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Steve Mills, Knicks insist they're happy with free-agent additions

Members of the Knicks talk about the upcoming season during their media day at the training facility in Greenburgh on Sept. 30, 2019. (Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware)

GREENBURGH, N.Y. — While the Knicks may have dreamed of a summer makeover that would have brought some of the NBA’s top free-agent stars to Madison Square Garden, the team insisted on Monday that the way it turned out was the plan all along.

The Knicks went into free agency with $70 million of salary-cap space. Despite a public proclamation from Madison Square Garden executive chairman James Dolan that stars assuredly would be joining the franchise, the Knicks came out of free agency without a meeting with any of the stars.

What they did get was a group of seven solid veterans. There isn’t an All-Star among them, but it’s a group they hope will change their fortunes.

“Obviously, we had a summer that we were really excited about as well,” Knicks president Steve Mills said Monday, addressing free agency for the first time at the team’s media day. “We were able to add nine quality players to our roster. We added seven via free agency and two via the draft. We all know free agency is a very fluid process in the NBA. And our look at free agency and that one thing we know is what’s important is that for you to control the things that you can control.

“What you have to do is be prepared and control the things that you can control. And what we’re most proud about is we put ourselves in a position and planned in a way that on the opening day of free agency, we had six guys who were important to us that we were lined up to meet with. Those guys all had multiple NBA teams that they had the opportunity to play for and they chose to come to New York and become part of the Knicks’ organization.”

This was a different message from what the Knicks said immediately after free agency began, interrupting the steady flow of deal announcements to issue a statement to the fan base that read: “While we understand that some Knicks fans could be disappointed with tonight’s news, we continue to be upbeat and confident in our plans to rebuild the Knicks to compete for championships in the future, through the draft, targeted free agents and continuing to build around our core of young players.”

Dolan had gone on ESPN Radio in March and said he already had heard that stars were coming. When asked if Dolan was on board with the plan, Mills insisted that this was approved at all levels.

“Absolutely,” Mills said. “Jim knew we were going to have a successful free-agency period and we feel like we did that. He was on board with what we were doing, and one of the rosters that he saw well in advance of free agency looks like what we’re going to put out on the floor this year.”

Mills said that despite the immediate announcements of deals in other places for the likes of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker, the Knicks could have had meetings with some of the stars if they had wanted to, but instead opted to take the path they ended up on.

“You’ll have to talk to those players about why they made the decision that they made,” Mills said. “There were a lot of max-type players that we could have met with that were interested in coming here. We had a certain way that we wanted to build this team. This is how we chose to build it.”

After the Knicks went 17-65 last season and missed out on the top pick in the NBA Draft Lottery, star free agents who were looking to team up on potential championship teams didn’t seem excited about joining them.

The roster the Knicks wound up with is a curious mix of veterans brought in with a core of youngsters that the team has hoped to focus on in a player development phase.

The only player brought in with more than one guaranteed year on his deal is Julius Randle, who has a three-year, $63 million deal (two years guaranteed). The rest of the free agents will be playing for their next deal, creating the possibility of more instability on a franchise that has been steeped in it.

“Obviously, I think we upgraded our talent,” general manager Scott Perry said. “I hope that some of these guys will be here longer term, based on how that plays out. But that’s going to play out organically through the season. That’s going to play out through the competition that we have every day in practice and once we start playing games against competition, who’s going to be here.

“One thing we can tell you, all these guys really want to be here. They want to win. They’re focused on the team. They understand that the best way to stay here and make themselves even more valuable around the league is to win, to contribute to winning. So that’s what we’re excited about.”

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