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'I'm Still in Shock': Nobody Knows Knicks' New Boss Like Carmelo Anthony

Sean Highkin@highkinFeatured ColumnistFebruary 10, 2020

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 01:  (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT)   Carmelo Anthony #00 of the Portland Trail Blazers in action against RJ Barrett #9 of the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on January 01, 2020 in New York City. The Knicks defeated the Trail Blazers 117-93. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

PORTLAND, Ore. — Nearly a decade ago, NBA super-agent Leon Rose helped engineer the trade of one of his biggest clients, Carmelo Anthony, to the New York Knicks. Now, Rose is poised to take over the team as president of basketball operations.

Last week, the Knicks parted ways with longtime executive Steve Mills, and multiple reports indicated the team was close to an agreement with Rose to take over. The deal came together quickly, catching his longest-running clients by just as much surprise as everyone else.

"I'm still in shock," Anthony told Bleacher Report on Sunday night after the Portland Trail Blazers' 115-109 win over the Miami Heat. "I didn't know until this week. There's a lot to figure out and finalize. I'm sure he's going to take [the job], but it's all new."

After Knicks owner James Dolan's long-rumored pursuit of Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri didn't come to fruition, he pulled the trigger on Rose, who has represented some of the biggest stars in the league dating back two decades.

Hiring a high-powered player agent to run basketball operations has worked out well in recent years for the Golden State Warriors (Bob Myers) and Los Angeles Lakers (Rob Pelinka). And few agents in the post-Jordan era of the NBA have had the influence, or client roster, of Rose.

Rose came to prominence in the early 2000s as Allen Iverson's agent, before his independent agency was purchased by the powerhouse Creative Artists Agency in 2007. Eventually, Rose landed a who's who of A-list clients including Anthony and his close friends LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Today, he represents a younger crop of stars including Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker.

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"He had all of us at one time," Anthony said. "Me, Bron, D-Wade, CP, Bosh. He had a bunch of guys. He had the best of the best. And I think people respected that. He never burned bridges. He was always honest with everybody."

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Most famously, Rose represented James, Wade and Bosh in the summer of 2010, when the three teamed up in Miami. Going into that summer, there had been years of heavy speculation that James planned to form his superteam at Madison Square Garden, not in South Beach. The three famously signed shorter extensions on their rookie contracts in 2006, allowing them to hit free agency sooner. Anthony's deal, signed the same offseason, ran a year longer, so he was not a part of those plans.

Anthony hired Rose during the 2009-10 season, shortly before requesting a trade from the Denver Nuggets. At the time, Anthony was determined to play in New York and become the face of the Knicks. It was Rose who maneuvered through talks with the Nuggets on an exit strategy and with the Knicks on a contract extension once the three-team, 13-player deal was ultimately completed at the 2011 trade deadline.

"He played an integral role in everything I was doing then," Anthony said. "The conversations I had with Denver and New York. There was a bunch of stuff going on there that he played a role in. And I think that played a role in [Rose becoming Knicks president]. Mr. Dolan saw what type of guy he is, dealing with him on negotiating. There were bad times and good times. I think he saw what type of person he is."

Anthony played for the Knicks for six more seasons after the 2011 midseason trade, re-signing on a five-year, $124 million deal in the summer of 2014. He was an All-Star in all six of those seasons, winning the NBA's scoring title in 2012-13, the last time the franchise made the playoffs.

His exit from New York stemmed in part from tensions with then-team president Phil Jackson, who took the job in 2014 before stepping down in 2017 after a largely unsuccessful three-year stint. Mills was elevated to team president and hired veteran front-office executive Scott Perry as general manager. 

Later that summer, Anthony waived his no-trade clause to facilitate a trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder, ending his relationship with the Knicks. Still, Anthony has remained enormously popular with fans in New York, where his wife and son still live. He expects that Rose will lean on him as he navigates his new job, as Anthony knows the Knicks organization better than anybody.

"I'm sure he will," Anthony said. "We always talk about that organization anyway. We always talk about the Knicks. He has players there. He has Frank [Ntilikina]. We've always talked about organizational structure. We've had plenty of those types of conversations."

No matter who's been in charge, the Knicks have been among the most dysfunctional organizations in the NBA. Despite playing in the biggest media market in the country, in an iconic arena, the franchise has become a laughingstock around the league. They haven't made the playoffs, or come close to it, since 2013. 

Knicks owner James Dolan, center, is hoping new hire Leon Rose can turn around his franchise's fortunes.
Knicks owner James Dolan, center, is hoping new hire Leon Rose can turn around his franchise's fortunes.Kathy Willens/Associated Press

These days, Knicks games make more headlines when fans chant at Dolan to sell the team than for anything positive that happens on the court. There is no guarantee that Rose's success as an agent will translate to success in the front office.

"I think some of the stuff is very similar," Anthony said. "I think when it comes to building a business and building a brand like New York, you've got to have the right people in place."

That's been one of the biggest questions about the Knicks job. Will Dolan allow Rose to hire and fire whomever he wants in the basketball-operations department? There have been reports that Rose is planning to bring on longtime NBA power broker William "World Wide Wes" Wesley in an undetermined front-office role. 

"That's family," Anthony said of Wesley, who used to represent him with CAA, although he was reluctant to speculate on what the nature of Wesley's eventual role may be in New York.

Restoring the Knicks' standing as a prestigious franchise is a job that many have tried and failed at. But Anthony is optimistic that Rose, his longtime friend and partner, will be up for it.

"I think he's going to do well," Anthony said. "He understands the business. It's a big task, but I think he understands it. As long as you've got the right team and the right people around you and the right support system, I think with his intelligence, he's going to figure it out."

 

Sean Highkin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. He is currently based in Portland. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.