Will the New York Knicks become a pipeline for former Kentucky players?
Talking informally on a recent podcast, sports commentator Bill Simmons indicated there is a “real fear” around the NBA that the New York Knicks will become a “pipeline” for Kentucky players after the hiring of former CAA big wig Leon Rose as team president and subsequent hires of key influencers with close connections to the Lexington-based basketball program.
What was said: At the tail end of his podcast released on Wednesday, Simmons explained to guest Kevin O’Connor why the Knicks are seen as a potential landing spot for Kentucky alums.
“I’m fine talking about this. It’s rumor, hearsay stuff,” Simmons said. “But it’s just a fact. Kentucky, Worldwide Wes had a great relationship with John Calipari. CAA got multiple Kentucky guys and there’s a real fear in the league that the Knicks are going to become the Kentucky pipeline team.
“Devin Booker is a great example of that, right? That’s somebody that, even though he’s on a big deal right now, at some point if he wanted to move out of there … The league is kind of watching the Kentucky factor with [the Knicks].
“And I think even [Anthony] Davis, if the Lakers hadn’t won the title this year, who knows? Right? Are we positive he would have stayed? I don’t know. All of the signs, all of the dialogue was like ‘LeBron and him love each other’. But who knows what would have happened?”
Kentucky connections: Make no mistake about it, the Knicks have made a point to hire front office executives and coaches who have reputations around the league for fostering strong relationships with superstar players—and particularly, former Kentucky players.
William “World Wide Wes” Wesley, who was hired over the summer in a high-ranking role with the Knicks, has a close relationship with Kentucky coach John Calipari that dates back to the 1980s. Speaking of pipelines, Wesley was instrumental in helping Calipari recruit several players that Leon Rose, acting as an agent at the time, would often later represent.
Of course, New York also hired assistant coach Kenny Payne away from Kentucky this summer. Payne spent the past decade working alongside Calipari.
What this means: Like every business, the NBA is a relationship-based league. It always helps to have people in charge who can use their connections to try to recruit players. However, that only goes so far. As we have seen in the past, superstar players don’t always follow a logical path in choosing their free agent destination.
The former Kentucky players most often linked to the Knicks are Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Towns, both of whom have recently signed long-term deals with their respective teams. But the rumors will continue to swirl.
New York currently has two Kentucky alums already on their roster in Kevin Knox and Julius Randle.