Knicks 'obsessed' with Raptors' Masai Ujiri, who is surprisingly intrigued by working in New York, per reports

After the New York Knicks struck out with all of the big stars in free agency, then turned around and essentially wasted all of their cap space on a series of bizarre signings, almost no one thought this season would go well. At the same time, even the biggest skeptics couldn't have expected this big of a disaster. 

At 4-19, the Knicks have the worst record in the league, and have already fired head coach David Fizdale. As for top executives Steve Mills and Scott Perry, they still have their jobs, but are firmly on the hot seat as well. Trying to predict what the Knicks might do can be an exercise in futility, but it's clear that they're already thinking about potential replacements for those two. 

And just like they did this summer in free agency, the Knicks are apparently shooting for the stars, with Toronto Raptors executive Masai Ujiri named as one of their top targets. In fact, according to a report from Ian Begley, those at the top of the organization are "obsessed" with the man who built the Raptors' championship-winning squad. Via SNY:

If Mills and Perry are let go after the season, Masai Ujiri will be one of the top candidates on the Knicks' wish list. 

Will the Knicks have a shot at landing Ujiri? That's unclear. But once the Knicks started struggling last month, multiple Madison Square Garden people in positions of influence have been 'obsessed' with - and 'enamored' by - the Raptors executive, per SNY sources. 

In order to land Ujiri, it will probably take significant money and full autonomy. 

Whether Knicks owner James Dolan will grant that kind of autonomy remains to be seen. 

It's no surprise that the Knicks are interested in Ujiri. After all, who wouldn't be? He's been one of the best executives in the league for a while now, and with the Raptors has demonstrated both the ability to identify undervalued players, and the boldness to pull off moves for elite talent. If there's any front office person in basketball who could pull the Knicks out of the morass they've been stuck in, it's Ujiri. 

Assuming the Knicks continue to struggle as the season goes along, there will only be more rumors about their interest in Ujiri. And at first glance, it would be understandable to dismiss them as further examples of the New York hype machine. It's one thing for the Knicks to have interest in Ujiri, and another thing altogether for him to have interest in them. 

After all, they have perhaps the worst owner in all of sports in James Dolan, a man who consistently meddles with the team, and has turned the franchise into a laughing stock. They have a terrible roster, and have developed a culture that turns away top stars rather than attracting them. Why would Ujiri want to leave Toronto, where he's earned decades of good will for bringing them a title, and has a budding superstar in Pascal Siakam

That is a very fair question, yet despite those concerns Ujiri is "intrigued" by working for the Knicks, according to a report from Howard Back. That is, if he can get a big enough check, and the autonomy to do what he wants. Via Bleacher Report:

Sources also say Ujiri would be intrigued by the challenge of fixing the Knicks, the chance to build something from scratch and, not insignificantly, by the opportunity to elevate his Giants of Africa philanthropy by working in the New York market.

Influential voices in the NBA have strongly advised Ujiri not to take the job, if it's ever offered, sources say. But those same sources say Ujiri might do it anyway, if the money is right, if he's granted the necessary autonomy and if Dolan funds Giants of Africa as generously as the Raptors ownership group has.

Getting the money would likely be no problem for Ujiri, and it's easy to see how trying to turn the Knicks around would be an interesting challenge. But as always, everything goes back to Dolan. Even if he's assured of the ability to operate as he sees fit, how would Ujiri ever feel confident that Dolan wouldn't go back on his word?

For now, all of this is still just a series of rumors and reports. The job hasn't been offered to Ujiri, and isn't even technically open considering Mills and Perry are both still employed. Those facts, combined with the Dolan problem, mean that Ujiri running the Knicks someday soon should still be seen as a longshot. 

At the same time, it's worth keeping an eye on this story, if only because Ujiri didn't immediately laugh off the possibility like everyone would expect. 

NBA Writer

Jack Maloney lives and writes in Milwaukee, where, like the Bucks, he is trying to own the future. Full Bio

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