MSG's James Dolan's 19 biggest firings running the Knicks

Steve Mills is the latest to leave Knicks front office

Despite news that MSG Networks Inc. saw an 8 percent decrease in subscribers, stock in the Madison Square Garden Company was up about 1.3 percent Tuesday.

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Investors may have been spurred on by the removal of Steve Mills from his role as New York Knicks president. Mills marks the latest in a long list of Knicks front office personnel to get the boot, though the company said he will likely move into a leadership role at an entertainment-focused spin-off business.

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James Dolan, MSG CEO, thanked Mills and made the decision sound mutual.

“We thank Steve for his many years of service to our organization and look forward to continuing our relationship with him as part of our board,” Dolan said in the press release.

As the Knicks’ revolving door continues to spin, here’s a look back as some of Dolan’s biggest firings during his tenure running the Knicks:

1. Phil Jackson

Phil Jackson (Ernesto S. Ruscio/Getty Images)

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It was seen as the ultimate homecoming. A beloved player with the glory teams that won two NBA titles in the '70s, Jackson went on to become a legendary coach winning 11 championships with the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls and the Kobe Bryant-led Los Angeles Lakers. So naturally, Dolan and the Knicks hired Jackson not to coach but to oversee the team — despite never having served in the executive offices of an NBA team.

On March 18, 2014, Jackson was introduced as the president of the Knicks, signing a five-year, $60 million contract. He hired one of his former players with the Lakers — Derek Fisher — to coach the team, despite never having coached. He didn't last and neither did Jackson, who was out two years short of fulfilling that five-year contract.

2. Dave Checketts

Madison Square Garden CEO Dave Checketts speaking at the Garden. (Linda Cataffo/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

The Knicks brought on Dave Checketts as team president in 1991 to replace Al Bianchi, who was drawing criticism from fans as the team went through a slump in the wake of Rick Pitino’s departure.

Checketts' 10-year run with MSG would see him promoted to president of the whole organization in 1994 when the Knicks reached the championship for the first time since 1973 and the Rangers brought home the Stanley Cup.

But by the time Checketts stepped down in 2001, the Knicks had been eliminated from the playoffs in the first round for the first time during his tenure and the high-spending Rangers — with the largest payroll in the NHL — didn’t even make the playoffs. Checketts went on to own stakes in the MLS team Real Salt Lake and the NHL’s St. Louis Blues before leaving the sports industry. He has reportedly taken a leadership role with the Mormon church in London, England.

3. Larry Brown

New York Knicks head coach Larry Brown shouts to his team in the closing minutes of their 108-95 NBA defeat to the Charlotte Bobcats at the Bobcats Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, Nov. 23, 2005. (REUTERS/Robert Padgett)

Larry Brown came to the Knicks after leading the 76ers to the finals and winning a championship in Detroit. His sole season in New York didn’t go so well.

Brown publicly criticized players, feuded with Stephon Marbury and led the Knicks to a 23-59 record. After being let go with four years left on his five-year contract, Brown and the team reportedly settled on an $18.5 million payout on top of the $10 million he earned in the losing season.

4. Don Nelson

Don Nelson during a press conference at Madison Square Garden to announce his hiring as the new coach for the New York Knicks. (JON LEVY/AFP via Getty Images)

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Don Nelson won three coach-of-the-year awards before he left the Golden State Warriors and joined the Knicks in 1995. But he didn’t get along with some of his star players on both teams, leading to internal turmoil.

Nelson said in an interview with HBO Real Sports last year that what ultimately cost him the New York job was a plan to trade then-33-year-old star Patrick Ewing for an up-and-coming Shaquille O’Neal. The Knicks booted Nelson after less than a year. Meanwhile, the Lakers picked up Shaq and he helped the team win three consecutive championships.

5. Isiah Thomas

Former NBA great Isiah Thomas holds a basketball after a news conference where he was introduced as the new president of basketball operations and general manager for the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York, Dec. 22, 2003. (REUTERS/M

Isiah Thomas was named an NBA all-star in 12 of his 13 seasons playing. On the sidelines, he’s had a tougher time. He came to the Knicks as president after being fired from the Pacers and made several unpopular decisions with fans before replacing Larry Brown as coach in 2006.

Thomas’ time as coach didn’t go much better, with the Knicks failing to win a single playoff game in his four and a half years despite a hefty payroll. The Knicks canned Thomas in 2008.

Thomas was also accused of sexually harassing a female executive during his time with the Knicks reportedly resulting in an $11.6 million payout, but that didn’t stop Dolan from hiring him as president of the Knicks' WNBA sister team, the Liberty, in 2015. Thomas ran the team until MSG sold the Liberty in 2019.

6. Lenny Wilkens

New York's Allan Houston talks with coach Lenny Wilkins in the second half of the Wizards' 106-104 victory on Friday, Dec. 10, 2004. (George Bridges/MCT/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

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With decades of coaching experience when he came to the Knicks in 2004, Lenny Wilkens had then won — and lost — more games than any other NBA coach. Isiah Thomas hired Wilkens as a seasoned veteran to replace unpopular Don Chaney.

Wilkens came on midseason and brought the Knicks to the playoffs for the first time in three years. But the team struggled the next year. He left the Knicks after a series of nine losses in 10 games but reportedly didn’t lose out on the remaining $10 million on his contract. Wilkens later spent some time in the Seattle Sonics organization, but his stint with the Knicks was his last time coaching.

7.  Donnie Walsh

Donnie Walsh speaks during a news conference announcing his hiring as the New York Knicks president of basketball operations in New York, April 2, 2008. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

Donnie Walsh walked into the Knicks as the team looked to clean up the chaos left by Thomas. As president and GM, he led a rebuild of the team, hiring coach Mike D’Antoni and acquiring Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.

But Walsh failed to lure LeBron James to New York and the Knicks’ draft picks during his time didn’t last long with the team. The Knicks ended up declining an option to extend Walsh’s career a fourth year.

8. Mike D'Antoni

Head coach Mike D'Antoni of the New York Knicks yells to his team during a game against the Charlotte Bobcats during their game at Time Warner Cable Arena on Nov. 24, 2010, in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Mike D’Antoni built the Phoenix Suns’ run-and-gun offense, and he appeared poised to help the Knicks recover amid Donnie Walsh’s plan to rebuild the team.

The Celtics swept the Knicks in the first round of the 2011 playoffs, and the next year Carmelo Anthony reportedly gave the team an ultimatum to choose between him and D’Antoni. The coach ended up leaving, and Anthony returned to win 54 games with the Knicks the next season.

9. Mike Woodson

New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson reacts in the second half against the Golden State Warriors at Madison Square Garden. (Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports) 

Mike Woodson started with the Knicks as an assistant under D’Antoni and the team later named him head coach after D’Antoni was ousted.

Woodson actually had a winning record leading the Knicks, but the team slumped in 2013 with a 3-13 start. They improved but never fully recovered, and Woodson’s coaching took the brunt of the blame. After the team failed to make the playoffs, new president Phil Jackson fired Woodson.

10. Scott Layden 

New York Knicks' General Manager Scott Layden announces the team's 2003 draft picks during a news conference at Madison Square Garden. (Mike Albans/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

Scott Layden made bold, unpopular moves during his four years as president and GM of the Knicks. They didn’t really pay off.

Best known as the GM who traded Patrick Ewing, the Knicks fired Layden in 2003 with two seasons left on his seven-season contract that was reportedly valued at $28 million. His ousting ushered in the infamous and similarly unsuccessful Isiah Thomas era.

11. Glen Grunwald

Glen Grunwald, the New York Knicks executive vice president and general manager, holds a press conference prior to the team's game with the Los Angeles Clippers at Madison Square Garden in New York, April 25, 2012. (REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

The Knicks were a winning team during both of Glen Grunwald’s seasons as president and GM, even reaching the conference semifinals in 2013. He joined the team as an assistant under Isiah Thomas. Grunwald reportedly made the moves to help the team work with Carmelo Anthony under Donnie Walsh.

But this is the Knicks we’re talking about. The team canned Grunwald just days before the start of training camp and replaced him with Steve Mills, who had previously headed the team during its worst run ever.

12. Steve Mills

New York Knicks President Steve Mills speaks at the unveiling of the Knicks' jersey sponsorship with Squarespace at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 10, 2017, in New York City. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Steve Mills is the latest Knicks executive to be shown the door. The team is headed toward a seventh straight season without a playoff appearance.

Mills has a long history with the Knicks, having previously served as MSG president from 2003 to 2008. He returned as president and GM of the Knicks in 2013, and again in 2017 after the Phil Jackson era. The team has never had a winning season with Mills in the front office. The past few months have been particularly rocky, as the team lost eight of its first 10 games this season and fired coach David Fizdale in December.

13. Jeff Van Gundy

New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy rallies his team in the final minute of their game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 15, 2000, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Clippers upset the Knicks 78-74. (SSM/SV)

After spending more than six years as an assistant under four different head coaches, Jeff Van Gundy was promoted to the job in 1996.

The Knicks had six winning seasons under Van Gundy, reaching the conference finals five consecutive years and reaching the finals once. But he abruptly resigned 19 games into the 2001-02 season as the team had struggled but appeared to have recovered its season.

Leaving with more than a year left on his contract, Van Gundy reportedly walked out on $8 million.

14. Don Chaney

New York Knicks' new head coach Don Chaney watches grimly from the sidelines as his team takes on the Boston Celtics at Madison Square Garden. (Keith Torrie/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

A defensive wizard who made his bones with the Boston Celtics. Chaney has the distinction of being the only player to have played with both Bill Russell and Larry Bird. After his playing career he first coached the Los Angeles Clippers in 1984 to 1987, a largely thankless task in the pre-Steve Ballmer ownership days. He moved on to the Houston Rockets for four years where he was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year for the 1990-91 season. After two losing seasons running the Detroit Pistons, Chaney joined Jeff Van Gundy’s staff and succeeded him as head coach in 2001. Working under Dolan’s handpicked basketball chief, Isiah Thomas, Chaney at one point called  working for Dolan, Thomas and the Knicks “horrible working conditions." He was fired in January of 2004 and replaced by Lenny Wilkens. Cheney was diagnosed with amyloidosis — a rare disease that is a buildup of abnormal proteins in vital organs last fall.

15. Jeff Hornacek

 Head coach Jeff Hornacek of the New York Knicks reacts against the Washington Wizards during the second half at Capital One Arena on March 25, 2018, in Washington. (Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Phil Jackson and Steve Mills brought Jeff Hornacek on as Knicks head coach in 2016. His tenure saw Carmelo Anthony traded and Kristaps Porzingis injured, hampering efforts to bring Jackson’s triangle offense to the playoffs.

Instead, the Knicks had two losing seasons. The team let him go with one year left on his reported $15 million contract.

16. Kurt Rambis

Head coach Kurt Rambis of the New York Knicks looks on in the first half of the game against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Feb. 24, 2016, in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Best known for his days as hard-nosed, horn-rimmed-eyeglass-wearing Los Angeles Laker. Rambis was actually drafted by the New York Knicks in 1980 but was cut from the team. Despite that slight, he joined the Knicks as an assistant coach in 2014 under Derek Fisher. Phil Jackson thought Rambis’ expertise as the former head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves would help Fisher and he was signed to a four-year $4.8 million deal. But neither Fisher or Rambis could get the Knicks moving. Fisher was fired midseason 2016 and Rambis was named the interim head coach but was passed over in favor of Jeff Hornacek, who retained Rambis. Both were  dumped by Dolan and company two years later. Rambis is now a “senior adviser” with the Lakers.

17. Derek Fisher

New York Knicks head coach Derek Fisher watches from the sideline as they take on the Boston Celtics in the first half at XL Center. (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

Phil Jackson, who had never run an NBA franchise, hired Fisher, one of his former players, who had never coached an NBA franchise. Fisher signed a five-year, $25 million deal to coach the Knicks and immediately led the team to its worst won-lost record in franchise history, 17-65 (which David Fizdale happened to tie last year as Knicks coach). Boosted by high hopes from its first-round draft pick, Kristaps Porzingis, Fisher’s second season was launched with dreams of reaching the playoffs. But after barely playing .500, a losing streak sunk Fisher, who was fired on Feb. 8, 2016. He has since headed back to the scene of his greatest triumphs, Los Angeles, where he is head coach of the WNBA’s LA Sparks

18. David Fizdale

Head coach David Fizdale of the New York Knicks reacts while playing the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena on Nov. 6, 2019, in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit won the game 122-102. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

A popular assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat, he only lasted only 101 games when he became the head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2016. When he became the coach of the Knicks in 2018, most thought Fizdale and his four-year, $22 million deal would last longer than his stay in Memphis – and it did by three games. Overseeing a hodgepodge collection of free agents signed by Steve Mills and GM  Scott Perry, Fizdale could not get the team straight. He is now collecting is MSG money and working for ESPN.

19. Herb Williams  

Herb Williams leads the New York Knicks as new head coach during a game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Madison Square Garden. (Linda Cataffo/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

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Former first-round draft pick by the Indiana Pacers in 1981. Played three years for the Knicks starting in 1996 and became an assistant coach in 2003. When coaching changes game about Williams took over as interim for one game in 2004 and 43 games in 2005 but was not hired permanently in either situation. Sill, he remained employed by Dolan and Madison Square Garden until last year as an assistant coach with the New York Liberty until MSG sold the team to Brooklyn Nets owner Joseph Tsai. Williams is still a coach with the Liberty.