It’s a dark situation for the Knicks, and a role reversal this time of year. They are located in the Outer Town, a distant sidebar, as a specter of defeat and stupidity.
James Dolan, if he is so inclined, can laugh at the plight of Joe Tsai, who lost a ton of money in an experiment that Kyrie Irving sent under a steamroller. The nets were flat, like Irving’s earth.
And yet, the Knicks aren’t exactly stirring up the excitement with their moderate moves. Two seasons and three summers under the reign of team president, we’re still asking with no real clarity: Who is Leon Rose, what’s the plan, and is he good at being an executive?
I remember what was billed to get him and the World Wide Way to do this. He had to use his connection to Superstar and recruit him into the Knicks. It was a reasonable expectation, if not hope, as he has no experience running a team, but he spent decades turning relationships into money as an agent.
He envisioned us all those CAA clients, specifically Devin Booker, Carl-Anthony Towns and Donovan Mitchell, finding their way to Madison Square Garden because of the attraction of the big market and Rose’s persuasion.
But two of those players – Booker and Towns – signed long-term extensions with their respective teams on Friday. Three other potential star targets – Bradley Beal, Zach LaVine and Zion Williamson – also scored maximum deals.
Perhaps Michelle will still make her way into Rose’s arms. Maybe he won’t. At least Utah should be more motivated to tackle Mitchell as Danny Eng tackles Rudy Gobert and latches onto his championship window. But barring such maneuvers, Rose’s big pull over the course of three summers was Jalen Brunson, son of her first NBA client, Rick. They’re like the family, the Brunsons and the Roses, who raised eyebrows around the NBA when Jalen signed their four-year deal worth more than $100 million.
To be clear, Brunson is a solid upgrade and a potential solution to New York’s longtime point guard travails. He is only 25 years old and a proven winner.
But it’s a small-market tactic of the Knicks: Overpay in free agency to hunt down youth potential from teams that aren’t ready to move to that high (see Steve Mills buying Tim Hardaway Jr. 72 million offered), hoping that the player will pop and fall back on flexibility and/or draft picks if it doesn’t work out.
Over the past two summers, Rose has given nearly $500 million in guarantees to Brunson, Julius Randall, Evan Fournier, Kemba Walker, Alec Burks, Michelle Robinson, Isaiah Hartenstein, Nerlens Noel, Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson.
He has avoided a major trade in the market despite DeJonte Murray, Gobert and Malcolm Brogdon, who play it safe, issue PR statements, letters to season ticket holders or talk to the MSG network about all their draft capital. We do. We only hear about the future pick, yet Rose has outlasted the first rounder over the past two years and has refused to trade for Jaden Ivey. One supporter says it’s a prudent approach and takes a refreshingly high degree of caution. One skeptic says that this CAA is about selling hope to the customers while getting paid. Only Rose and Wesley know their plan and inspiration. They are not talking about it publicly.
In the void of a season, that’s a perfectly fine and justified strategy, even if it’s not what we envisioned from a former power agent. For example, unlike a net tire fire, the Knicks are headed in the right direction.
But being the most stable NBA organization in New York is not such a great honor these days. Leon Rose’s roofing of these Knicks in Year 3 and assuming he’ll continue to play it safe isn’t enough for applause.