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In Part: 1 we reviewed Leon’s hires in the front office and coaching staff which I rated as excellent. In Part:2 we will review the results of the actions taken by Leon and his brain trust. It is important for us fans to understand that while Leon Rose is ultimately responsible for the results of the all the decisions made, he isn’t making them by himself. These decisions are carefully thought out and debated, so we need to keep that in mind when we play Monday morning quarterback. It is easy to critique when you have the results in hand.
As I mentioned in Part: 1, no front office hits on all their decisions, so what we need to focus on is the logic and approach. That is because in the long run a good process will lead to a lot of good decisions.
No One is Perfect
Before we jump in, I wanted to prove to you that making mistakes is part of process. Boston is the favorite to win the championship despite making two mistakes that would be considered significant if they were the Knicks. In 2020 they could have drafted Desmond Bane but instead decided to go with a different player that plays the same position, with the 14th overall pick they took Aaron Nesmith, who is now in Indiana. Then this past offseason they essentially paid the Orlando Magic so they could dump Bol Bol‘s salary.
Imagine how much more dominant Boston would be if they hadn’t missed on these two decisions. But no cares because Boston has a prove. Track record of making good decisions; most notably the drafting Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Then there is the other highly regarded franchise in the East, the Miami Heat. They overpaid for a 36-year Kyle Lowry (3yrs/$85M) and Duncan Robinson (5yrs/$90M), both have been busts. But the criticism is minimal because last season Jimmy Butler carried them to the Eastern Conference Finals.
So, when fans complain about the Knicks drafting IQ instead of Bane, or the Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier signings, just know it could have been worse. Would you rather the Knicks signed Lowry or Kemba? Or Duncan Robinson instead of Evan Fournier?
With that said, let’s start the grading process.
Leon’s Draft record: B
- 2020: B-, Obi Toppin 8th, Immanuel Quickley 25th
- 2021: A+, Quentin Grimes 25th, Rokas Jokubaitas 34th, Deuce McBride 36th, Jericho Sims 53rd
- 2022: B, Trevor Keels 42nd
2020 Draft: B-
Many criticized Leon for missing out on Tyrese Haliburton, but so did 7 other teams. Knicks picked 8th and Haliburton didn’t go until 12th, so it was not obvious to everyone. No one expected Haliburton to be this productive, every draft board had Toppin as a top 5 pick, going ahead of Haliburton. Even the team that drafted him, Sacramento, chose to trade him instead of De’Aaron Fox who is 7 times more, $30M per year.
So, the logic deserves an “A” since the Knicks addressed 2 needs by drafting 2 very good players which is almost unheard of. However, the utilization of players brings down the grade.
8th Pick – C
The criticism won’t be so harsh if Obi was starting. The Knicks did need a Power Forward at the time since Julius Randle was a disappointment. There is no question that Obi could be productive on offense, the issue is his defense which has improved from horrible to decent. Haliburton is not considered a good defender either, but he has played for teams that don’t emphasize defense.
25th Pick – B+
Can discuss defense without mention the Knicks other 1st rd. pick. Immanuel Quickley has been a pleasant surprise, the former SEC player of the year, unlike Haliburton is an outstanding defender, one of the best in the NBA among guards. He has also improved is playmaking. IQ put up impressive numbers when he was the starting point guard, a 15-assist game followed by a 36-point game despite playing in the archaic Tom Thibodeau offense.
But the at the end of the day, what matters is the output. Drafting an all-star is better than drafting 2 very good starters, so unless the Knicks find a way to increase Obi & IQ’s production, this will go down as a missed opportunity for Leon.
2021 Draft: A+
This draft was nothing short of a masterpiece. The Knicks came away with 3 quality players and another asset in Rokas Jokubaitas. Quentin Grimes has a chance to be one of the best 3&D Wings in NBA as he is already a lock-down defender. Jokubaitas’s stock is increasing in Spain, he will be eligible to come over next season. Deuce has become a rotation player in just his 2nd season despite starting off as 4th in the point guard depth chart.
Then there is Jericho Sims, taken 58th overall. He has been impactful as a rim-running Center. He like Grimes and McBride is a very good defender. What is not talked about is that the Knicks traded the 19th pick to Charlotte so they could take Sim’s college teammate Kai Jones. The Knicks then drafted the better Texas Center 39 spots later while acquiring a future 1st rd. pick in the process. Knicks got the players they wanted while netting a future 1st and 2nd round pick, that is why they deserve an “A+”.
2022 Draft: B
Trading the 11th overall pick made sense because the Knicks already have 5 young players in the rotation which is a lot. Keels is a project with upside that can take his time to develop in Westchester. After making 3 trades on draft night the Knicks ended up getting 3 future 1st rd. picks(protected) and $18M in cap space which was used to sign Brunson in exchange for the 11th pick and Kemba Walker.
The decision looks good now, the only thing that could change the grade is if one of the players taken 11th or later turns out to be a star.
Leon’s trade record: B
While Leon hasn’t been able to make a big-time trade for a star, most notably Donovan Mitchell this past summer, it doesn’t mean the Knicks’ front office has been sitting ideal. Since November 17th, 2020, Leon Rose has made a total of 18 trades.
We will talk about the trade that didn’t happen, Donovan Mitchell, but let’s first review the ones that did happen.
- Derrick Rose trade – A+: gave up Dennis Smith Jr. and 2021 2nd rd. pick
- Rivers & Brazdeikis – A+: Knicks net a 2021 2nd rd. pick (Jerich Sims) and a 2024 2nd rd. pick in a 3-team trade
- Cam Reddish trade – C: Knicks traded Kevin Knox, Charlotte’s protected 1st rd. pick for a 2025 2nd rd pick (Nets) and a trade exception.
- Burks & Noel trade – C: Gave Detroit two 2nd rd. picks (2023 & 2026) + Alec Burks in order to dump Noel’s contract. Trade cleared $19.2M in cap space in order to sign Brunson & Hartenstein.
The Derrick Rose trade was huge, it single handedly turned around the Knicks season. They went from having a losing record to snapping the 7-season playoff draught due to the play of Derrick Rose.
The Cam Reddish trade doesn’t look like it is going to work out, but that is fine. It was worth the risk as Reddish was a clear upgrade over Knox and the compensation won’t impact the Knicks’ long term plans.
Burks and Noel trade was a case of having to lose a battle to win a war. The win in free agency, signing Brunson and Hartenstein, resulted in a net positive result in roster construction.
Many fans have complained about the Knicks missing out on Donovan Mitchell, especially after his 71-point performance. But what gets lost in the conversation is that Cleveland was the perfect trade partner for Utah. The Cavs sent Utah two players they didn’t want, Lauri Markkanen and Colin Sexton, who was an unsigned free agent. It also made sense to give Utah all the draft compensation they required as Cleveland’s roster was set. The Cavs added Donovan Mitchell to a roster that already had 2 all-stars (Garland and Allen), a buddying franchise player (Evan Mobley), the 5th pick in 2020 draft (Isaac Okoro), a $30M expiring contract (Kevin Love), and several good role players.
The Knicks on the other hand would have been left with Brunson, another undersized guard that needs the play in his hands, Julius Randle who was damaged goods, Mitchell Robinson and no other assets to improve the team.
Time will tell if the Knicks should have pulled the trigger, but Leon did something that prior team presidents haven’t, which is to show constraint and not risk the long-term future of the team.
Free Agency: B
2020-21 Season: A
- Alec Burks – A+: 1 yr./$6M
- Nerlens Noel – A+: 1 yr./$5M
- Elfrid Payton – C+: 1 yr./$4.8M
- Taj Gibson – A+: 1 yr./$2.3M
2021-22 Season: D
- Julius Randle – C: 4 yrs./$117M
- Derrick Rose – C: 3 yrs./$45M (team option)
- Alec Burks – A: 3 yrs./$30M (team option)
- Nerlens Noel – D: 3 yrs./$28M (team option)
- Taj Gibson – B: 1 yr./$4.9M
- Kemba Walker – D: 2 yrs./$17M
- Evan Fournier – D: 4 yrs./$72M (team option)
2022-23 Season: A
- Jalen Brunson – A+: 4 yrs./$104M (descending)
- Mitchell Robinson – A: yrs./$60M (extension/descending)
- Isaiah Hartenstein – B: 2 yrs./$16M
In Leon’s 1st season, 2020-21, the Knicks made a lot of low-risk signings that worked out. Then in 2021-22 Leon rewarded the returning players with 2-year deals with a club option for the 3rd. Derrick Rose played well but was limited to 26 games. Nerlens Noel missed almost the entire season due to injury. The Kemba Walker signing was a mistake, but the cost was worth the risk. The Evan Fournier signing didn’t work out but that is more a function of Quentin Grimes exceeding expectations. Fournier is still a good player on a market rate deal for a veteran wing of his caliber. The good news is that next season he will become an expiring contract. The Julius Randle contract extension went from looking good to awful to good again, so that is a relief.
The good news is that Leon rebounded from a disappointing 2nd offseason with a great one this past summer. The Brunson contract looks like a steal, especially since it’s a descending deal. Hartenstein is a solid signing that addresses an area of need.
Leon hasn’t signed a superstar free agent, but there hasn’t been one on the market. His misses haven’t wrecked the team’s cap sheet like other high priced free agent signings: Amar’e Stoudemire, Joakim Noah, and Tim Hardaway Jr.
I also want to mention the signings Leon avoided:
- Gordon Hayward 4yrs./$120M
- Kyle Lowry 3yrs./$85M
- Lonzo Ball 4yrs./$80M
- Tim Hardaway Jr. 4yrs./$75M
- Devonte’ Graham 4yrs./$47M
The 2023 Hot Seat
Many Knick fans focus on a few decisions, but overall, Leon has done a good job. However, the summer of 2023 is going to be key as patience is going to run out. James Dolan and Knick fans want to see the team turn into contenders by next season, 2023-24, so Leon will have to make some major moves this summer if he wants to keep his job.