Assistants who could join Tom Thibodeau’s staff: Kenny Payne
Kenny Payne, who is an Assistant Coach at the University of Kentucky, is reportedly weighing an offer to join the New York Knicks, according to Stadium. A decision is expected to come sometime this week, and the possibility of Payne leaving Kentucky for New York is very real.
William Wesley, a high-up fixture in the Knicks’ front office, is very close with Payne, and President Leon Rose also has ties. John Calipari, Payne’s boss, was considered the favorite for the Knicks’ head coaching job if he put his name in the ring, pointing at the fact that the Knicks’ front office has strong ties to the University of Kentucky.
Payne has a lucrative position at the school, recruiting some of the best high-schoolers in the country and is one of the highest-paid assistant coaches in the sport at $900,000 per year. It will undoubtedly cost the Knicks top dollar to lure him away from Kentucky, and he would likely become the league’s highest-paid assistant coach above Jason Kidd.
However, his relationships with UK alums may say it all for his compensation. Kentucky is a hotbed for NBA players, and Payne has had the opportunity to coach the league’s brightest stars.
With that being said, the Knicks’ front office hopes that hiring Payne would help them recruit NBA stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker, who played for Calipari and Payne at Kentucky.
The Knicks’ pursuit of Towns and Booker may need to wait a few years as the stars have signed long-term extensions with their respective teams. However, it opens up the avenue for other Kentucky alumni to join the Knicks. Anthony Davis is a free agent this offseason, and although it is unlikely for him to leave Los Angeles, it could land the Knicks a pitch.
Payne has significant influence and power at Kentucky, begging the question of why he would leave the school for the dysfunctional Knicks.
At 53 years of age, maybe he is trying to make a crack at the NBA, or perhaps he is concerned with the fact that high-schoolers may be able to bypass college for the league soon. Kentucky has built its success in recruiting high schoolers and selling them with the idea of being one-and-done. The college game would water down in such an event, and Payne would be wise to find a footing in the NBA.
Now, what could Payne bring to the Knicks as an assistant to Tom Thibodeau?
Maybe we can point to one of his players at Kentucky. Karl-Anthony Towns swears by Payne and told The Athletic that:
"“[Kenny Payne] is one of the best development coaches in the world,” Karl-Anthony Towns says. “KP is the horse beneath the jockey driving Kentucky basketball.”"
The Knicks are considering hiring several player-development coaches in addition to the assistants on Thibodeau’s staff, per SNY. Leon Rose nabbed Walt Perrin, a college scouting guru, from Utah to identify some of the best talent entering the league. Payne is a logical fit as he is praised for his ability to develop players at Kentucky. That developmental acumen would help the Knicks with their young core, and seven draft picks in the next four years.
Kentucky has 29 alumni in the league, and Kenny Payne has coached a vast majority of them, contributing to their development into NBA players and high draft picks. Two of those players are currently on the Knicks’ roster: Kevin Knox and Julius Randle.
Maybe Payne can aid Knox’s development and turn him into what Knicks fans expected from the former ninth overall pick. After all, Payne spent a lot of time growing Knox at Kentucky and knows him better than the coaches Knox has had in New York.
One of Tom Thibodeau’s biggest critiques is his relationship with young players. If there is someone who knows young players best, it is Kentucky’s, Kenny Payne.