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The Knicks’ eternal search for a savior has led them to Leon Rose

The next savior of the New York Knicks is always just around the corner. No matter how poorly the franchise is positioned in any given moment, the Knicks have a singular ability to push some harebrained scheme that will finally and mercifully save the organization from itself.

Leon Rose, a super agent with CAA, now carries the weight of the label as the team’s new president. Rose replaces Steve Mills, who was fired on Tuesday after serving as the Knicks’ top front office official since the departure of Phil Jackson in 2017. While the timing of Mills’ departure was odd coming just two days before the NBA trade deadline, few Knicks fans are going to upset about the news: Since Mills took on a prominent role in the front office in 2013, the Knicks haven’t made a playoff appearance and boast the NBA’s worst winning percentage at 32.8 percent.

The Knicks’ dream candidate was reportedly Masai Ujiri, present of the reigning champion Toronto Raptors. Ujiri earned the Knicks respect by ripping them in trades for Carmelo Anthony and Andrea Bargnani, but he was still under contract with the Raptors through next season. The Knicks needed another sparkling option that could promise a quick fix, and that’s what led them to Rose.

Rose is a classic Knicks hire in every way. The Knicks had deep connections to CAA throughout the last decade, with allegations persisting for years that the agency was something of a shadow runner for the franchise. While Rose is one of the most connected men in the sport, he has no front office experience.

With every new season, a different Knicks savior is promised. This is New York’s history with CAA and all the previous saviors that have failed to rescue them in the recent past.

The Knicks have a long history with CAA

Before Phil Jackson was hired as Knicks president in 2014, CAA was deeply embedded throughout the organization. Jackson vowed to clean up the connections between the agency and the franchise that threatened to compromise the Knicks’ decision making for years.

CAA represented Carmelo Anthony, who the Knicks traded for ahead of free agency and later re-signed to a max extension. CAA represented J.R. Smith, who became Sixth Man of the Year with the Knicks. CAA also represented his brother Chris Smith, who worked his way onto the Knicks despite lacking the qualifications to hold down an NBA roster spot. There were rumors that former Knicks coach Mike Woodson changed agencies to CAA in 2012 to keep his job. Former assistant general manager (and currently Knicks G League GM) Allan Houston and player personnel director Mark Warkentien were also represented by CAA.

In a 2014 ESPN story, one Knicks player told reporter Chris Broussard the franchise was playing favorites to CAA clients.

”You see how guys from CAA are treated differently,” the player said. “How they get away with saying certain things to coaches. How coaches talk to them differently than they talk to the other guys. It’s a problem.”

The Knicks’ connections to CAA had been mostly dormant ever since — until now.

There’s always someone who is supposed to save the Knicks

You might remember that the Knicks were at the center of league-wide speculation this time last year. New York made the biggest move of the trade deadline when it dealt Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks for young players and draft picks. The move was mostly made to open up two max salary cap slots in free agency, which were supposed to go to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Durant and Irving did go to New York, but not the Knicks. The Nets signed both players, sending the Knicks into another spiral and onto their next hunt for a savior. Here are some of the other people who have been promised as Knicks saviors.

  • LeBron James. New York traded Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph in 2008 to open up cap space for a run at James that was a season and a half away. The Knicks then gave up Jordan Hill, their recent lottery pick, to get Tracy McGrady’s expiring deal off the books before 2010.
  • Carmelo Anthony. After the Knicks struck out on James in the summer of 2010, they signed Amar’e Stoudemire — and only Stoudemire — with their cap space. Anthony became the franchise’s next target as he neared the end of his contract with Denver. The Knicks would swing a massive deal with Masai Ujiri’s Nuggets to get Anthony, who spent 6.5 seasons with the Knicks where he would lead them to three playoff appearances and one playoff series victory before he was eventually run out of town by …
  • Phil Jackson. The Knicks had been after Jackson for 15 years in some capacity when he finally agreed to become team president in 2014. His three-year stint with the franchise was an outright disaster, marred by a public feud with Anthony to waive his no-trade clause and growing tensions with Kristaps Porzginis, whose selection in the 2015 draft marked Jackson’s biggest success.

The Knicks’ hunt for a savior goes all the way back to Michael Jordan in 1996. The one constant since is Dolan, who became the team’s controlling owner in 1999. Even when Dolan gets his man, in the cases of Jackson and Anthony, something goes awry. This has been the story of the Knicks for the last two decades.

Why did the Knicks turn to Rose now?

The Knicks were reportedly intrigued by the idea of a front office helmed by a player agent after the Lakers and Warriors had success with similar models led by Rob Pelinka and Bob Myers, respectively.

Rose still has a huge client list throughout the NBA. Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, and Joel Embiid are among the top players under the CAA umbrella. The Knicks are hoping to leverage Rose’s connections into landing the types of superstars in free agency who have eluded them in the recent past.

One thing is for sure: the Knicks can never just make a normal hire and build organically. There’s always a free agent coup off in the distance, or another quick-fix plan that will magically solve all of the franchise’s problems. New York’s appeal as a free-agent destination is just too strong, even if it’s been purely hypothetical for far too long.

Perhaps Rose will finally be able to land the Knicks the superstar free agents they desire. Few men in the NBA are as connected or respected. This just seems like such a typical Knicks scheme in every way. We know how those usually end.

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