It’s very early in the tenure of new Knicks president Leon Rose. So any negative criticism of him from fans or media is premature and rooted in frustrations born of the failures of his predecessors. Already, some are questioning why he was unable to land an impact player such as Gordon Hayward in the current free-agent cycle.
Rose, prior to assuming the job of president of the Knicks last March, was one of the most powerful agents in all of sports as the co-head of basketball for Creative Arts Agency. He knows the landscape of the NBA as well as anyone and has close relationships with many of the league’s owners, executives and most importantly, players.
Those ties may or may not translate into Rose being able to craft an architecture that will attract transformative free-agents, but they are inarguably valuable. It is unclear how Rose and his staff will move toward achieving their goals of raising the Knicks from the ashes. However, early signs are their framework isn’t distinctly dissimilar from what Isiah Thomas, Phil Jackson, Steve Mills and others who held the title of Knicks president the past two decades have put in place.
The models, with some variations, followed by all of the aforementioned former executives entrusted by Knicks owner James Dolan, were sound in philosophy but fell woefully short in execution. The principles weren’t novel. Draft and grow players into cornerstone starters. Augment the roster through judicious trades. And sign a centerpiece star or stars if none emerges among the draft picks.
The Knicks, despite drafting sixth in 2008 (Danillo Gallinari) eighth in 2009 (Jordan Hill), fourth in 2015 (Kristaps Porzingis), eighth in 2017 (Frank Ntilikina), ninth in 2018 (Kevin Knox) and third last year (RJ Barrett), have yet to find their Stephen Curry (drafted one pick ahead of Hill in 2009) Giannis Antetokounmpo (drafted 15th in 2013) or Luka Doncic (drafted No. 3 in 2018).
They have had no more success in attracting star free-agents, famously being left at the altar by LeBron James, a former Rose client, in the summer of 2010. The high profile trades did not result in establishing a winning foundation either. Thomas’s acquisition of Stephon Marbury in 2004 ended in disaster and only one playoff appearance for the Knicks in the Brooklyn legends’ four-plus seasons with the franchise.
Carmelo Anthony, like Marbury, a native son of Brooklyn, came to the Knicks as a bona fide superstar in February of 2011 from the Denver Nuggets in a deal involving Gallinari. Although he by and large carried the Knicks, taking them to three straight postseasons upon his arrival, their deepest run was in 2013, when they lost 4-2 to the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
After clashing with Jackson, who was hired as Knicks president in 2014, Anthony, another ex-Rose client, was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in September of 2017, as the team failed to make the playoffs his final four years in New York.
So now Rose is up, endeavoring to change the Knicks’ losing culture, which encompasses much of the past 20 years. Maybe his first draft pick, Obi Toppin, another Brooklyn product, selected eighth overall in the first round last week, will become a productive pillar of the rebuild. He hired a proven head coach, Tom Thibbodeau, who was part of the Knicks’ winning years as an assistant coach from 1996 to 2004.
The Knicks haven’t made any major signings since the free-agency period began last Friday. As of today they have roughly $40 million in cap space, a hefty number, to pursue impact players next summer, a group that potentially could include the Milwaukee Bucks’ Antetokounmpo and the Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis.
The odds today aren’t in the Knicks’ favor that either will hit the open market. Yet Rose can be hopeful that relationships, prudence, skillful scouting, a strong player development program and a little luck will bear fruit that he long eluded the franchise