Can Masai Ujiri Punk James Dolan Again in Potential Lowry Deal?

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Can Masai Ujiri Punk James Dolan Again in Potential Lowry Deal?
David Dow/Getty Images

For fans of the New York Knicks, the most terrifying name in the NBA is "Masai Ujiri."

Forget LeBron James and Paul George—those guys can only hurt New York four times a year, and they will eventually lose their athletic ability. Ujiri, the reigning NBA Executive of the Year, can hurt the Knicks every single game.

And for decades to come.

Ujiri's reputation for fleecing the Knicks is so well established that it has even reached Knicks' owner James Dolan in his Madison Square Garden Dreadfort. And Dolan might even be having second thoughts about giving up draft picks and young talent to Ujiri in the rumored trade for Raptors' point guard Kyle Lowry.

Per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski:

Knicks owner Jim Dolan is sensitive to the public perception that Toronto general manger Masai Ujiri bamboozled New York in the Carmelo Anthony trade, and the chance of getting panned for giving up too much in a deal for Lowry has become a hurdle in these talks, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Ron Turenne/Getty Images

 

So Dolan is no longer interested in giving away too many assets to Ujiri—not because it's bad business, mind you, but because he's worried people will make fun of him for it. If that isn't the very essence of James Dolan, I don't know what is.

Of course, the basketball world has been laughing at Dolan since the turn of the century, long before Ujiri's time. But Ujiri certainly seems to have a special talent for getting everything he wants from Dolan. Ujiri is the master poker player, and Dolan is the guy who think everyone's playing Go Fish. 

To understand Dolan's hesitancy, one has only to look at his disastrous history of dealing with Ujiri.

 

Strike One: The Melo Trade

The Carmelo Anthony Trade
New York Knicks get... Denver Nuggets get... Minnesota Timberwolves get...
Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Renaldo Balkman, Anthony Carter, Shelden Williams, Corey Brewer Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, Raymond Felton, Kosta Koufos, 2012 2nd-round pick (Quincy Miller), 2013 2nd-round pick (Romero Osby), 2014 1st-round pick Eddy Curry, Anthony Randolph, 2015 2nd-round pick

basketball-reference.com

Everyone knew Carmelo Anthony wanted to play in New York in the winter of 2011. Melo himself said so in an interview with ESPN's Colleen Dominguez. Sure, there was the possibility of the Nets jumping in, but they were still playing in New Jersey at the time, and were in the midst of one of the worst seasons in their history. 

The Knicks, meanwhile, had history and star power, with Amar'e Stoudemire leading a promising young New York roster to the brink of playoff contention in the 2010-11 season. If Melo reached free agency in the 2011 offseason, the smart money had him going to the Knicks.

But Dolan couldn't wait. He can never wait. He couldn't live with the minute chance that he wouldn't land his star in the offseason. And Denver GM Masai Ujiri knew it.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

So the Nuggets conned Dolan into signing off on this Leviathan of a deal, gutting most of the roster assembled by Knicks GM Donnie Walsh, including fan favorites Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, not to mention promising young big Timofey Mozgov.

The Nuggets have had a better record than New York in every season since the trade, but this season has been especially cruel. Though Gallinari has yet to play, Mozgov has turned into a quality reserve center—precisely the kind of player the Knicks could use with Tyson Chandler on the shelf.

And with the Knicks languishing near the bottom of the league, that 2014 first-rounder hovers over the franchise like the Sword of Damocles. There is a fair chance that Knicks fans could be facing the double offseason indignity of Melo leaving via free agency and the Nuggets winning the lottery with the Knicks' pick.

 

Strike Two: The Bargnani Trade

The Andrea Bargnani Trade
New York Knicks get... Toronto Raptors get...
Andrea Bargnani Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, Quentin Richardson, 2014 2nd-round draft pick, 2016 1st-round draft pick, 2017 2nd-round pick

basketball-reference.com

When Ujiri took over the Toronto Raptors in the 2013 offseason, he made one thing abundantly clear: His first priority was to get rid of forward Andrea Bargnani.

ESPN's Marc Stein reported at the time:

But few NBA observers thought there was a team willing to bite on Bargnani, given his history of poor play and massive contract, with over $22 million owed to him through 2015.

Per CBS Sports' Matt Moore:

[Bargnani's contract]'s going to be difficult for Ujiri to move, even as savvy of a trade artist as he is. The big problem honestly may be that NBA front offices have been getting progressively smarter. More inventive, savvy managers with an understanding of the CBA have been hired, making it more and more difficult to move bad deals.

But if Ujiri's willing to take an absolute bath on the deal, which he may be, since [former GM Bryan] Colangelo always treated Bargnani as his pet player and wanted good return, Ujiri may be able to offload him. It's not about getting good return at this point for Toronto. It's about just moving him off the books and having the franchise move forward.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

 

Now, let's put aside Bargnani's performance for a minute—he has been good though trending downward in recent games. Ujiri was looking to unload Bargnani by any means necessary. The Knicks could have had him simply by taking that massive contract off of Toronto's hands. They didn't need to include anything of value.

Instead, "nothing of value" turned into "three draft picks, including a first." Once again the Knicks had the upper hand in negotiations and still managed to give away far too much.

That's highway robbery.

 

Strike Three? 

If any team should have learned the value of draft picks by now, it's the New York Knicks. Two of the picks they traded for Eddy Curry in 2007 turned into Joakim Noah and LaMarcus Aldridge. But when they do manage to keep a pick, they make it count, drafting promising rotation players like Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. with their last two draft picks. 

But now there is a chance that any two of Shumpert, Hardaway and a 2018 pick will be gone for Kyle Lowry. Lowry is a good player, and he fits a need, but he's on an expiring deal, and decent point guards aren't exactly rare, according to Hardwood Paroxysm's Jared Dubin.

For once in James Dolan's tenure as owner, he is showing a willingness to put his foot down and refuse to let another team fleece his Knicks. And that in itself is a minor miracle.

Of course, the winds are always changing around MSG. Dolan might cave in the next five minutes and offer a king's ransom for Lowry. And the world will laugh at the Knicks yet again.

 

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