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After months of silence, Knicks president Leon Rose surfaces

Knicks president Leon Rose watches his team play

Knicks president Leon Rose watches his team play the Houston Rockets during the first half at Madison Square Garden on March 2. Credit: Jim McIsaac

On his first official day as president of the Knicks Leon Rose made his way along the sideline of the court at Madison Square Garden, saying hello and shaking hands with media members, a polite introduction in his new role.

And then he went silent, refusing to answer questions about anything. The Knicks were the only NBA team to not make any member of the organization available since March 11, when the season was suspended and Rose had not spoken publicly at all as the questions about the Knicks mounted.

But he finally surfaced in an interview Wednesday on MSG Network, spending a half hour answering questions from Mike Breen on a wide array of topics. And maybe the most important part of it for Knicks fans beaten down by years of mismanagement and mounting losses is just how a longtime powerful agent is making the transition to running the franchise.

He has little opportunity for a learning curve as he already has remade the front office and now must decide on a head coach and what could be a massive roster overhaul. What Rose relayed is that he is admittedly learning the new role and leaning on the team he has assembled around him.

He kept Scott Perry in place as general manager for a year at least and added his longtime confidant William Wesley and assistant general managers Walt Perrin and Frank Zanin. His time around the team was limited to less than two weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the season, costing him the final 16 games of the season to watch the current team and robbing him of a chance to scout prospects in what could be a face-changing draft with three picks in the top 38 spots.

“It was disappointing from the standpoint of, one of my main goals walking in the door was to evaluate the team and the situation in order to make decisions,” Rose said. “Obviously that got sidetracked as a result of the pandemic. I would’ve liked to have that time. But we fully respect the decision of the NBA. The health and safety of the players and everyone involved is paramount in importance. We respect that totally.

“First of all with regard to the draft, that’s a process that goes on all year. Scott and the scouts have been on that all year. With regard to that, we’ve continued with our draft calls. We’ve reviewed a ton of film and we are now currently Zoom interviewing the prospects for the draft. We obviously missed out on an NCAA Tournament. We don’t know what’s going to be for a Combine. We’re going to make the most of it. For a positive light, we have a lot more time. We were preparing as if we were drafting on June 25. Now we have a lot more time to prepare that much more.”

As long as the schedule begins as planned with the 22 teams resuming play starting on July 30, the NBA Draft Lottery will be held Aug. 25 and the NBA Draft will be Oct. 16. Free agency will then begin Oct. 18 at 6 p.m., another key for Rose with the Knicks holding team options on five players (Bobby Portis, Wayne Ellington, Elfrid Payton, Reggie Bullock and Taj Gibson) and two more lined up as free agents (Moe Harkless is unrestricted and  Damyean Dotson is restricted).

“With regard to our current players, I’ve personally watched a lot of film, had a lot of discussions with Scott and with others in order to get up to speed and to be in a position to be able to make the best decisions that I can,” Rose said. “Hopefully we’re going to have the eight teams that aren’t in it, we’re now discussing having OTAs, other team activities that will potentially allow us to get together and get some work in.

“ . . . I think it’s still a little early to [decide how many will return] just because of how much time we have until the draft, until free agency in order to fully evaluate with some of those decisions coming after the draft. Right now, I look at Mitchell Robinson and RJ [Barrett], two young, core pieces. I look forward to working with Kevin [Knox]. I think he’s just starting to scratch the surface. Frank Ntilikina, given the right circumstances I think can really prosper. And Dennis Smith, that’s a special talent right there. We have some solid veterans, Julius [Randle] coming back.”

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