Is it Worth it for the Knicks to Spend a Draft Pick for Masai Ujiri?

There’s been a buzz on the internet about the Knicks acquiring the Toronto Raptors VP Masai Ujiri for their front office vacancy. Poaching an executive from another team isn’t illegal in sports, as there usually requires some kind of compensation for the deed. In May the Raptors acquired a second round pick from Orlando, because the Magic hired Jeff Weltman to be their president.

Ujiri would likely cost the Knicks more than a second round pick. I’d say a good estimate would be a protected first, maybe with sliding protection like top-15 the first year, top-10 the second, top-5 the third, no protection the fourth. (It’s highly unlikely that the Knicks would make it to the third or fourth year, so it’s not too worrisome that the protection decreases at that rate.)

In any case, should the Knicks consider such a transaction?

To answer the question, I’m going to take a comment from yesterday to illustrate my point:

Would you rather:
A) Spend part of your meager savings to hire a highly-touted financial adviser?
B) Keep all your savings for investment by a less highly touted adviser?

If you agreed with that analogy, the Knicks should almost certainly keep their pick. However, I don’t think it’s an apt analogy for this organization. My revised version would be:

A) Spend part of your meager savings to hire a highly-touted financial adviser?
B) Keep all your savings, but your Uncle Jimmy will be in charge of finding your adviser. The same Uncle Jimmy that has gone after every bad financial fad in the last 20 years. The one who is in a band, still thinks they might make it one day. Jimmy’s considering using the guy from a few years back, you know the one that put everything in housing right as the market collapsed and cost your Uncle a ton of lost years in investments. And then he cost your Uncle a ton of money in a legal defense of sexual harassment scandal initiated by the adviser himself!

The point is I don’t trust Uncle Jimmy. And I’ve been in this situation before with my Uncle Leon.

Leon Hess bought part of the New York Jets from 1963, and gained full ownership in 1984. The Jets were comically bad when Hess ran the team, until 1997. That’s when the Jets poached Bill Parcels from the New England Patriots. It cost the Jets “their first-round draft choice in 1999, second round in 1998 and third- and fourth-round picks in the April draft, plus $300,000 to the Patriots’ charitable foundation.”

It was a hefty sum to be sure, but it changed the franchise. The Jets became instant winners, going 9-7 in Parcels first season, and then 12-4 in his second giving the franchise their best shot at making the Super Bowl since 1969.

As a Jets fan, this era changed my outlook on the team. No longer were the Jets the league’s laughingstock. They were a respectable franchise, like any other, and this dignity outlasted Parcels’ time in New York. In the 10 years prior to Parcels’ arrival the Jets won no more than 8 games in any season. In the 10 years after Parcels left, they had a winning record 7 times. The effect the Big Tuna had on the culture of the organization and the perception of it from those outside of it was immeasurable. It was worth far more than those draft picks.

And Parcels in New York isn’t the only franchise turned by a front office hire. The New England Patriots wouldn’t be the same team without Bill Belichick, and how did the Patriots get him? They poached him from the Jets!

“The Patriots sent the 16th overall pick in the upcoming 2000 draft and fourth- and seventh-rounders in 2001 to the Jets for the rights to Belichick, a 2001 fifth-rounder, and a 2002 seventh-rounder. “

Look at the successful teams in the league. Would a Spurs fan rather have a lottery protected pick for either R.C. Buford or Gregg Poppovich? Would Dallas Mavericks fans have Mark Cuban sell the team for a 2018 first? After yesterday’s trade for Chris Paul, would a Rockets fan want to trade Daryl Morey for Malik Monk or Luke Kennard or Donovan Mitchell?

My point is simply this: the Knicks need respectability more than they need a draft pick. A single (protected) first round pick is unlikely to add more wins than a highly skilled GM. I’ll even take it one step further. Even if the pick was only protected in the top 10 or top 5 or even top 3, it’s worth changing the inner workings of the front office and soon after, the perception of the team by the rest of the league.

Because as a Knick fan, if the team could do it all over again, wouldn’t you want New York to keep Pat Riley and let the Miami Heat draft Walter McCarty?

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