It was a minor move when the Knicks decided to waive Allonzo Trier Friday, but one worth noting if only for the hint that it might provide to what the new management team has planned for the franchise.
Leon Rose has said little since taking over as team president, opening up for the first time publicly this week when he spoke with Mike Breen on the team’s network. He never sat down to answer questions when he was named or when the season was suspended. He didn’t speak to the media when he hired his longtime friend and ally William Wesley as an Executive Vice President — Senior Basketball Advisor.
So we look for hints. And in the parting with Trier there are plenty of crumbs to follow.
Trier was an undrafted free agent when the prior front office grabbed him on draft night, signing him to a two-way contract. It took just two months into the rookie season for the Knicks to convert him to a full NBA contract, giving him a second year on the deal. And former head coach David Fizdale even had him in the starting lineup on opening night this season.
But Steve Mills is gone and so is Fizdale, and now Trier has followed them out the door unceremoniously released to make room for Theo Pinson, another undrafted free agent trying to find his way in the league.
Trier had talent. He scored 15 points in his first NBA game and had a career-high 31 points later that rookie season. But he also drew critiques from talent evaluators for a lackadaisical defensive effort, an unwillingness to play his role on offense and even an attitude some in the organization found grating. The Iso-Zo nickname was one he embraced at first, then tried to shed and now will carry somewhere else. So consider what Rose said he sought during his time as an agent when looking for a client.
“The talent obviously is always of paramount importance,” Rose said. “Beyond the talent, we’re looking at the character. We’re looking at who the person is and we’re looking at how the fit is. One of the things I always believed as an agent was I represented the client and the client represented me. Decisions were made based on that with who we got involved with.”
So does that portend a return to what Knicks fans would recall as the glory days at Madison Square Garden when the Knicks played team ball and focused on defense in winning two titles 50 years ago? Or even the hard-nosed teams that Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy helmed in the ’90s?
Rose has a long way to go and cutting ties with a little-used player who was heading into free agency isn’t exactly the proof that times have changed. But it’s a start.
The bigger questions now will be what type of players he brings on board and most important what coach is selected to guide them. Tom Thibodeau would certainly provide a throwback to better days and a proven focus on defense and hard work.
In the bubble
The NBA commissioner Adam Silver has tried to formulate a strategy for a return to play that provides the best chance of not just restarting the NBA season, but finishing it without an outbreak of COVID-19. However, Silver has been clear that there are no sure things with the virus. The league announced Friday that 16 players tested positive as they arrived at team practice facilities to begin workouts before departing for Florida in mid-July.
It’s one thing for the executives to form a theory on how it could work, but another to actually be one of the players placed in the “bubble” at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando. On a conference call Friday some of the players in union leadership roles reflected that uncertainty, but also the role that they can play.
“I think it’s sort of like what Adam said in that we don’t really know,” said Oklahoma City point guard and NBPA president Chris Paul. “Like everything that’s happening right now is — it takes time, right. We never pictured ourselves playing in a situation like this, and I almost think from the day after the league kind of shut down and stopped, we didn’t know. We didn’t know that when the situation happened in our game against Utah that that was going to bring everything to a halt, to a stop, but I think the communication and just everybody talking about it. So I think that’s what will happen in this situation.
"Like we’re so lucky to have so many players who are aware and conscious and know what’s going on and aware of everything that’s going on. So I think given any scenario, we would do as we do in any situation; we would talk about it and see what it looks like.”
Andre Iguodala, who joined the Miami Heat this season before the shutdown, added, “And I think, to piggyback off what Chris said, we have a great group of players who are well-informed, who have been doing homework on the whole situation all the way through the scope of the landscape of the environment that we’re in from the COVID to the social injustices, and the players have done a great job of just voicing themselves and using their platforms to be more well-informed.
“So this is a continuation through the process of each and every day we learn something new and we try to implement more safety precautions, and we understand the risks that are involved. But everyone is making some type of sacrifice. A lot of people in America don’t have jobs right now, and we have the opportunity to be a beacon of light, not just for that one particular thing but the social injustices.
"We’re going to shed light on that, people being away from their families, understanding that sacrifice, but just the greater good of everything that our players stand for, including the game of basketball, and the future of the game of basketball and the future relationship between the players and governorship going into the future negotiations. And all this is a way for us to continue to strengthen the partnership between the players and the league office.”