Iso Zo, We Bid You Adieu
The most naturally gifted scorer on the Knicks roster is gone. Let's look at why that is, whether it could have been avoided, and if it's the right move.
We are officially in sight of the four month mark of Leon Rose’s official tenure as President of Basketball Operations for the New York Knicks. To switch up the mobster analogy for a moment, like Paulie from Goodfellas, Rose may not move fast, but when he gets going, he’s a force to be reckoned with.
Here’s the updated list on the hirings / transactions the Knicks have made since Rose was officially brought aboard on March 2, 2020:
Brock Aller hired as “chief of staff” from Cleveland
Walt Perrin hired as assistant GM for college scouting from Utah
Frank Zanin hired as assistant GM for pro scouting from Oklahoma City
Scott Perry retained as general manager for the 2020-21 season
Alex Kline hired as a scout from New Orleans
T.J. Zanin hired as a scout
William Wesley hired as Executive VP of Being a Damn Boss
Jared Harper claimed off waivers; Kadeem Allen waived
Theo Pinson claimed off waivers; Allonzo Trier waived
With all due respect to Stef & Sheed’s off-the-wall takes on Worldwide Wes, the most recent move on this list is the first that has had somewhat mixed reviews from the peanut gallery.
The story of Iso Zo is a complicated one, but let’s start it here: At this point, there is no such thing as holding the former front office completely blameless for the stagnation or regression of any young player on this roster. We have seen enough to know better.
Let’s remember that Trier finished 14th in voting for the All-Rookie teams just one year ago. Let’s also keep in mind that he was one of just five rookies in his class to average over 10 points per game with a true shooting percentage over 55. The others were the first, second, and fourth picks in the draft, along with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He also hit 38.4 percent on threes over his first two seasons, and is positively elite at getting to the line, as we see here from Cleaning the Glass:
Putting aside his other issues - and oh, were there issues - Trier offered enough of an outline as a player to warrant further nurturing.
Instead, he was essentially placed in a haphazard game of rotation rollerball, beginning with a start in his first game of the season, and then, well…I don’t even know what you would call this:
THANK YOU once again for playing another round of “Don’t Entrust Your Organization To The Ones Driving The Clown Car!”
Please don’t forget your gift basket on the way out.
Seriously though, what the fuck was this?
Yes, we all yelled at our televisions when Trier came in early in the season, knowing that his me-first-second-and-third routine was not the cure for what ailed a team of players who acted like passing out of double teams had been outlawed by the rules committee.
But that’s much less the fault of Trier than it was the men who build this cockamamie squad. While Zo isn’t talented enough to warrant making roster decisions with him in mind, it’s also somewhat unfathomable that Mills and Perry couldn’t find a consistent place for him in the 2019-20 rotation.
The inconsistent minutes began to show in his play. When Trier tried to prove he could be a better distributor, he played hot potato whenever he got the ball and looked like a fish out of water. He could never figure out the right balance. His defense, which was at least passable at times as a rookie, somewhat predictably fell off a cliff as his effort on that end waxed and waned with his playing time.
Is Trier blameless? Not by any stretch, not even close. Trier has always struck me as a guy who felt like he was entitled to a bigger role. That kind of thinking is, I’m guessing, what led to at least one teammate being rubbed the wrong way when Zo was a rookie, and maybe had something to do with his inconsistent role this season.
More than that, for as much as the team publicly praised Trier for being a good soldier throughout the last campaign, and even though I never personally heard of any discord or so much as a whiff of a trade demand, he seemed like a man on an island.
Whenever he warmed up before games, Trier always had his headphones in, never one to associate with anyone else besides the assistant coach he happened to be working with on the court. His bench enthusiasm also left a bit to be desired, and his Twitter interactions seemed to confirm that he was none too happy with the situation he was in.
And by itself, there’s nothing wrong with any of that. His routine is his routine. Just because the rest of the young guys seemed to have a nice camaraderie doesn’t mean Trier had to pal around with them. But call it a gut feeling that he never quite fully bought in, so to speak. Steve Popper’s reporting from Sunday, in which he said some in the organization found Trier’s attitude “grating,” would seem to confirm as much.
Does that mean this was the right move? For this new regime, yeah, probably. Trier had a $4.5 million qualifying offer that the team was going to need to decide on by October 17. He is not, by any stretch of the imagination, worth $4.5 million, even for one season, in the economic landscape that is staring down the league amidst this pandemic.
So this was essentially a question of whether or not it was worth $4.5 million to see if Leon Rose & Co. could rehab both Trier’s game and his relationship to the team. Even if they did, he’d be entering unrestricted free agency a season from now, so it might have been all for nought.
It’s of course worth noting that the Knicks have another player on their roster who will almost certainly be waived before the October deadline: Bobby Portis, who has a team option for $15 million that I think even Bobby Portis would admit is not worth picking up.
But it looks like the league will be following through on its tentative plans to hold a minicamp/OTA type deal for the eight teams staying home from Camp Corona, perhaps even with televised games. Portis, for what its worth, seems to like being a Knick, and there is something to be said for roster continuity, especially if they start using him as a backup center like God intended.
My guess is that the front office wants to at least give the next coach a chance to see how Portis looks with the rest of the roster with the intention of declining his option but bringing him back at a reduced number. That makes some sense.
And of course, we can’t ignore the possibility that this was about doing Trier a favor more than anything else. Despite my protestations on recent podcasts with Jeremy, apparently it will be possible for the 22 Orlando-destined teams to sign players cut from the eight non-participants. Whether it’s with a playoff-bound team or someone else, if Trier wasn’t in the Knicks plans, doing him the solid of cutting bait now could come in handy when it’s time to negotiate Mitchell Robinson’s extension. Both, remember, are represented by Klutch Sports and Worldwide Wes’ good buddy Rich Paul.
(Lasttly, it goes without saying that picking up Pinson is a big part of this transaction, but we’re going to save that end of it for the next newsletter)
In the end, I’d bet on Trier catching on with a team and having a relevant NBA moment or two. He’s too talented a scorer not to. But he’ll also be 25 in January and will always be a tough fit on a winning roster. There aren’t many Lou Williams-types out there simply because you need to be about as gifted a scorer as Lou Williams to make up for deficits in other areas.
Perhaps if Trier continues to develop as a marksman off-ball, it could mean the difference between him having a fringe NBA career and one that is only beginning to blossom. Either way, that career won’t take place in New York (well, not in Manhattan, at least).
I, for one, will always remember Iso Zo’s time here fondly (and not just because his mom came on my podcast). His getting to the line 15 times versus the Kings in March of 2019 - only the third Knick rookie to do so since Walt Frazier - will always stand out in my mind.
Hopefully for his sake, this is indeed just the beginning.
Jeremy Cohen and I break down the busiest news week the Knicks have had this year. Available on all major podcast platforms.
Tweet of the Weekend
Thanks for reading everyone…I’ll be back tomorrow or Wednesday with a full breakdown of the man who replaced Allonzo Trier on the roster, Theo Pinson. Till then, everyone stay safe and please, WEAR A MASK! #BlackLivesMatter