’t totally hit me yet. My dad is a city person, but it’s just funny because my mom is very much into nature. I think she’s adjusting well because she’s so obsessed with all the art and is constantly sending me videos of her running around the city. She’s like, ‘Now I understand why you wanted to live in New York.’”

Originally, the Perry family looked at houses in White Plains, N.Y., closer to the practice center. But with Perry traveling often, Kimberly decided she wanted to be in the bustling city — which would also enable Chelsea to move in.

They purchased a four-bedroom condominium — six buildings away from Knicks president Steve Mills’s apartment — with floor-to-ceiling windows that offer views of the George Washington Bridge. Kimberly said that after moving three times — from Florida to Sacramento to New York — in the last four months, they are hoping to stay put.

“We’re at the age where we’d like to settle down a little bit, so honestly, we’re hoping to stay here for a little while,” she said. “We love it here and we want to be near my daughter, so it would be nice to be able to stay here for a long time, so I’ll be praying for that.”

 

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