Three Things to Know: Is Leon Rose the guy who can turn the Knicks culture around?
Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Will following the Warriors’, Lakers’ paths turn around the Knicks? The Knicks tried the superstar player route (Isiah Thomas). They tried the superstar coach route (Phil Jackson). They tried the company man route (Steve Mills). None of those have turned around the fortunes of James Dolan’s floundering Knicks. Instead, it has led to fans chanting “sell the team” at Dolan during a recent game (something that apparently got under his skin, WAY under his skin).
The Knicks also tried the smart, trusted, experienced NBA executive route (Donnie Walsh) and the team got out of its salary cap mess and made the playoffs. Then Dolan fired him.
With the Knicks’ top basketball job open, again, there was a lot of interest in another trusted executive, Masai Ujiri of Toronto. However, to pry him out of a comfortable spot north of the border would have required months of a delicate dance, with no promise of success on the other side. Dolan wasn’t going to be that patient, so he went with another power broker, this time following the path of the Warriors (Bob Myers) and Lakers (Rob Pelinka) in hiring a powerful agent. The Knick are going to hire CAA’s Leon Rose to run basketball operations (the official hiring will take some time because Rose has to divest from his lengthy list of clients first).
The real question Knicks fans want to be answered is simple: Can superagent Leon Rose — with William “World Wide Wes” Wesley by his side — be the guy that turns Knicks’ culture and organization around?
The answer is not that simple.
How we got here is interesting (and a matter of speculation). There was a split in the front office heading into the trade deadline, according to Ian Bagley of SNY.TV: The side that wanted to trade Marcus Morris for picks/young players to go with R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson, the side that wanted to build patiently. Then there was the side that wanted to trade Morris for a player or players who could help the team win more now, hence the rumors about the Knicks being in talks with the Warriors about D’Angelo Russell.
The slow build side won out, which is the smart choice. The Knicks now have seven first-round picks in the next four years. If there’s good scouting in place, if the Knicks get a little luck with the lottery ping-pong balls, this is a path to success down the line. Picture the Lakers, who got lottery luck (three No. 2 picks), then developed those players (how well is up for debate), which built a base where LeBron James believed he could come and win. Next, some of those young players were traded to become Anthony Davis, and the Lakers were contenders. A different version of the same model happened over in Brooklyn, where a culture was built, young players were developed into a team that made the playoffs last season, and that became a place stars such as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant wanted to play.
In both cases, a foundation was built that could be turned into superstars. The Knicks remain one of the handful of franchises that can recruit and win a race for a superstar free agent. Rose (and Wesley) are the kinds of power brokers players will listen to, guys who can get meetings with the franchise-changing free agents and convince them to come to play in the Garden.
But first, a culture change needed to happen, and then a foundation of talent needed to be built up. The Nets and Clippers did that work. For the Knicks it will require patience, smart hires on the basketball side, good drafts, hard work, and a little bit of luck.
Are Leon Rose and William “World Wide Wes” Wesley up for the task? Maybe. Sometimes hiring an agent works (Myers), sometimes it doesn’t (Lon Babby in Phoenix). If James Dolan doesn’t want to do the long dance to land an experienced star executive (Ujiri, OKC’s Sam Presti, Houston’s Daryl Morey, etc.), then this is a good hire. Rose is smart and driven and could succeed in this role
But my gut reaction is, “James Dolan still owns the team.”
2) Small-ball Rockets beat Lakers behind 41 points from Russell Westbrook. If you’re a Laker fan, on the day you watched your team stand pat while your rivals — and yes, the Clippers are now rivals, not little brothers — get better by adding Marcus Morris, this Tweet is all you care about from Thursday night.
As long as he comes out of retirement, the Lakers are going to land Collison and that’s a quality addition. The Lakers can get some small wins on the buyout market, too.
However, it was small ball that won on the court Thursday night. Houston beat the Lakers 121-111.
At the trade deadline, the Rockets sent out Clint Capela, got Robert Covington, and went all-in on small ball — if lame-duck coach Mike D’Antoni is going out, he’s going out on his own terms — and for a night in Los Angeles it paid off. Covington had 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting and was a team-best +16 — this is what he does. Covington puts up nice raw numbers, but he defends well and fits in the gaps on offense and at the end of the night the team is just better when he is on the court.
It also helps to have Russell Westbrook go off for 41 points.
By the way, it’s our loss that LeBron James never entered the Dunk Contest.
3) The rosters for Team LeBron and Team Giannis in the All-Star Game are set. No trades, no fireworks, no surprises this year. Of course, LeBron James selected Anthony Davis first (at least this year it’s not to recruit him). Of course, Giannis Antetokounmpo selected teammate Khris Middleton first among the reserves. There were jokes about James Harden’s willingness to pass and more, but no real fireworks as the sides for All-Star Game were chosen.
Still, this playground-style team choosing by the captains is more fun than East vs. West or USA vs. the World formats. The league found something that worked.
Here are your All-Star teams:
Team LeBron (coached by Frank Vogel)
Team Giannis (coached by Nick Nurse)
The NBA All-Star Game will be played Feb. 16 at the United Center in Chicago. You can catch it on TNT starting at 8 p.m. ET.
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