During his first meeting with Knicks scouts after Leon Rose took over as president in March 2020, he talked about his vision and some targets.
Jalen Brunson, then a backup Mavericks guard, was named that day – to the surprise of some Knicks talent evaluators, The Post has learned.
More than two years later, Rose secured a top target as their marquee offseason maneuver.
In exactly two weeks, the Knicks open training camp with media day and hold their first practice the next morning to commence the 50th anniversary season of their last title.
It will be Brunson or Bust.
Despite the naysayers, one Western Conference personnel director thinks the Knicks have done themselves proud this offseason to improve upon a 37-45 debacle.
The Knicks filled their desperate need for a point guard, added a more offensive / durable center off the bench in Isaiah Hartenstein and wisely passed on Donovan Mitchell, unwilling to be “raked over the coals ” by Utah’s Danny Ainge.
The personnel director said the Knicks have a potent, deep and young bench, spearheaded by spry power forward Obi Toppin and veteran point guard Derrick Rose, who no longer has to be heavily depended upon.
“Not giving away the house for Donovan Mitchell has given them a lot of flexibility for the future, ” the personnel director said. “I wouldn’t give them a 10 for their offseason but I think they now can make future moves and accumulated [draft] assets while adding an impact player at a position they didn’t have. And now Derrick doesn’t have to play starter’s minutes or even 70 games anymore. He’s best in a limited role. ”
Brunson’s $ 104 million contract – in the personnel director’s estimation – hasn’t been exalted enough. Yes, the Knicks sacrificed their lottery pick, the 11th pick, to clear cap space but…
“It’s hard to get players of that ability especially at that age (26), ” he said. “You’re getting him as he enters his prime. What they’re paying him is not an overpay. The beauty is signing him as a free agent. They don’t have to give three first-round picks or multiple assets.
“It’s one of the better moves the Knicks have made in years, ” the personnel man said.
To boot, Brunson’s fit should be smooth. His father, Rick, is on Tom Thibodeau’s coaching staff, Rose was his former agent – and Rick’s.
“That will help with his accountability, ” the executive said. “The buy-in will be seamless. And the makeup of the kid is where New York is not an issue. ”
A key is whether Brunson transforms RJ Barrett and Julius Randle into more efficient scorers. Before Brunson, they were without playmakers.
“Randle will need to adjust, ” the personnel man said. “Randle likes to handle at the top and facilitate but he can be a secondary ballhandler. He’s not excessive. I don’t think it will be difficult.
“Jalen is a team guy. He’s about the right things. Not a score-only guard. He’s a better playmaker than Derrick. ”
Rose, Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes make for an intriguingly dynamic mix of reserve guards. Quickley was a 2020 first-round pick, Grimes a 2021 first-rounder.
Rose, if healthy, knows Thibodeau’s system better than any player. With Toppin showing flashes of explosiveness late in the season and new signee Hartenstein a capable two-way backup center, it’s as strong a backup group as there is in the East.
The talent evaluator said Toppin can come off the bench some nights and deliver 20 points.
“The key with Obi is always going to be understanding defensive concepts, ” the personnel director said. “Being able to be reliable to Thibs. His ability to improve in that area and be a guy Thibs can trust will increase his playing time. They need him to do that because they need that offense. ”
Last season, center Mitchell Robinson’s backup was supposed to be Nerlens Noel but he limped his way to 25 games. The platoon of Taj Gibson and then-rookie Jericho Sims was subpar. It’s been addressed.
“[Hartenstein] can hit the open 3 but that’s not his strength, ” the personnel director said. “But he can shoot. Anyone’s a better shooter than Noel and [Robinson]. His strength is midrange shooting where they can do a pick-and-pop instead of the one-dimensional rolling to the rim. He’s OK in a number of areas – rebounding, rim protection – but he’s just a more offensively oriented center than they’ve had and he’ll be available. Noel is never available. ”
What does it all amount to? The scouting chief has – on paper – eight teams more talented in Boston, Miami, Philly, Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Cleveland, Toronto and Atlanta.
But the Knicks could leap ahead further than ninth if Randle looks a little more like the player he was two seasons ago than the one he’s been throughout his career.
“Last year the East was the best it’s been since the 90s and this year it took another step, ” the personnel man said. “They’re a play-in team – which is better than a year ago. ”