SBD/September 27, 2013/Franchises

Knicks Make Surprise Move By Replacing Glen Grunwald With Former MSG Exec Steve Mills

Mills' expertise is considered to be on the business side of basketball
The Knicks in an "unexpected move" Thursday announced Steve Mills, one of the "highest-ranking officials at Madison Square Garden before departing in June 2009, will replace" team Exec VP & GM Glen Grunwald, according to Taylor & Araton of the N.Y. TIMES. Grunwald, who "spent the past three seasons helping to transform the Knicks into a competitive team," will stay with the team as an adviser. Mills served as MSG Sports President from '03-08, a "period in which the Knicks were in disarray on and off the court." It was Mills who "recommended that Isiah Thomas be hired" as Knicks President in December '03. The move "came to haunt Mills when another team executive he had hired, Anucha Browne Sanders, sued Thomas and the Garden in January 2006, charging sexual harassment." A year after the trial, Mills "was replaced" by Scott O’Neil. Mills has never been a team GM, raising "questions about whom he will rely on for input when it comes to personnel decisions." There is "certain to be speculation that Thomas ... will have a major voice in the organization, advising Mills regardless of whether the Knicks give him a title." The decision to replace Grunwald with Mills "may be an effort by the Knicks to position themselves for the pursuit of stars." Knicks Owner and MSG Exec Chair James Dolan "may have concluded that Mills, who also worked a number of years for the NBA ... and who got to know a significant number of agents and top players as he vied in recent months for the union job, will be a good person to lead the team’s free-agent efforts." Mills most recently was working as the CEO & Founding Partner of Athletes & Entertainers Wealth Management (N.Y. TIMES, 9/27). On Long Island, Al Iannazzone notes Grunwald "helped assemble the team that went 54-28 last season and won its first Atlantic Division title in 19 years." He is considered to be "more of a basketball personnel guy and talent evaluator than Mills, whose background is business" (NEWSDAY, 9/27).

KISS AND MAKE UP: In N.Y., Frank Isola writes the return of Mills is "one of the more remarkable reconciliations in team history." The "stunning shakeup five days before the start of training camp leaves several questions unanswered, namely why make such a dramatic move?" Sources said Mills' deal "came together quickly." The fact that Dolan can "count on Mills to fall in line worked in Mills' favor." That MSG President & CEO Hank Ratner "signed off on the deal is somewhat remarkable since he held Mills accountable for hiring both" Thomas and Browne Sanders (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/27). Also in N.Y., Mike Vaccaro writes since Mills’ expertise "is mostly contained to the business side of sports we can safely assume the Knicks’ basketball responsibilities will be divided" among Assistant GM Allan Houston, Dir of Player Personnel Mark Warkentien and Dir of Pro Scouting & Free Agency John Gabriel. Houston is seen as the "likely heir to the GM’s chair." Dolan on Wednesday seemed "a few notes less than enthused" when asked to "assess his team’s chances." The Knicks were "outdone by the Nets in the offseason, passed by at least two or three others as well" (N.Y. POST, 9/27).

ATTENTION-GRABBING MOVE: In N.Y., Mike Lupica writes Mills is a "smart, personable Princeton guy," but he just "doesn't belong anywhere near a job like general manager of an NBA team." What the move shows is that Dolan "thinks he is the real general manager of the Knicks." Lupica: "You sort of can't make this stuff up, anywhere except 33rd and Seventh" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/27). WFAN-AM's Joe Benigno said, "If you're a Knicks fan, this is a disaster. ... This smacks of a typical Jim Dolan disaster. It looks like he's greasing the skid for Isiah Thomas. How do you let Grunwald go? This guy actually did a good job." SNY's Jonas Schwartz said, "It does feel like James Dolan is trying to stick it to everybody who he viewed was telling him how to run his organization. He's going back to one of his guys" ("Daily News Live," SNY, 9/26). SNY's Chris Carlin said of Grunwald, "When you're not a 'yes man' at Madison Square Garden, you're not going anywhere." SNY's Sal Licata called Mills a "puppet" of Dolan's ("Loud Mouths," SNY, 9/26). YAHOO SPORTS' Eric Freeman wrote the decision is "superficially peculiar." The years in which Mills oversaw MSG "were fairly despicable ones for the Knicks." This move "smacks of a team flying by the seat of its pants" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/26). In Newark, Alex Raskin wrote, "What the heck is going on here?" (NJ.com, 9/26). ESPN N.Y.'s Ian Begley wrote the move signals Dolan "could have been upset over the Nets winning the battle of the headlines this summer from the Knicks" (ESPNNY.com, 9/26). In N.Y., Marc Berman wrote, "Count on Mills being a lot more visible than Glen Grunwald ever was" (TWITTER.com, 9/26).
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