In a wide-ranging interview with New York sports-radio host Michael Kay, Dolan said he thought his team was “going to have a very successful offseason when it comes to free agents.” The Knicks created salary cap room for two maximum-level contracts this summer when they traded Kristaps Porzingis in late January, and the team has been widely rumored to be targeting the Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant and the Boston Celtics’ Kyrie Irving, both of whom can opt out of their contracts.
Simmons, known for his passion for Boston sports teams, had said on a podcast last month that “multiple people” in whom he has “trust” told him over the NBA’s All-Star Weekend that Dolan “is courting offers for the Knicks.” Simmons added: “It’s happening. It’s on. It’s go-time.”
“So Bill Simmons, I mean, what was his source?” Dolan said Tuesday. “There are teams that do not want us to get free agents. Some in particular. He’s very close friends with the GM of one team.
“What they’re doing is they’re trying to destabilize what we have because they know we’re favored. They know free agents want to come to us. They don’t want to be on the back end of that.”
Later on Tuesday, Simmons fired back, saying sarcastically on Twitter, “Clearly — the biggest lure for future free agents is the perennially stable Knicks franchise, all those playoff wins and the leadership of owner James Dolan. A new owner might scare them off.”
Simmons’s report had caused some excitement among more than a few Knicks fans who hope that Dolan will, indeed, sell the team. Since he assumed day-to-day operations in 1999, the Knicks have fallen to laughingstock status, with the NBA’s worst record over the past 18 years, as well as its poorest mark this season.
In addition, Dolan had previously been involved in some ugly incidents with fans, as well as a banishment of fan favorite Charles Oakley from the Garden that earned the owner widespread condemnation and scorn. In Saturday’s episode, he was leaving the arena floor after a home loss to the Sacramento Kings when a fan yelled at him, “Sell the team!”
Dolan stopped and walked toward the fan, telling him the comment was rude. “You want to not come to any more games?” Dolan said, pointing out the fan to Knicks staffers and adding, “Enjoy watching them on TV.”
Asked about that exchange Tuesday, the 63-year-old owner said he understood that “for the fans it’s about winning and losing, and we haven’t been doing much winning, and so there’s a real big frustration there.” Of the incident, though, he claimed that his organization had video showing the fan and a companion “moving from one side of the arena to the other, and pointing at me, where I was walking, to set this ambush up."
“Then, as soon as they were done with it, it was immediately sold to TMZ,” Dolan said.
“But look, not for nothing, but I shouldn’t have taken the bait,” he continued, saying that while he normally doesn’t mind comments from fans, “What is a problem is when someone becomes confrontational, and these people clearly were there for a confrontation.”
Dolan said that he was initially planning on inviting the fan back and showing him that the Knicks had a solid plan for the future, but he changed his mind after it became “clear this whole thing was planned,” in terms of catching him on video in a confrontation.
“I can’t see letting him back in,” Dolan said. “ … They were stalking me. No, you can’t do that in Madison Square Garden. You are not allowed to stalk the owner and then confront him like that.”
Dolan brushed off the notion that the incident may have contributed to possible concerns among high-profile free agents about coming to New York, calling the city “the mecca” of basketball. “We hear from people all the time, from players, from representatives, about who wants to come,” he said. “We can’t respond because of the NBA rules, etc. But that doesn’t stop them from telling us — and they do.”
“I can tell you, from what we’ve heard, I think we’re going to have a very successful offseason when it comes to free agents,” he continued. “The thing about the team now is that it’s very young. It’s the youngest team in the NBA. You take a look at some of the players that we have, and they won’t be the centerpiece of the team, but as complements to the centerpieces of the team.”
If the Knicks’ plan works, and a pair of superstars arrive to lead a group of talented young players, then public opinion might — with an emphasis on might — swing at least a bit toward the embattled Dolan’s favor. In the meantime, he said his advice to prospective owners would be, “If your goal is to be beloved, don’t buy a sports team.”
As for the advice of the fan, he asserted: “What he’s really saying is, ‘Quit.’ It’s not saying, ‘Sell the team.’ It’s, ‘Quit.’ ”
“Just for the record,” Dolan declared, “I am not selling the team, and I am not quitting.”