It’s an enviable position for the Knicks, and something of a role reversal at this time of year. They’re situated as the spectator to the debacle and foolishness in the outer borough, a distant sidebar.
James Dolan, if he’s so inclined, could chuckle at the predicament of Joe Tsai, who lost a ton of money in an experiment that Kyrie Irving sent under a steamroller. The Nets, like Irving’s Earth, were flattened.
And yet, the Knicks aren’t exactly drumming up excitement with their middling moves. Two seasons and three summers into the team president’s regime, we’re still asking, with no real clarity: who is Leon Rose, what’s the plan, and is he any good at being an executive?
I remember what he and World Wide Wes were billed to bring to this job. They were supposed to utilize their connections with superstars and recruit them to the Knicks. It was a reasonable hope, if not expectation, since they have no experience running a team but spent decades turning relationships into money as agents.
They had us imagining all those CAA clients, most notably Devin Booker, Karl-Anthony Towns and Donovan Mitchell, finding their way to Madison Square Garden because of the big-market allure and Rose’s persuasion.
But two of those players — Booker and Towns — signed longterm extensions with their respective teams on Friday. Three other potential star targets ― Bradley Beal, Zach LaVine and Zion Williamson — also inked max deals.
Perhaps Mitchell will still force his way into Rose’s arms. Probably he won’t. At least Utah should be more motivated to deal Mitchell since Danny Ainge dealt Rudy Gobert and fastened the latch on its championship window. But barring such a maneuver, Rose’s big pull through three summers was Jalen Brunson, the son of his first NBA client, Rick. They’re like family, the Brunsons and the Roses, which raised eyebrows around the NBA when Jalen signed his four-year deal worth over $100 million.
To be clear, Brunson is a solid upgrade and a potential solution to New York’s longstanding point guard travails. He’s only 25 and a proven winner.
But it’s a small-market strategy from the Knicks: overpay in free agency to pry young potential from teams unwilling to go that high (see Steve Mills offering $72 million to Tim Hardaway Jr. in 2017), hope the player pops and fall back on flexibility and/or draft picks if it doesn’t work out.
In the last two summers, Rose has committed almost $500 million guaranteed to Brunson, Julius Randle, Evan Fournier, Kemba Walker, Alec Burks, Mitchell Robinson, Isaiah Hartenstein, Nerlens Noel, Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson.
He has avoided a major trade despite Dejounte Murray, Gobert and Malcolm Brogdon on the market, playing it safe while intermittently issuing PR statements, letters to season ticket holders or speaking to MSG Network about all his draft capital. All we hear about is future picks, yet Rose punted first rounders the last two years and declined to trade up for Jaden Ivey. A supporter says it’s the prudent approach and refreshingly careful. A skeptic says it’s about surviving and selling hope while getting CAA clients paid. Only Rose and Wesley know their plan and motivation. They’re not talking about it publicly.
In the vacuum of one offseason, it’s a perfectly fine and justifiable strategy, even if it’s not what we envisioned from a former power agent. Contrasting the Nets tire fire, for instance, the Knicks are trending in the right direction.
But being the most stable NBA outfit in New York isn’t such a high honor these days. The ceiling on these Knicks, in Year 3 of Leon Rose and assuming he’ll continue to play it safe, isn’t high enough for applause.