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Key takeaways from our first peek behind the curtain of the Knicks under Leon Rose

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New York Knicks v Miami Heat
Leon Rose is a man with a plan, and so far the plan is working.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Knicks usually show no interest in allowing the inner workings of the organization to become public, but midway through Leon Rose’s first season the team is overachieving, and the New York Post has obtained some delicious nuggets of information, including who was highest on Immanuel Quickley before the draft and how Tom Thibodeau feels about the idea of rebuilding.

Yaron Weitzman — author of Tanking to the Top, a critically acclaimed book about the Philadelphia 76ers and their ‘trust the process’ saga — shows us how the Knicks currently make sausage in a new article for the New York Post. It features a bunch of anonymous sources, including a “longtime friend” of Thibs and people with “ties to the Knicks.”

When contacted by P&T, the Knicks didn’t dispute the accuracy of the article, although they also chose not to comment. The simple fact that such an article came out and it didn’t bother the Knicks shows an evolution in how they view the press. Or maybe it just shows that, when the team is good, the story won’t be scathing, so it’s okay.

Regardless, there are numerous items of interest within the story, which you should definitely read in its entirety. Here, we explore a few of the most important and interesting issues tackled by Weitzman.

World Wide Wes Pushed Hard To Take IQ On Draft Night.

Quickley wasn’t necessarily in the cards if not for William Wesley, a grown man and basketball executive who is mostly called by his nickname, World Wide Wes. According to Weitzman, World Wide Wes exerted a ton of energy on draft night in order to convince Rose and the rest of the front office that New York should go after Quickley late in the first round.

We need Quickley, get Quickley,” William Wesley repeated, over and over and over and over. Wesley — the ubiquitous consultant/adviser/star-whisperer/power broker whose reputation has earned him the moniker “World Wide Wes” — had joined the Knicks as an executive vice president and senior adviser in June and had spent the months since pushing Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickley at every turn. He knew that the Boston Celtics, picking at No. 26, had worked out Quickley and come away impressed. He was worried they’d steal his guy. He wanted the Knicks to pounce.

According to Weitzman, Wesley needed to do a ton of convincing before Rose made the call to make the trade that ultimately resulted in Quickley becoming a Knickley. Further, Weitzman somehow knows that Rose didn’t perfectly unlock his iPhone when trying to effectuate the three-team deal. Now that’s what I call reporting, volume basketball.

“Let’s do the trade,” Rose said. He fumbled a couple times as he tried unlocking his iPhone to call in the deal. There were about 10 seconds to spare.

Rose trusted Wesley, his longtime companion, despite hesitance from some scouts. As a freshman at Kentucky, Quickley barely played. In his sophomore season, he averaged 16 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists on 41/43/92 shooting splits. Perhaps World Wide Wes was able to see what we’ve all come to learn: Quickley can shoot the damn basketball.

Wesley would call on analytics staffers during meetings to offer proof of Quickley’s shooting prowess. Some of the Knicks’ scouts expressed concerns about Quickley’s struggles as a freshman. Wesley countered that it was because Calipari is tough on point guards, and that Quickley’s sophomore rebound showed his resolve.

What World Wide Wes saw in Quickley has come to pass. IQ is one of the best rookies in the league. He’s climbing the NBA.com rookie ladder, ranking third among neophytes as of March 3.

The Rose Regime Is Built On Trust And Diversified Skill Sets.

You may have heard that, before joining the Knicks, Rose was a high-powered player agent. When he was hired, a lot of us wondered whether he might be completely in over his head. Rose has not drowned. In fact, he’s stayed well above water.

The Knicks are 19-18 and sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. The success appears to mostly be thanks to the fact that Rose built a front office featuring professionals with varying skill sets whom he trusts. Wes is the man with connections. Thibs is the fiery coach focussed on winning the basketball game in front of him. Brock Aller is the salary cap whiz.

Rose’s bet is that by combining their skill sets, by leveraging Wesley’s connections and Aller’s strategic thinking and Thibodeau’s willingness to sell his soul if it meant he’d win that night’s game, by creating a system of checks and balances and then having Rose filter it all before making a final call, this group can rebuild the Knicks.

Thibs Wants To Win. The Front Office Is Focused On Both Now And The Future.

On the internet, it’s much easier to speak in absolutes than to discuss nuance. You either want to win right now, or you don’t care about winning right now at all. Only that’s not really the case. Thibs was hoping for an upgraded roster ahead of this season, but when no free agent prizes came along, he didn’t grumble. He went to work with what he had.

[Thibs] pleaded for Rose to offer long-term deals to free agents such as Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris and Bogdan Bogdanovic. He wanted to trade for Derrick Rose, a longtime favorite of his. He thought RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson could potentially be flipped for seasoned veterans. Initially, he was hardly sold on Julius Randle, according to a colleague.

The article even quotes a former colleague of Thibs as saying that “there’s no rebuilding or long term with Thibs.”

Luckily, the Knicks have Aller, who pushed for Rose to sign guys like Austin Rivers and Alec Burks to one-year deals rather than overpay a big name free agent or two. That way, the Knicks would have flexibility for potential trades down the road while maintaining future salary cap space.

Despite Thibodeau’s pleas, the Knicks left most of their cap space unused. They signed Rivers and Burks and Nerlens Noel to one-year deals. They didn’t give out long-term contracts or trade away any young players or chase the aging Russell Westbrook after he requested a trade. They took veteran big man Ed Davis from the Timberwolves, flipped him to the Utah Jazz — and received one future second-round pick on the front end and two on the back. Rose handed Thibodeau a roster that entering the season was $8 million below the league’s salary floor, believing that his longtime friend could mold it into a group that competed every game.

Everything Isn’t Always Hunky Dory Amongst The Front Office. Which Is Okay.

The Knicks have started the season with promise, but that doesn’t mean the front office is always on the same page. Rather, as discussed a bit throughout this writeup, the Rose regime sometimes disagrees on exactly what they should do.

At times, meetings with Thibodeau and Aller grew heated. Thibodeau would even mock Aller and call him “Hinkie” (a reference to Sam Hinkie, architect of the Philadelphia 76ers “Process”). Some around the team found this tussling strange. It’s one thing for a group that’s been together for years to debate the organization’s direction; it’s another to have this kind of philosophical disagreement among new hires brought in by a team president, who, in theory, during interviews would have shared his plan.

Leon’s communication isn’t always great,” a second person with close Knicks ties said. “He can be hands-off.”

Is this something to be worried about? Sure, if losses and stories of discontent begin to pile up like dishes in the sink. But at the moment, the front office has figured out a way to work. Even though they don’t talk to the press, it doesn’t feel like the front office is ghosting us. It’s more like Thibs is the representative who speaks for the franchise.

The second half of the season starts Thursday, and it’s going to be an uphill battle to remain in the playoffs. But the Knicks are off to their best start in eight years, currently own nine first round picks over the next seven years, and could have $60 million in cap space this summer. The future may be bright indeed.