James Dolan gives Knicks' Leon Rose vote of confidence
Leon Rose and James Dolan very rarely speak out publicly, but in an interview on WFAN radio Friday afternoon, Dolan, the Madison Square Garden chairman and CEO, expressed faith in Rose’s performance and future as the president of the Knicks.
Dolan put Rose, a longtime player agent, in place on March 2, 2020. The results have been mixed, but speaking on the Carton and Roberts Show, Dolan stressed his trust in Rose to get the job done.
“Yes. Absolutely,” he said. “I was just talking to Leon. Why did I bring Leon on? I’ve been doing this now for 20-something years. In my experience with the NBA, there’s things you can do as an owner. You can create an environment where you give them enough money to do their job. Give them more money than they need to do their job. You can stay out of the way, which is usually the best course of action.
“But you do end up picking the one guy who’s going to make all the strategy, who’s going to execute for you. And I picked Leon because I believe after you look at the NBA and the game that we play, that the team with the best talent wins. Then you want a guy who gets you the best talent, and I believe that Leon Rose is still the best guy.”
Rose, the former co-head of CAA Sports’ basketball division, came with no front-office experience but with contacts, connections and relationships with many of the biggest stars in the NBA. Those ties were expected to pay off with a roster makeover.
Rose’s biggest moves have been putting Tom Thibodeau in place as head coach and signing Jalen Brunson this past summer as a free agent. The Brunson signing raised those connections to a new level — Brunson’s father, Rick, was Rose’s first client in the NBA and the two families have remained close.
There have been misses, too. The Knicks failed to swing an expected trade for Donovan Mitchell, who had hoped to return to his hometown to play. Though they have found talent later in the first round of the draft, the lone lottery pick, Obi Toppin, has yet to live up to that spot, and the other free-agent signings have struggled. The Knicks needed to attach assets to unload the contracts of Nerlens Noel, Kemba Walker and Alec Burks after this front office signed them. The team currently has Evan Fournier, Derrick Rose and Cam Reddish, who was acquired for a conditional first-round pick last season, out of the rotation and on the trading block.
Dolan admitted that earlier in his tenure, he might have stepped in to push for the Mitchell deal to be completed, but even though he meets after most home games with Thibodeau and members of the front office, he said he has backed off from interfering.
“I didn’t. Not in the last 10 years,” he said. “My attitude has changed . . . You really got to leave a lot of this strategy to the guys who have dedicated their lives and their careers to that.”
Asked if it was hard to do that, he said: “My deal with Leon and with Thibs is I get to speak. Their deal is they don’t have to listen to me.”
Dolan said there is less of a timetable on a championship for the Knicks than an interest in progress, although he noted that barring some major injury, he expects them to be in the playoffs this season. But since taking over, he has gone through 24 seasons without a title and with only one playoff series victory, something he could not have imagined.
“Every owner goes into the season believing they have a shot, like I’ve done for 24 seasons,” Dolan said. “But even this season, in my mind, I could see the team developing. But it would require some players to make huge jumps in their skill levels and how they’re playing, and that’s probably unrealistic. But also there’s trades. I always think we have a shot. I think we still have a shot now. I think our expectation should be that the team makes the playoffs.
“It’s really about did we get better? Did we build enough this season and in the offseason we can make a move or two and get even better and even closer.”