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Scott Perry realizes his dream of becoming an NBA general manager

Perry, who joins a short list of black GMs, is charged with turning around the Knicks

Scott Perry, the new general manager of the New York Knicks, went from being unemployed to living out his dream in what felt like a New York minute.

Three months ago, the Orlando Magic relieved the then-executive vice president of his duties. Shortly afterward, the Sacramento Kings hired Perry as their executive vice president of basketball operations. And after sparking the long-rebuilding Kings to their best offseason in years, Perry on Monday will be introduced as Knicks GM, his dream job that he worked 30 years to land.

“To have this opportunity to come to New York in the role of general manager, personally, it’s a very humbling time too,” Perry told The Undefeated in an exclusive interview. “I have been grinding in the game for 30 years. I spent 13 years as a college coach. I have had the peaks and valleys and all in-between.

“It’s been one whirlwind. I am a person of faith. It’s interesting.”

The Knicks are hoping they have found in Perry the right man to right the franchise after recently fired former president Phil Jackson left behind a big mess.

The big-market Knicks have not been to the playoffs since 2013. All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony is still expecting a trade to the Houston Rockets to be completed, ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reported. Perry also has some fences to mend with budding star forward Kristaps Porzingis, who didn’t attend his season-ending meeting with Jackson and was dangled in trade talks before the draft.

No, this is not an easy job. Even so, Perry is eager for the challenge alongside newly promoted Knicks president Steve Mills.

“I am a guy who always sees the positive in things,” Perry said. “I see great potential there. Look, you’re in New York City. The Knicks franchise is known around the globe. You just need some time, patience, organization and to put it together right.

“Everything you need in New York is there to change things around and have a very successful team. Now, it’s about going out there and doing it and getting everybody on the same page, so that will be a part of my role in helping Steve do that. It’s going to be a unified front in everything that we do. Have a culture of inclusion and being about the team, and not about ourselves and our own egos.”

With Anthony’s trade value lessened after his battles with Jackson, it will be hard for the Knicks to reap equal value at the moment in a deal. Anthony is slated to make $26.2 million next season and $27.9 million in the 2018-19 season if he doesn’t exercise an early termination option.

Anthony, 33, has been willing to waive his no-trade clause for Houston and Cleveland, however, and in recent weeks has been focused on a trade to join fellow All-Stars Chris Paul and James Harden with the NBA power Rockets, ESPN.com has reported. The Anthony-to-Rockets talks have stalled with Perry’s hiring since the newcomer would like to survey the situation before making a move, a source said.

One glimmer of hope for Perry is that he has a solid relationship with Anthony. Perry hopes to meet with Anthony and Porzingis soon. Late in Jackson’s tenure, Anthony had expressed interest in staying with the Knicks, primarily to be close to his wife and son in New York City.

“I’ve always had a great deal of respect for Carmelo the player and the person,” said Perry, who declined to talk in detail about Anthony’s situation.

With so much damage done during the Jackson days, it will be extremely tough for Perry to flip this Melo-to-Rockets script. Considering Perry’s background that led to his landing his first GM job at 53 years old, it’s just par for his challenging course.

The former star guard for Wayne State University is an ex-Michigan and California-Berkeley assistant coach and was the head coach at Eastern Kentucky University from 1997 to 2000. The Pistons hired Perry as a college scout in 2000, and he joined their front office in 2002. With the Pistons, Perry aided in building an NBA power that advanced to six consecutive Eastern Conference finals, two NBA Finals and won the NBA championship in 2004.

Perry moved on to become the Seattle SuperSonics’ assistant general manager under Sam Presti during the 2007-08 season. The Sonics selected Kevin Durant, the 2017 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, with the second pick in the 2007 NBA draft during Perry’s brief tenure in Seattle. The Detroit native returned to the Pistons from 2008-12 as vice president of basketball operations. On June 25, 2012, Perry became the Magic’s vice president and assistant general manager. The Magic relieved Perry of his duties on April 15, 2017, and the Kings hired him as executive vice president on April 21, in large part because of his experience and leaguewide respect.

“The day I was let go in Orlando, God had something better in store for me,“ Perry said. “My phone rang two days later from Sacramento.”

Perry arrived to the Kings with 10 years of NBA assistant GM and vice president of basketball operations experience. While the African-American has had a handful of GM interviews, he couldn’t land the top job.

When the 2016-17 season ended, the NBA had two black GMs in Mills and the New Orleans Pelicans’ Dell Demps, as well as three presidents of basketball operations in the Los Angeles Lakers’ Magic Johnson, the Toronto Raptors’ Masai Ujiri and Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers. Those statistics are certainly frustrating for aspiring black GMs, considering that about 75 percent of the 30-team league’s players are black. Johnson, Rivers and Demps are also the only former NBA players of African-American descent to currently hold a job as a team president or GM.

“The day I was let go in Orlando, God had something better in store for me,“ Perry said. “My phone rang two days later from Sacramento.”

“There are certain things I didn’t have control of,” Perry said. “You need someone to see in you what you believe you have, someone to put you in a position to be a general manager of a franchise. I’ve been accumulating experience, and I’m going to my 18th season in the NBA. Obviously, I felt I was ready prior to this moment, but never did get the chance.”

Perry joined a Sacramento team where the rebuilding project has lasted 10-plus years.

The Kings have not been to the playoffs since 2006 and are now led by general manager Vlade Divac. Since 2010, the Kings have found success in drafting two-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, but there were also a lot of issues that led to him being traded to the Pelicans last season. Sacramento also previously traded Boston Celtics All-Star Isaiah Thomas and waived Miami Heat standout center Hassan Whiteside.

Injury-plagued Tyreke Evans, now with the Memphis Grizzlies, never lived up to his billing after being named the 2010 NBA Rookie of the Year. The Kings have also missed on first-round lottery draft picks such as Thomas Robinson, Jimmer Fredette (draft rights acquired via trade), Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas. Divac raised eyebrows when he said he didn’t draft point guard prospect Emmanuel Mudiay in 2015 because he didn’t see him work out. Despite a brand-new arena that opened last season, the Kings also are in one of the NBA’s least popular cities in small-market Sacramento and have an extremely hands-on owner in Vivek Ranadivé.

“The [Knicks’ challenge] is no different than Sacramento,” Perry said. “When I came to Sacramento, I heard a lot of similar viewpoints of how tough it would be. You get the right people in there, with the right vision, positive attitude and a group working together for a common goal, as we know in sports you can change things around.”

While Divac was in the lead position, sources said Perry played a strong role in the Kings enjoying one of the NBA’s best offseasons.

The Kings chose heralded Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox with the fifth overall pick in June’s NBA draft. Sacramento then traded down from the 10th pick with the Portland Trail Blazers to acquire the 15th and 20th picks and acquired the draft rights to North Carolina forward Justin Jackson and Duke center Harry Giles, respectively, with those picks. Sacramento next used the 34th overall pick to draft Kansas guard Frank Mason, who was the consensus college basketball player of the year last season. Fox, Jackson, Giles and Mason all come from winning college programs.

The Kings have struggled to land quality free agents for years. But sources said Perry, who has a strong relationship with agents and players, played a pivotal role in the signing of veteran forward Vince Carter, veteran forward-center Zach Randolph and point guard George Hill, who started for the Utah Jazz last season. Suddenly, the Kings aren’t a laughingstock anymore and appear to be finally in the right direction, with Perry getting much of the credit nationally.

“I was able to come out here and with an excellent guy in Vlade and really help him act out his vision for the team,” Perry said. “In three months’ time, the entire NBA was able to see what I could do with the draft, free agency. The type of narrative that surrounds Sacramento now from the time I got hired, I think, has changed a great deal. I think the team is heading in the right direction.”

Meanwhile, the Knicks struck out on hiring former Cleveland Cavaliers general manager David Griffin. With Perry hot after a strong Sacramento summer, the Knicks turned their focus to him and agreed to terms on a five-year contract. Mills and Perry make up the NBA’s lone African-American president and GM duo.

Perry says he doesn’t take being one of the few African-Americans in his position “lightly at all.”

“First and foremost, I’ve got to be myself and represent who I am,” Perry said. “Secondly, I am a black man who takes great pride in my history and my heritage. Knowing that a lot of times my performance can help open up doors for other aspiring African-American basketball executives down the line, I want to do the very best job I can to represent me and my family’s name, as well as representing that issue as well. At the end of the day, the only thing that we have is the legacy we leave.”

Perry is the son of a trailblazer with a strong legacy in former Michigan football star Lowell Perry.

After his NFL career was cut short by a major hip injury, Lowell Perry accepted a job as wide receivers coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1957 to become the NFL’s first black coach since World War II. In 1963, he began a 17-year career with Chrysler, where he eventually became the first African-American to hold the plant manager position for an American automobile company. In 1975, Perry was appointed by President Gerald Ford to be commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He also was the first African-American to broadcast an NFL game to a national audience.

Lowell Perry died of cancer on Jan. 7, 2001, in Southfield, Michigan, at age 69. His son recalled him often saying, “You make a living off of what you do, but you make a life out of what you did.” Before Lowell Perry died, Scott Perry said he told his father he would become an NBA GM one day. It took 16 years, but the younger Perry has finally fulfilled his promise.

“When my father passed away back when I first started in the NBA, he always was one of my biggest supporters, along with my mom,” Perry said. “I told him, ‘I’m going to get there. I am going to be [a GM] one day.’ Even though he hasn’t been around for much of this, he’s been around just in how he raised me, taught perseverance and to continue to pursue your goals and dreams no matter the odds or the obstacles.

“I’ve had a lot of bright days in the NBA, days in the middle and days that are very tough. My attitude or mentality is much more middle ground. I never get too high or too low. It’s allowed me to hang tough and get here. It’s good to be rewarded for that.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.