Leon Rose’s Knicks project working, but he’s had help



The Knicks are a .500 team. Leon Rose can take a bow as his anniversary as team president approaches. But Scott Perry could take some credit too — if he were here.

One of the benefits of attending games at the Garden in person and not watching on television is getting a view of the Knicks executives in attendance.

With fans now in the building, and making another ruckus Saturday, president Rose and his cabinet members have moved from celebrity row to behind the baseline.

Saturday, they watched their club vault to 17-17 with a gritty 110-107 victory over the Pacers — a comeback from 16 points to cap a delicious 3-1 home stand.

“It was funky but we just scratched it out,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said.

Perry, the Knicks’ general manager, hasn’t been seen during the four-game homestand. The seating chart: Rose, executive VP and senior advisor William Wesley, strategy director Brock Aller and VP of player leadership and development Allan Houston.

Perry, in the final year of his contract, was said to be on a G-League scouting mission. But in the pre-Rose days, Perry never missed a game — home or away.

Even if Perry isn’t present, he is starting to gain credit for the Knicks’ relevance.

Leon Rose and Scott Perry sit in the stands in March 2020.
Leon Rose and Scott Perry
NBAE via Getty Images

Indeed, Rose was dealt a better hand than could have been expected when he took over one year ago Monday. Usually when a president is fired — as Steve Mills was 12 months ago — it’s because the present is bleak and the future is bleaker.

But Mills and Perry, who stayed on, gave Rose plenty of ammunition to keep the project moving forward.

In his tenure so far, Rose hasn’t lured in a top free-agent star from his vast connections. Nor has he executed a blockbuster trade for a stud. Free agency was quiet.

Rose explored moving Julius Randle during the long offseason to upgrade with a star-level player. Instead, Randle became that star. He has had a terrific first 34 games, and Saturday he outplayed Domantas Sabonis.

Rose did the right thing in not trading Randle. Named an All-Star last week for the first time, Randle is a future piece to build around. Saturday night, he racked up another 28 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and several loud “MVP’’ chants that are becoming routine.

RJ Barrett, for whom Perry stuck to his guns to draft at No. 3 in 2019, aided Randle with 24 points, even hearing his first “MVP’’ chants. “For 2,000 people, they’re really loud,’’ Barrett said.

Rose thought he was a drafting a player who would soon supplant Randle as a starter when he used his 2020 lottery pick on power forward Obi Toppin, instead of a much-needed point guard.

Toppin’s rookie year can be summed up this way: He’s a good dunker, good enough to earn a Slam Dunk competition appearance. But that’s where it ends. Toppin, who has not been nearly as productive as anticipated, won’t be named to the Rising Stars Challenge roster.

Toppin even got benched Saturday for Kevin Knox as the small-ball power forward in the first half after Taj Gibson sprained his ankle. Toppin played just six minutes.

Rookie point guard Tyrese Haliburton, taken 12th and shining with the Kings, wasn’t high on Rose’s board when he picked Toppin.

Fortunately, Rose got another crack in the 2020 draft, because Perry had traded Marcus Morris 12 months ago to the Clippers for a late first-round pick. To his credit, Rose had vast Kentucky intel to make him comfortable grabbing Immanuel Quickley, when most teams had him slotted lower.

Hiring Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne proved valuable. Rose and Wesley, widely reported to be well-connected to John Calipari and his program, deserve kudos for the Quickley pick.

But the best move Rose made, due to past connections, was luring Thibodeau as coach in late July. Yes, Rose got lucky on that front because of the way commissioner Adam Silver constructed the restarting of the season in the bubble, choosing 22 of 30 teams. The Knicks were one of those left out.

A number of coaching vacancies popped up after teams got eliminated in late August. When the Knicks conducted their long search, however, they had no competition.

Sources indicated at the time Thibodeau preferred to have choices. Whether he would have taken the Knicks’ offer over another team’s, we shall never know. Thibodeau decided not to wait for another job because of his trust in Rose.

Thibodeau’s defense is top-ranked and the Knicks are doing all that with mostly Mills and Perry players. Coaching and culture does make a difference.

One of Rose’s few additions was a trade for point guard Derrick Rose, but that was more the president acquiescing to his head coach’s wishes. In a great stat, Thibodeau’s winning percentage with Rose on the roster is 63 percent. Without Rose, it’s 46 percent. Rose notched four steals Saturday.

One NBA source said regarding the new administration’s decision-making, “At the end of the day, it’s about what Thibs wants.’’

Knicks supporters are thrilled at the progress with the bar set so low. The 6,000 fans who have rolled through Garden turnstiles in the first three crowd-permitted games have been boisterous.

The fans like this team. They like this coach. And they like an Eastern Conference without depth. The Knicks are now tied for fourth place with the Raptors.

Leon Rose has been the strong, silent type so far. He hasn’t addressed the media in seven months. Nearing his one-year anniversary, Lucky Leon has gotten away with it because his Knicks are doing their talking on the court.


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