Leon Rose has spent quarantine locking in a number of well-regarded front office personnel, and the sensible hires that have been made thus far signal that the new team president actually has a chance to right the sinking ship that is the New York Knicks.
Rose was officially hired at the very beginning of March, bringing with him the specter of relationships as former basketball co-head at Creative Arts Agency. He has strong relationships with tons of players, many of whom he worked for as an agent, so the thinking was that he could eventually convince a superstar or two to take their talents to Madison Square Garden, the arena every player seems to see as their favorite place to play, just not as part of the home team.
In terms of communicating with the masses, Rose has been relatively mum, minus a letter to season ticket holders and a late June interview with Mike Breen on MSG.
He may seem pretty quiet, but internally Rose wasted no time reshaping the organization. Since his chance to take stock of the roster was limited because the season was cut short soon after he formally started the job, Rose started by hiring a number of well-respected basketball minds to work in the front office.
One of his first moves was picking up Scott Perry’s option for next season, which on the one hand is unacceptable since Perry was involved in trading Kristaps Porzingis for chump change, but on the other hand is acceptable because Perry has been running the show so maybe Rose wanted a little bit of continuity.
He also brought aboard Vice President of Basketball Operations and Strategic Planning Brock Aller, who has been described as a ‘capologist’; Assistant General Manager for College Scouting Walt Perrin, who has ties to Perry, was with the Utah Jazz for 19 years and has been called a ‘road warrior’ by The Athletic’s John Hollinger; and Assistant General Manager for Pro Scouting Frank Zanin, who played against Kobe Bryant in high school and once got a shoutout from the late Los Angeles Lakers legend on Twitter. Most recently, Rose roped in his buddy William ‘Worldwide Wes’ Wesley as a senior basketball adviser. We’ve already been conditioned to know that Worldwide Wes, like Rose, is incredibly well connected.
Rose has also hired some new scouts, including Frank Zanin’s brother, TJ Zanin, and 26-year-old wunderkind Alex Kline.
The only one of the above-mentioned hires that wasn’t met with widespread praise was Worldwide Wes, and it’s not like he didn’t also receive his share of positive press. Overall, tinkering with the basketball operations department was incredibly necessary, and bringing in people who are held in high esteem from peers across the league certainly seems smart.
A few years ago it felt like Phil Jackson and Steve Mills were the only ones running the show. Today, the front office has more depth than artwork by M.C. Escher.
Rose has also made a couple of player-related moves, including waiving Allonzo Trier. Truthfully, while Trier is a very talented offensive player, his friendship with Kevin Durant may have played into the Knicks keeping him around. When you boil it down to brass tacks, Trier had a troubled time in New York, from being anonymously described as a selfish player to getting in hot water for his tendency to say stuff on social media. Sometimes it’s best for both sides to cut a guy loose. Hopefully Trier catches on elsewhere.
The Knicks used Trier’s roster spot to snag Theo Pinson, who, like Trier, was undrafted but scrapped his way into the NBA anyhow. Pinson may or may not wind up ever doing much, but he’s a 24-year-old 6’5”, 212-pound player who once dropped 19 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals against the Knicks while a member of the Brooklyn Nets.
When it comes to the coaching search, meanwhile, Rose has taken his time and done his due diligence. He’s interviewed so many candidates that this might as well be the 2016 Republican presidential primaries (this would have been a solid, topical joke three years ago).
Tom Thibodeau is still considered the frontrunner, and despite worries that he’s an outdated overworker, there’s no disputing his resume as a basketball coach. Did Thibs’ teams in Minnesota underperform? Sure, but his career regular season winning percentage of .589 is better than every Knicks coach dating back to Jeff Van Gundy, according to Basketball-Reference.
All of this is to say that there’s cause for cautious optimism, if you’re into that sort of thing. Optimism is a dangerous word around these parts, of course, especially considering the track record of the franchise under James Dolan. And it goes without saying that the last time the team seemed to have its ducks in a row, the Knicks suddenly and without warning traded their best player for chicken scraps.