Trust, and the process
Brock Aller is putting his trust in Leon Rose. Here's why it's a step towards finally putting our trust in the Knicks.
Before we get to our newsletter to start the week, a few orders of business…
First of all, thank you so much to everyone who came through with birthday wishes on Twitter. If you said something and I missed it, please consider this an apology and a heartfelt thanks. You made my day truly special.
If, on the other hand, you didn’t say anything, I’d also like to thank you for not reminding me that I am another year older. I’ve hated my birthday ever since turning 30, when my body slowly started to deteriorate into Tom Brady at the draft combine.
As a wise woman said to me long ago, getting old sucks.
That women, of course, is my mom, which leads us to the second order of business: a belated Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there, especially the one who raised me.
When I was a wee lad, neither my mom or I realized that Knicks Summer Camp at Manhattan College wasn’t really for kids like me; it was meant for kids who had at least an ounce of basketball ability somewhere in their body (which was probably far less pudgy than mine). I don’t know how much it cost her to send me to that camp in back to back summers, but it was more than she had any right spending on my basketball ability - what little I had, that is.
And she couldn’t care less. I don’t remember the look on her face after she picked me up on the last day and I told her I got to play 1-on-1 against Charlie Ward (Charlie Ward!!!!), but now that I have a child of my own, I can imagine the gist. Between that, and all the Knicks hats and t-shirts I had as a kid, she was as important to fostering my love of this team as anyone, and for that (and so much more) I’ll always owe her.
(She also reads every one of these newsletters despite not being able to name a single current NBA player besides maybe LeBron James. So mom, thanks, and I love you)
OK, on to the business at hand.
This weekend, friend of the KFS Pod Chris Fedor - who is as plugged in on the Cavaliers as anyone - wrote about the decision Brock Aller recently made to join the Knicks. Specifically, he talked about how Leon Rose’s new right hand man did his due diligence and then some about what it’s like to work at 4 Penn Plaza. Here’s what he heard:
The feedback was mixed. It ranged anywhere from the Knicks being viewed as a hopeless dumpster fire with rotten ownership to dysfunctional mess that can be cleaned up with the right people.
Now rewind to what we heard last week, when NBA agent Mayar Zokaei - who spent a lot of time in MSG as Mitchell Robinson’s agent over much of the last two seasons - came on the KFS Pod and told me the following:
[The fans] have no idea how passionate this guy is about his team, how he will spend whatever it takes to make that team a winner, how he stays in his lane and allows the people that he hires to do their job, and how he’s willing to move on from his mistakes and is always willing to eradicate those mistakes and find something that’s better.
So who’s telling the truth? Easy: Both.
Is James Dolan a guy who very much wants the Knicks to be a winner, and who would stop at nothing to make that happen? Absolutely.
Is James Dolan someone who occasionally can’t get out of his own way, and possesses an ownership style that blocks the realization of the very desires he so desperately yearns to actualize? Absolutely.
Of course it’s more complicated than this, but it’s also not as confusing as it seems when you think about it for a bit. And trust me, I’ve thought about it a lot, for years and years, but especially after Howard Beck went on Bill Simmons Podcast almost two years ago and said there was an omnipresent tension that hovered over the organization at all times.
Something about that line struck a nerve. I heard it and remembered thinking “that seems exactly like something someone would say who just doesn’t like a team and can’t give a real reason why.” Even after I discussed the statements with Howard on my own pod, I wasn’t convinced there was anything to it.
But having now covered the team enough to have a valid opinion on the matter, I can say in no uncertain terms: there is. I wish I could put it into words so you know that I’m not the one who’s full of shit, but I can’t. To borrow a line from today’s podcast, it’s like pornography: you just know it when you see it. And when you walk into MSG, you just feel…something. “Nervous energy” would be putting it politely; “walking on eggshells” less so. But it’s there and it’s unmistakable.
Best as I can tell, it comes from one very simple place: James Dolan is demanding as hell, he wants things run how he wants things run, and most of all, he wants results, especially if he’s consistently willing to put his wallet and reputation on the line to get them. As a result, everyone working at the Garden is minding their p’s and q’s at all times. Put another way, anyone who’s ever told you they never feared for their job while working at MSG never worked at MSG at all.
When people work to try to keep their jobs, funny things can happen. Factions can form. Loyalty reigns supreme. Self-preservation is the name of the game. You want to make sure that if and when the shit hits the fan, you’re not the one to be blamed (because if you are, you could wind up giving an impromptu press conference 10 games into a season on the brink).
This isn’t to say that fear isn’t a valid motivator. A little fear goes a long way in keeping an organization’s employees on the straight and narrow. But too much fear quickly tips the scales in the other direction, and while fear may not be the thing that’s been preventing the Knicks from scaling the summit for two decades now, it’s certainly greased the hell out of the mountain.
And that’s because fear erodes the one thing every successful organization needs: trust.
Say what you will about David Fizdale, but he trusted that he’d have the runway to work out the kinks with Julius Randle as his own personal LeBron James. Was it a ridiculous idea from the start? Probably. But give the guy credit for not being afraid to try something out of the box. It ended up costing him his job.
(Well, that, and like a dozen other things. But mostly that.)
This is the environment Brock Aller (perhaps hesitantly, but certainly knowingly) now walks into. My guess is that Leon Rose has given him assurances that he’ll be able to operate freely and without fear. By taking the job, Aller has placed his trust in Rose that he’ll keep his word.
That’s why, amidst all the doom and gloom every Knicks fan has had to read about over the last several years, I’d argue that this story about Brock Aller going above and beyond to do his due diligence is the most encouraging news item we’ve seen in quite some time. It shows that a smart guy who is clearly a rising star within the league feels that those scales I mentioned can tip back towards a more productive place. Needless to say, I hope he’s right. We all should.
It’s another step in the right direction, but without question, the first of many more that need to follow. Every transaction - hell, every meeting about any possible transaction - is a chance for everyone in the building to put their cards on the table and trust that they’re all in this together. That includes those Garden lifers we always hear whispers about - the “Dolan moles” whose loyalty to him has kept them there through thick and thin.
In that sense, maybe this pandemic has been the ultimate blessing in disguise for Rose. He’s had nothing but time to try and untangle the Garden web, such that when he has to hit the ground running, he can do so as unencumbered as possible.
We better hope so. Because just like birthdays, basketball will start again at some point, whether he’s ready or not.
The clock will start ticking on his tenure the second it does, and there’s no way to stop it.