In the end, Leon Rose either lost his nerve or never really wanted to throw his chips into the middle of the table to begin with. Maybe the Knicks president will clarify that the next time he goes on the record, which is believed to be sometime in 2031 or so.
Here is the bottom line:
There’d better be something else.
There’d better be another deal Rose has up his sleeve or in his imagination now that Dejounte Murray will be co-starring with Trae Young in the Hawks’ backcourt, rather than teaming with — presumably — Jalen Brunson at Madison Square Garden.
Because if it turns out that Rose was simply unwilling to match the deal the Hawks made — Danilo Gallinari and three first-rounders, plus a pick swap — to acquire Murray from the Spurs, it had better be because there’s Something Better Out There. It had better be that the deal that’s coming is better than the one that was on the table.
The Knicks could have bettered the Hawks’ final offer. After all, the Knicks have 11 first-round picks scattered across the next seven drafts, and right now every one of them is simply gathering dust. Even if it had taken four of them — along with, say, Evan Fournier and Immanuel Quickley — to bring Murray to New York and set the Knicks up with their most dynamic backcourt since Clyde and Pearl, Rose should have done that.
Unless there’s something else.
Because there has to be something else.
It is well and it is good that Rose, by all accounts, has already done most of the heavy lifting in prying Brunson free from the Mavericks. Maybe there will be some initial sticker shock if the likely terms — four years, $110 million, maybe more — prove true, but even at that rate Brunson would only be the 14th-highest-paid point guard in the league. The market is the market. Good players get paid. And the Knicks need as many good players as they can get their hands on.
That’s why Murray was so enticing. He won’t turn 26 until September and he has just nicked the beginning of his prime. He has improved in every important category in each of his first five seasons as a pro, and in addition to averaging 21.9 points, 9.2 assists, 8.3 rebounds and 2.0 steals, he is precisely the kind of defensive player who allows Tom Thibodeau to skip the sleeping pills at night, close his eyes with a smile.
It hurts extra that it was the Hawks, tamers of the 2020-21 Knicks’ joyride, fellow residents of the Eastern Conference’s lower-middle class, and now a few pegs higher than that. The Knicks crave good players, and if Brunson, Murray, Julius Randle, RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin might not exactly make the Bucks, Heat or Celtics quake with fear, they would have been a fine starting point. The Knicks would have been better. It’s about getting better.
It can no longer be about draft picks that feel like the LifeCycle you bought years ago, unused and mostly serving as a place to hang shirts, trousers and jackets. There are no trophies given for stockpiling.
There are for winning.
And the simplest route to that gilded path is by collecting better players. Brunson is a start. But he is only a start. There are all those picks. There is suddenly $30 million in cap space. There is a yawning talent gap between the Knicks and most of the rest of the East. Murray wouldn’t have bridged that by himself. But it would’ve been a nice start.
Now, we wait for Rose to show us something else. We wait for him to reveal Plan B. Until he officially folds his hand, we must merely be skeptical, not fatalistic. Still, in the wake of this, and with a trade history that has more misses than hits so far, it’s impossible not to remember this line from Gordon Gekko to Bud Fox in “Wall Street”:
“I’m afraid pal, unless your father is on the board of directors of another company, you and I are going to have a very tough time doing business together.”
Rose already has used up his quota of available assistant coaches/former clients/father of the star when he hired Rick Brunson. Now comes the harder part: closing an impact deal that makes the Knicks better. Doing what real team presidents do. He was in the arena with Dejounte Murray, didn’t close the deal. Because he couldn’t? Because he wouldn’t?
Because there’s Something Better Out There?
Put it this way: there’d better be.