It’s become wearisome. Everybody has opinions on the Donovan Mitchell trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers and what the New York Knicks did or didn’t do wrong in their failed attempt to acquire the star. All along, we have assumed that team president Leon Rose was leading the negotiations. Now we learn that Don Leon prefers a more hands-off approach. That is alarming.
For weeks, the consensus among the media, Twitter, and backyard barbecues was that the Knicks were a lock to get the three-time All-Star who played his first five seasons for the Utah Jazz. We were told that New York had enough young players and draft picks to outbid any team for Mitchell, a New York native who already owns plenty of orange and blue apparel due to his love for the Mets.
Last week brought the news that the Cavs had eaten New York’s lunch. Despite offering packages that included, at times, RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin, Mitchell Robinson, and/or Immanuel Quickley, plus picks, the Knicks front office could not close the deal.
On Monday, the Boston Globe reported that Knicks team president Leon Rose wasn’t even the point person during negotiations. That responsibility went to a relative newcomer on the Knickerbocker scene, Mr. Gersson Rosas.
Some Rosas history: With Houston from 2003-2013, he rocketed from Personnel Scout / Video Coordinator to Executive VP of Basketball Operations. Before the Brooklyn Nets hired Sean Marks to be their General Manager, the New York Post identified Rosas as a potential candidate. In 2019, Rosas became president of the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he ran a dysfunctional operation.
The Globe states that during his time in the Twin Cities, “rival executives and agents complained about the way he treated people and negotiations.” (Emphasis mine.)
Defenders of Rosas will note that despite his reputation, he helped to coordinate several multi-team trades while with Minnesota. Who can forget this 2020 Draft night doozy that sent Quickley to New York?
As part of a 3-team trade, the Minnesota Timberwolves traded James Johnson, Aleksej Pokusevski and a 2024 2nd round draft pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder; the Minnesota Timberwolves traded Mathias Lessort and a 2023 2nd round draft pick to the New York Knicks; the New York Knicks traded a 2020 1st round draft pick (Leandro Bolmaro was later selected) to the Minnesota Timberwolves; the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Jaden McDaniels and Ricky Rubio to the Minnesota Timberwolves; and the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Immanuel Quickley to the New York Knicks. 2023 2nd-rd pick is DET own. 2024 2nd-rd pick is MIN own. (Basketball-Reference.com)
A consensual romantic office tryst put the final nail in Rosas’s toxic time with the Timberwolves, and Minnesota terminated him in September of 2021. The Knicks scooped Gersson up as a front-office consultant in February 2022.
Neither Leon Rose nor Executive Vice President William “World Wide Wes” Wesley had experience running an NBA club, so it was understandable that they would bring on a seasoned vet to guide them, despite his checkered past.
And being an executive neophyte, perhaps Leon felt outmatched in the Donovan Mitchell negotiations and thus surrendered the reins to Rosas. Besides, Gersson has a history with Jazz general manager, Justin Zanik, who represented Utah in the trade talks.
With the benefit of hindsight, however, it is fair to question Leon’s decision to entrust a blockbuster deal to a subordinate who, if the Globe can be believed, already had a negative reputation as a negotiator.
The same article states that “Rose and Ainge did not speak during the negotiations.” Not once? At all? None of this instills confidence, Leon.
After Cleveland took a big swing, the Jazz did not allow the Knicks an opportunity to counter-offer. We can only speculate as to why…yet perhaps Utah would have been willing to stay at the table with New York if Leon Rose sat across it. And if there were bagels.
On the other hand, the Knicks may have been defeated by hubris. They started the negotiations with packages that included fan favorites like Barrett, Robinson, and Toppin. Everyone was deemed tradable—everybody!—except shooting guard Quentin Grimes.
As time passed, whoever was in charge for New York (Rosas, Rose, or Ricky from accounting) saw that no other team was matching their offers and, with training camp coming soon, the Knicks reduced their bids for Mitchell.
Then, trying to force the issue, New York set a deadline for the Jazz. When that milestone passed without a deal for Mitchell, the Knicks inked Barrett to a four-year, $120 million extension.
Per the Globe, “When the Knicks set the deadline, the Jazz pivoted to the Cavaliers, who had draft picks and young players to offer. Cleveland sent former lottery picks Collin Sexton and Lauri Markkanen, recent first-round pick Ochai Agbaji, three first-round picks, and two pick swaps.”
The generally accepted truth is that the Knicks are better off having not overpaid for Mitchell. No arguments here. New York still has promising young players and draft picks galore, and odds are good that another NBA star will become disgruntled soon. There will be more chances for the Knicks to land their big fish.
When the time for negotiations comes again, however, the team president should oversee them, not a recent hire with a sketchy rep. If Leon Rose isn’t up to the task, give him the boot. Otherwise, we should prepare ourselves for more years of mediocrity, folks.