Knicks steal Subway Series spotlight with Leon Rose’s swing for the fences

Knicks steal Subway Series spotlight with Leon Rose’s swing for the fences

On a Subway Series baseball night when baseballs hit by both the Mets and Yankees were flying out of Citi Field, one a grand slam hit by Aaron Judge, the most important sports business in the city was conducted by the Knicks and the Nets. It was suddenly basketball season on this night because Leon Rose, the guy who runs the Knicks, hit one out of the park by making a trade for Mikal Bridges.
The Knicks were back in season just like that, five weeks after Game 7 against the Pacers ended the most exciting Knicks season in years in the most disappointing possible way, before the Knicks got their chance to go from their Garden to the one in Boston and play Game 1 against the Celtics. Really, the ‘Nova Knicks were back in play Tuesday night because now Bridges, who won a college championship with Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart and Donte DeVincenzo, isn’t a Brooklyn Net any longer; because he is coming across the river to the Garden and try to win the Knicks their first NBA championship in over half-a-century, since Clyde and Capt. Willis and them.
Were the Knicks going to beat the Celtics team that just won it all? They weren’t. Could they have gotten a game off them, maybe even Game 1, or two? Yeah, because we all saw how hard the ‘Nova Knicks fought in the spring of ’24, even as they kept losing one key guy after another.
But Knicks’ fans are allowed to think how differently everything might have gone if Bridges had been a Knick across this basketball spring and not a Net, even after Julius Randle was gone and OG Anunoby and Mitchell Robinson, and even before Brunson broke his wrist at the very end. Now those fans will watch the team they embraced in such a full-throated way take their shot with Bridges in a Knicks uniform, especially if Rose can bring back Anunoby.
The old order of things, back in the 90s, back when the Knicks began to matter again and went back to the Finals twice, was that baseball season – and that really meant the Yankees once Joe Torre became manager – didn’t begin until the Knicks ended. Only now that changes with the announcement of the Bridges trade on a Mets vs. Yankees night. The Knicks feel as if a season of theirs has finally made it all the way back into June, now that the band has really been put back together with the ‘Nova Knicks.
There is no five-year plan now that Rose has spent just about all of his draft capital on Bridges. There is just a next-year plan with the Knicks. Rose has swung this deal – swinging for the fences in the process, you bet – with the belief that the Knicks finally can make it past the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2000. They won hearts around here last season, you bet. But they were still one round and then a knockout, again.
Always remember the reaction from Brunson, as much an MVP of pro basketball this past season as either Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid or Luka Doncic or either of the two Jays, Tatum and Brown, in Boston, when he was asked after Game 7 against the Pacers if he thought the Knicks season had been a success.
“No,” Brunson said.
He was asked why.
“Did we win the championship?” he continued. “Did we get close?”
He paused and said, “So, no, that’s my mindset.”
The big basketball boss at the Garden obviously agrees with him. Same mindset. Rose doesn’t just speak softly when it comes to his basketball team. He rarely speaks at all. But for now, this week, this trade, he does swing a big stick. He’s got a total star in Brunson. He put those two ‘Nova sidemen with him, and swung that deal for Anunoby, and we all saw the possibilities for these Knicks in those first bright moments after Anonoby got arrived from Toronto. We saw how Tom Thibodeau, doing the best work of his long basketball-lifer life, coached them up.
But the Knicks didn’t have enough, no matter how much we  talk about the injuries. They just didn’t. And that means enough to really go at the Celtics and think the sides might finally be even, in a world where the Celtics are where the bar is once again set, not just in the Knicks’ conference, but in the whole league.    The sides aren’t even yet, even with Bridges a Knick. But the Knicks got better on Tuesday night, and got closer, as Rose finally took all those draft choices out of his pocket and threw them on the table as he made a big bet on his basketball team, and on himself, too. It’s necessary to point out here that Bridges, for whom Rose did spend all those unprotected picks, has never played on an NBA All-Star team. But he is still just 27, has a world of talent, and Rose is clearly betting on upside with him, as he did when he got Brunson from Dallas.
In so many ways, next season, and the season after that, are a reckoning for Rose, even with all the fine work he’s done bringing the Knicks back. Because understand something: It’s just not the Knicks against the Celtics, if the Knicks can ever make it back to the Eastern Conference finals. It is Rose who needs to show that he has the chops to build a champion the way Danny Ainge did in Boston, before Brad Stevens came along to finish the job.
So it’s not just the ‘Nova Knicks against the Celtics. Leon Rose, once and for all, has to show his front office can match up against theirs.
Rose sure takes his shot now, even with work still to be done on Anunoby. On a big baseball night in the city the biggest home run swing was his.

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