Knicks president Leon Rose calls season 'disappointing'
The plans clearly didn’t work on the court, but Knicks president Leon Rose finally surfaced Sunday evening with an interview with the team’s network to explain some of the problems — and the direction forward.
Rose, speaking with MSG Networks’ Mike Breen, expressed confidence in the two award-winners from last season — Julius Randle and coach Tom Thibodeau — but said the season, which came to an end Sunday with a 105-94 win over a playoff-bound Toronto Raptors squad resting its stars, was a disappointment.
“I feel as though it’s been a disappointing season from the standpoint of wins and losses,” Rose said. “We’ll take a good, hard look at it after the season in evaluating everybody. The first year things clicked. This year from the beginning, things didn’t click. We faced adversity. We had some tough stretches.”
The Knicks certainly have had tough stretches with few bright spots. Rose and the front office remade the team after last season’s 41-31 record and playoff appearance, adding two new starters in free agents Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker, and saw the team fall to 37-45.
There were small victories for the team to cling to in the end: a career-high 42-point night from Obi Toppin and career highs of 34 points and 12 assists along with 10 rebounds for Immanuel Quickley.
Toppin scored 77 points in the last two games, hitting six three-pointers in each, and averaged 27.2 points in the final five. Quickley averaged 20.8 points and 9.3 assists in the last four games.
While everything seemed to work right last season, with the team avoiding injuries and COVID stoppages, they were hit with COVID absences from nearly every player on the roster this season. The loss of Derrick Rose in mid-December undoubtedly had a huge effect on the team’s struggles. Then they ended the season with Randle sitting out the final five games, Mitchell Robinson sidelined for the final three and RJ Barrett suffering a sprained knee Friday.
The Knicks were 22-21 in mid-January and went 12-7 in their final 19 games, but in between, a 3-17 streak killed their season.
Rose has not spoken since a media session before the start of training camp — no different from last season. His second-in-command, William Wesley, has not spoken at all, and general manager Scott Perry also has been kept from the microphone. So this was the first words from the front office on the fate of Thibodeau, who sources indicated was blamed by Wesley earlier this season for the struggles of the roster the front office put together.
“I mean, Thibs, as far as Thibs’ performance goes, I mean, again, he’s one of the best coaches in the NBA,” Rose said. “So obviously none of us are happy with the results this year. But he’s a guy who prepares our team better than anybody. I feel that he’s done a good job under the circumstances.”
Rose also backed up Randle, who not only endured a drop-off in performance but exhibited odd body language and drew the ire of the home crowd.
Rose said Randle has said to him that he wants to be back. Randle also told the media that before shutting down his season.
“You know, look, Julius is a passionate player,” Rose said. “He’s a person who, last year, everything went right. This year things didn’t go right. He still wound up one of three players to average 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists [Randle actually averaged 20.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 5.1 assists], one of three players in the entire NBA [Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic are the other two].
“Things happened on the court,’’ Rose said. “We saw some emotion coming out, saw some things happening. I think it affected his play at times. He felt remorseful for some of those things, as he expressed to the fans in his letter he sent. He kept working and worked through it to the end of the season.
“It was just not comfortable at times. It was just not being comfortable. He gave it his best effort. The three-point shot just didn’t go like last year and you had teams keying on him more this year. At the end, he made some adjustments. He carried the burden. I was proud of the fact he did fight through it.”
When Breen asked if the long-term plan still is working, Rose expressed confidence.
“Yes. Absolutely. We have to stick to the plan,” he said. “We have to build one block at a time, be patient. We feel like we’re set up, you know, really well as far as like, we’ve got 13 draft picks over the next three drafts, four first-round picks. With regard to opportunities that may come along, we’re very flexible. We want to show patience, we want to show prudence in making those decisions and continuing to develop what we have.”