State of the Knicks
Many fans are upset that the Knicks didn’t draft a player in the 1st round. Some actually believe the media reports that the Knicks traded a future 1st round pick to get off of Kemba Walker’s contract ($9.2M). It felt like “LOL Knicks” again, events that would trigger our Knicks’ PTSD. While the trades actually turned out to be solid decisions when you consider that the Knicks are already stacked with young players. Those draft night trades set the team up for the other part of the offseason, free agency. The Knicks are expected to be more aggressive in free agency as this will be Leon Rose’s 3rd season as team president.
Being a Team President
The pressure on Leon Rose has started to increase. He’s got the mainstream media and the team beat reporters out to get him because of his refusal to do interviews. Then there is the fanbase that was expecting Leon to leverage his connections as the former head of CAA to attract stars. But lastly, there is the actual person he needs to please, which is team owner James Dolan.
While Dolan has been out of the spotlight and very quiet it doesn’t mean he is pleased. If you look back at the average tenure for the Presidents of Basketball Operations for the Knicks, it has been less than 3 seasons, which is in-line with the league average.
The reality is that team owners have a three strikes your out approach to team building. That is why you see that team president’s tend to make their most aggressive win-now moves in their 3rd season. In 2016, Phil Jackson’s 3rd season, he traded for Derrick Rose, signed Courtney Lee and grossly overpaid to sign Joakim Noah. Then in 2019, Steve Mills also entering is 3rd season went on a spending spree after missing out on Kevin Durant in free agency. The 2022 offseason is Leon Rose’s 3rd, the question has to be asked. Does Leon feel compelled to make a major move to protect his job?
When Leon Rose was hired in March of 2020 I found the timing odd. It was right after one of the biggest free agent summers in NBA history, 2019. Common sense would dictate that the time to hire a Leon Rose type was right after Phil Jackson was fired in 2017. Instead Dolan decided to promote MSG insider Steve Mills.
Bringing in Leon at a time when there won’t be big-time free agents hitting the market for at least 4 seasons undercuts his ability to succeed. Knicks will have to wait until the summer of 2024 to sign CAA clients Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker.
So there isn’t much a power broker like Leon Rose can do via free agency if none of his former star clients are free agents. So what was Leon Rose expected to do?
Be Patient or Make a Big Splash?
The only big names Leon has been able to attract are in the front office and coaching staff. He has assembled one of the best front offices in the NBA, led by salary cap expert Brock Aller and scout Walt Perrin. The coaching staff has had some of the best developmental coaches in the game, most notably Johnnie Bryant. But in order to win you need players that can contribute right away.
The young players the Knicks have drafted are already good role players that they hope can develop into very good starters. But RJ is the only young player that has the potential to be an all-star next season. Even if Julius Randle is still on the team, the book has closed on him, Leon can’t trust in him anymore.
So if the star players the Knicks need are not on the roster, not available in free agency, or obtainable via trade, then Leon needs to do the next best thing, find a good veteran player.
Enter Jalen Brunson
A lot of Knick fans are not sold on Jalen Brunson, feel his price tag is too high. Would prefer to let IQ and Deuce take over the point guard duties and bring back DRose as the veteran insurance policy. But that doesn’t seem like a viable option for Leon as he is feeling the pressure to win now.
In Leon’s first 2 seasons he hasn’t had to make any big decisions side from the Randle contract extension which is looking bad. All his other signings have been shrewd short-term/low salary signings. His best decisions in fact have been the ones he avoided. He passed on Gordon Hayward and declined taking on the last two years of Russell Westbrook’s contract. But no one gives you credit for being smart enough to not make mistakes, they only give you credit for making great decisions.
That is where Jalen Brunson comes in. If you are Leon and need to make a big move, you want it to be for someone you trust. Who better than family? That is what Jalen Brunson is to Leon Rose. Aside from being his former client who is now repped by Leon’s son, Sam. Leon knows Jalen since he was born. His dad, new Knicks assistant coach Rick Brunson was Leon’s first client. So the bond between Leon Rose and the Brunson family is strong.
Dallas or New York?
This is the time Leon needs to leverage his connections. Most players like Brunson don’t leave money on the table with a better team to sign for less money with a bad team. But that looks like a real possibility of happening because of the family connection. If the Knicks can just make a competitive offer, the opportunity for Jalen Brunson to play for his dad and Godfather might be too much for him to pass up.
But for the signing to work, Brunson can’t be positioned as the star player the Knicks need. Instead he needs to sold as upgrade over Kemba and Derrick Rose. A player that is there to help RJ and make the team better as they continue to acquire a star.
If Leon can’t hit a home run in free agency then the next best thing is to make a solid signing. He just can’t strike afford to strike out. So expect him to go all out for Brunson, then play it safe by resigning Mitchell Robinson and extending RJ Barrett. The best shot Leon has of keeping his job is by having a young team that finishes with a winning record next season.