Stan Van Gundy is not only down on the Knicks’ current roster, he’s skeptical that the vaunted connections of Leon Rose and William Wesley can make the team any better.
“The Knicks right now — do you love their roster? Because I don’t. People always say we’ve got talent. Well, hell, it’s the NBA. Every team has talent,” said Van Gundy, the former NBA head coach and executive who is now an analyst for TNT. “But relative to the other teams — do you really look at the Knicks roster this year compared the teams that were in the playoffs and say, wow, our roster is more talented than theirs? I don’t. I don’t think that’s a very talented roster relative to everyone else.”
Indeed, the Knicks, as constructed, are probably the worst in a division with Boston, Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Toronto. But Van Gundy went further down the list and brought up the Washington Wizards, which finished 12th in the East last season (one spot below the Knicks).
“Washington can potentially be out there with Brad Beal, (Kristaps) Porzingis and (Kyle) Kuzma next year,” said Van Gundy, who is calling the Western Conference finals between Golden State and Dallas. “I’d much rather have that than what I see on the Knicks. And that’s a team that didn’t even get in the play-in. So I just don’t think the talent level is high enough right now.”
The Knicks, who own the 11th pick in next month’s draft, are capped out this summer but could create space with trades. Their disappointing 2020-21 campaign was stoked by the regression of Julius Randle, whose max extension kicks in next season.
Much of the chatter around New York’s potential for major upgrades has centered on Jalen Brunson, who is an unrestricted free agent this summer (the Knicks could acquire him from the Mavericks in a sign-and-trade) and Donovan Mitchell, who is reportedly uneasy about his future in Utah and might prefer a relocation to his hometown team in NYC.
Executives Leon Rose and William Wesley had no experience in a front office before being hired by James Dolan to run the Knicks, but their connections as longtime agents and backroom operators were lauded as powerful tools to recruiting stars. Both Brunson and Mitchell, for instance, have a history with Rose.
Van Gundy disagrees with the premise. There had been rumors earlier in Rose’s tenure about attracting former clients Devin Booker, Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid, but those have turned quiet.
“Guys aren’t making decisions like, ‘I want to go play for a certain general manager.’ Or, ‘I want to go play for whatever Wes is there with the Knicks.’ Or even that, ‘I want to go play for a coach,’ ” Van Gundy said. “No. 1 is money. And then — am I going have a chance to win? Who am I playing with? And where do I want to live? ... The fact that Leon Rose has ties to somebody, that’s all well and good. I don’t think that means anything. I don’t mean that as a knock on Leon Rose, or a knock on Wes. I just think that’s the way it is. Players aren’t making decisions for those reasons.”
Reggie Miller, a villain to the Knicks as a player, said the pressure and media scrutiny surrounding the team is a deterrent. It’s a theory seemingly backed by Kevin Durant, who once said he chose the Nets over the Knicks because, “I didn’t want to be the savior of the Knicks or New York.’ I didn’t care about being the King of New York. That never really moved me. I didn’t care about being on Broadway. I just want to play ball and go to the crib and chill. So I felt like that’s what Brooklyn embodied.”
“I’m not sure guys want to play for the Knicks anymore. That’s the problem,” Miller, who is working alongside Van Gundy in the conference finals as a TNT analyst, said Thursday on the network’s media conference call. “Why go through the headache of the New York media? I hate to say that but they don’t have to do that anymore. Then on the flip side, there’s only really one way for the Knicks to go, and that’s up. So if you win in New York, you get a lot of pats on the back. But if you’re mediocre or if you’re losing, that’s a lot of headache for a superstar. I think a lot of these guys are like, I don’t need it. I can go somewhere else and get the same amount of (money) and not the headaches of the media. A lot of players don’t want that.”
The Knicks are still only one year removed from finishing the fourth in the East. Their reasons for optimism include RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin — all players 24 years old or younger — but Van Gundy is confident that the relationships of the front office won’t be a factor moving forward.
“And how they get (to being a good team)? I don’t have an answer,” Van Gundy said. “But I don’t think people are going to line up because Leon Rose used to be an agent. There’s a lot of guys out there running teams that used to agents. So I don’t think that’s going to be an answer.”©2022 New York Daily News. Visit nydailynews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.