NEW YORK – The definition of insanity has been described as doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Which brings us to the Knicks, who after appointing Phil Jackson and Steve Mills—basketball operations neophytes—to lead the front office in recent years, have once again gone the unproven executive route: Leon Rose, a longtime player agent, will be named team president, a source familiar with the situation confirmed to SI.com.
Rose could be the next Bob Myers, the ex-agent turned Warriors GM who helped build a dynasty in Golden State. He could be Rob Pelinka, a candidate for Executive of the Year in his second season with the Lakers after leaving the agent ranks. Rose is a tremendous success story, an agent who turned one client, Rick Brunson, into a powerhouse agency, who sold his company to CAA in 2007 and has represented elite players like Allen Iverson, LeBron James and Joel Embiid along the way.
But does anything about this process feel well thought out? On Tuesday, Knicks owner James Dolan fired Mills, his longtime confidant who was leading the Knicks trade deadline efforts right up until he was shown the door. On Thursday, news of Rose’s hire leaked, prompting embattled owner James Dolan to release a two-sentence, awkwardly worded statement denying any deal was done—and, oh, by the way, he had no intention of selling the team.
Within a matter of days the Knicks fired a top exec and hired a new one. Supermarket cashiers aren’t replaced that fast. What was the hurry? Rose wasn’t going to accept a team president position in Sacramento. The Knicks are in (another) transition phase. Would taking a couple of months to do a national search have been problematic?
Early reports this week had Dolan zeroing in on Raptors president Masai Ujiri, and that made a lot of sense. Ujiri has been a favorite of Dolan's for years now. He has watched Ujiri build a winner in Toronto. He has been beaten by Ujiri in trades (Andrea Bargnani, anyone?) along the way. Ujiri has long been intrigued with the Knicks job, and with his contract winding down and the Raptors well positioned for the future, the timing could have been right.
And even if it wasn’t Ujiri, what about someone else? The Knicks are a dysfunctional mess, a national embarrassment … and yet there are top executives, lots of them, that covet the gig. There’s an unshakeable belief among execs that a stable Knicks franchise can quickly become a conference power. That players still want to play in New York, at Madison Square Garden. That the person who brings the Knicks back from the depths will canonized among sports' great executives.
Isn’t it worth seeing if Sam Presti is interested in leaving Oklahoma City? If R.C. Buford is willing to leave San Antonio? If Daryl Morey parts ways with Houston?
Rose could be the right guy. He’s reportedly bringing along William Wesley, World Wide Wes, in an unspecified role. He’s smart enough to understand he needs to build out an experienced staff. Maybe that means retaining Scott Perry, who turned Marcus Morris into a first round pick on Thursday, adding to a growing haul of picks the Knicks have in the coming seasons.
“I think if they allow Leon to surround himself with good people, he will do well,” a longtime NBA executive told SI.com. “GMs in this league really respect Leon. They liked working with Leon. He is always fair. Being in New York, there will be some of his former clients who want to go there. But they have to allow him to put people in place that he trusts. He came from the bottom of the agency industry and worked his way up. He understands the structure of the NBA, of a front office. He gets the day-to-day. He won’t be Phil Jackson—he will be in the office every day doing the job.”
Still—revamping a front office in less time than it takes for an Amazon delivery is a red flag, and the Knicks have not earned the benefit of the doubt. Rose will be faced with key decisions in the coming months, from the long term futures of Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox, to a critical lottery pick in what’s widely viewed as a weak 2020 draft.
Succeed, and the Knicks will look brilliant for tapping the next great mind in the agent ranks.
Fail, and New York will make the same mistake, again.