OFFICIAL: Knicks Hire Kenny Payne as an Assistant Coach
The New York Knicks have officially made the long-rumored hiring of Kenny Payne official. Payne, 53, will be coming to New York from the University of Kentucky where he was the associate head coach of the men's basketball program under John Calipari from 2014-2020 and was a member of the staff simply as an assistant from 2010-2014.
Payne' accomplishments at Kentucky are many; during his time there, they: advanced to the Final Four four times, won the 2012 National Championship, had the first 38-0 record in college basketball history in 2015, secured a top-three recruiting class in each of his ten years (six of which were ranked #1 overall, one of which was ranked the best ever ), and have had a player selected in the lottery (and multiple in the first round) in each year. Payne also spent time as an assistant with the University of Oregon for five seasons before joining Kentucky's staff, during which the team qualified for two NCAA tournaments and appeared in the Elite Eight once.
Knicks SI's own Jonathan Macri did some reporting regarding Payne's potential involvement with the team earlier this week, and linked to this great piece by Kyle Tucker for The Athletic that has a plethora of opinions and thoughts on Payne given by those who have worked with him most closely in recent years - including, but not limited to, Karl-Anthony Towns, who described Payne as "the horse beneath the jockey driving Kentucky basketball."
Payne's hire may have had something to do with his connection to William "Worldwide Wes" Wesley, one of the most recently-added members of the Knicks' front office and someone Payne used to stay with in Detroit (per the article linked above). However, Macri reported that Payne didn't simply get this job because of that connection, and that head coach Tom Thibodeau himself is excited to get to work with Payne and have him on board.
Payne's connections to people like Wesley and various potential free agents and current NBA-stars, some coming from his days coaching them one-on-one at Kentucky, shouldn't overshadow the qualifications he actually brings to the table. John Calipari paid Payne $900,000 per season to be his associate head coach at UK, an amount of money that would rank Payne in the top 20% of highest-paid D-1 head coaches. Payne, who was a top-tier recruiter and instructor for Kentucky, will now reportedly be one of the highest paid assistant coaches in the NBA.
The acquisition of Kenny Payne is one that should excite Knicks fans for numerous reasons, but the most important of those is genuinely just that he's a very good basketball coach. Jeffery Bellone wrote for Daily Knicks about how Kenny Payne is an important hire regardless of his recruiting capabilities - a great article which is available here. Payne's hire should positively affect the Knicks' big men - specifically Mitchell Robinson, who is in need of the same kind of development Payne facilitated for Anthony Davis when he arrived at Kentucky. Julius Randle and Kevin Knox, who are already close with Payne, might benefit from this particular addition to the coaching staff as well, as long as both are on next year's roster.
The last thing of note regarding Payne's hire is that Payne gave up the opportunity to potentially coach his own son at Kentucky to come to the Knicks. Zan Payne, a 6'4, 235lb redshirt freshman, has yet to play for the team due to a knee injury suffered at the end of his high school career, but began practicing with the team back in January. Whether it was the connection with Wesley, the upgraded salary, the draw of coaching for the New York Knicks under Tom Thibodeau, or a combination of the three - it's encouraging that Payne passed up on the chance to coach his son to become a part of what the Knicks are looking to build.