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Players believe Leon Rose will turn Knicks around — slowly but surely

Knicks guard RJ Barrett dribbles the ball up

Knicks guard RJ Barrett dribbles the ball up court against the Orlando Magic in the first half of an NBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

CHICAGO — One by one the stars filed into the Wintrust Arena Saturday morning, first the contestants in the All-Star Saturday Night events and then the players who were going to be in the spotlight for Sunday night’s All-Star Game.

And there was not a Knicks player among them, the team’s lone representative for the weekend, RJ Barrett, who had played Friday in the Rising Stars Challenge, was already readying for a flight to warmer climates.

But that didn’t mean that the Knicks were not on the minds of some of the players, who had strong opinions about the team’s struggles and about the way they believe things can finally turn by putting the team in the hands of Leon Rose.

Rose, the longtime agent, has not officially been named as team president as he continues to unwind his client list. So he isn’t to blame for the struggles of the past — and maybe not for what Nets’ guard Spencer Dinwiddie noted is likely to be more pain to come.

“I’ve said this before. We’ll never take over the Knicks,” said Dinwiddie, who was competing in the Skills Competition Saturday night. “That’s not going to happen. They’re too entrenched in what it means. Madison Square Garden, Rucker Park, that type of vibe. 

“But in terms of being a better basketball team, that happened a minute ago. That’s not new. We’re a better basketball team than the Knicks. We were last year. Probably will be next year. It's kind of what it is. So I know Knicks fans are going to get mad, but that is the truth.”

Asked if the Knicks might be able to turn it around next season, Dinwiddie smiled.

“You want a real answer?” he asked. “Probably not. They’ll probably have a high draft pick. Unless they do something via trade or via free agency, which I don’t know if this free agency class is that spectacular, they’re probably not going to be that good. We’ll see. I can’t tell the future. But more than likely, I mean Kevin Durant is coming back [for the Nets]. And he’s Kevin Durant. He’s really good.”

The Knicks already have changed coaches this season — and likely will again in the offseason, a notion that was revealed by Steve Stoute, a special adviser to the team this week. Now Rose is expected to be named shortly as the replacement for Steve Mills as team president, starting in motion more change with a league source indicating that general manager Scott Perry will be replaced, too, along with many of the front office executives who arrived with him three years ago.

Some of the players who have utilized Rose as an agent believe that their loss will be the Knicks' gain. But the connections only count if the Knicks can use them to bring talent back to the Garden.

“I think he’ll do unbelievable,” Devin Booker said. “One of the most genuine guys I know. One of the most honest guys I know. So I’m happy for him in his new position. I think the Knicks are in really good hands.

“It’s a new challenge. And like I said, he’s willing to take it on. I think he’s going to do an unbelievable job.”

“Leon is my guy,” Joel Embiid said. “He’s like family to me. When I heard the news I was happy for him. He’s cool. Being an agent for such a long time and getting a GM or president job I think is amazing. I’m so happy for him. I’m sure he’ll do a good job over there.”

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