Can New Knicks Boss Make 'Sell the Team' Chants Disappear for James Dolan?

Yaron Weitzman@YaronWeitzmanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 7, 2020

James Dolan (pictured) reportedly plans to hire player agent Leon Rose as the New York Knicks' president of basketball operations.
James Dolan (pictured) reportedly plans to hire player agent Leon Rose as the New York Knicks' president of basketball operations.Associated Press

Time in Knicks-land is a bit of a flat circle. It can be hard to pinpoint the exact origin of any decision. But in the case of this latest upheaval, let's go back to last year's Kristaps Porzingis trade.

There's no need to relitigate the details of the deal. What matters is that the Knicks had a 23-year-old All-Star. They then traded him. They insisted they did so for a number of reasons. Among them was so they could clear cap space to chase A-list free agents like Kevin Durant, who they believed were yearning to don orange and blue.

"New York is the mecca of basketball," Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan told ESPN New York last March. "We hear from people, from players, from representatives about who wants to come."

"We have created a tremendous amount of financial flexibility, which has put us in a position to potentially sign up to two max free agents," now-former Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry wrote in a letter to season ticket holders a month later.

Everything Mills and Perry had built in their nearly two seasons together at the helm had led to that summer. The organization even sought help from an outsider. Steve Stoute, a marketing guru/media mogul/entrepreneur/[insert vague title here] known to have connections to many NBA players, was brought in to help prepare the Knicks' free-agency presentations, according to sources.  

You know the end of this story. The meetings never occurred. On June 30, Durant announced he'd be heading to Brooklyn. Kyrie Irving joined him. The Knicks were left with Julius Randle, Bobby Portis and Taj Gibson.

Seven months later, they once again find themselves, at 16-36, in the NBA cellar. Their head coach has been fired. Mills and Perry have been forced to hold hostage-style press conferences. Frustrated Knicks fans filling out Madison Square Garden have serenaded Dolan with chants of "sell the team," most loudly during last week's 21-point loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

Sources tell Bleacher Report that Knicks GM Scott Perry, left, and Steve Mills, right, didn't actually butt heads over the Marcus Morris trade, despite reports pointing to that as the reason for Mills' dismissal earlier this week.
Sources tell Bleacher Report that Knicks GM Scott Perry, left, and Steve Mills, right, didn't actually butt heads over the Marcus Morris trade, despite reports pointing to that as the reason for Mills' dismissal earlier this week.Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

But why remove Mills 48 hours before the trade deadline? 

Reports that Mills and Perry butted heads over whether to trade Marcus Morris Sr. don't completely track, according to sources. So what really sparked it? 

Maybe it doesn't matter. Focusing on Mills distracts from who's really accountable. 

"We are actively looking for a new President of the New York Knicks and hope to conclude the search as quickly as possible," Dolan said in a strange statement Thursday night, hours after the news of the plans to hire Rose broke. The key, though, was in the line that followed: "I am not selling, but I am determined to find the right leader for the Knicks who will ensure the long-term success of the team."

At no point over the previous few days had the notion of Dolan selling the team been mentioned. Why bring it up in the statement? You can probably connect the dots. 

All of which leads the Knicks into a familiar place. Out with the old saviors, in with the new. Perry was elevated to president of basketball operations on an interim status, but it's hard to envision Rose coming in and not hiring his own staff. The question now is whether Rose can succeed where so many before him have failed. 

The cynical view here is easy.

Rose is a respected player agent. His greatest attribute, it would seem, would be his connections to stars. The Knicks like stars. Chasing them is sort of their thing. Hiring Rose, in other words, is no different than nearly every other move Dolan has made in the last decade-plus. It's the Knicks' latest attempt to skip the part where you build the foundation up and go straight to recruiting big names.

It hasn't worked in the past. Why would it work now?

That narrative isn't completely fair.

"He knows basketball" was how multiple front-office people from different backgrounds described Rose in conversations Thursday after the news was announced. He was described as smart and organized, as a person with strong people skills who had hired and helped build a powerhouse, most recently at CAA. And, perhaps most importantly for the Knicks, as the rare recruiter who could indeed make a difference. (Especially, it was pointed out, if he indeed brings in William "World Wide Wes" Wesley, as SNY's Ian Begley reported he might. "He gets them a meeting with anyone," one rival executive said.)

But running the Knicks is a different beast. There's a reason there's been so much failure and disorder over the past 20 years. There are systems in place and distorted priorities. Decisions are not made under the guise of "Will this make the Knicks a better basketball team?" and most around the NBA are dubious that Rose will be given the power to operate free of disruption, unlike those who have come before him.

There's always a new whisperer in Dolan's ear. The latest could very well be Stoute, who, according to Bloomberg, was recently hired as a special advisor with the task of rebranding the Knicks. 

On Thursday, about an hour before the trade deadline, the Knicks made a deal. They sent Morris, a sharpshooting forward, to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Maurice Harkless, a 2020 first-round pick, the right to swap picks in 2021, a 2021 second-round pick and the rights to a 20-year-old Ukranian player named Issuf Sanon.

It was a savvy deal. Morris was signed over the summer to a one-year contract. He's 30 years old, and he'll be a free agent this summer. Turning him into draft capital was smart. The Knicks now have seven first round picks over the next four years. Four of those will come in the next two years. It's a nice war chest, one Rose should be excited to inherit.

The question is whether he'll be the one who gets to decide how to use it. 


Yaron Weitzman covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. His new book, TANKING TO THE TOP: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports, will be released in March and is available for preorder here. Follow Yaron on Twitter: @YaronWeitzman.

Chris Mannix from NBC Sports Boston and FS1 joins “The Full 48 with Howard Beck” to discuss trade deadline winners (Minnesota and the Clippers), the Houston Rockets, the Joel Embiid-Ben Simmons partnership, the perplexing Andre Drummond trade, Isaiah Thomas’ career prospects, and the on-going disaster that is the New York Knicks.