When the Knicks hired Kenny Payne away from Kentucky this week, it represented another instance of new executives Leon Rose and William Wesley bringing aboard someone with whom they have a preexisting relationship. However, Kentucky head coach John Calipari tells Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News that Payne was very capable of making the leap to the NBA with or without those connections.
“You got to understand, he’s been invited to four different NBA teams where they had their summer camp and did stuff and won there,” Calipari said of his longtime assistant. “And why do you think they’re bringing him there? Trying to feel him out. They want to see him teach, they want to see him interact. And those were some of the top franchises out there. I knew why they were doing it. And because we were paying him so much, none of them thought he would leave (Kentucky) to go to the Knicks. Now they’re pissed that they didn’t bring him in. …There were other franchises that would’ve (hired him).”
While Calipari may be right that other teams would have liked to hire Payne before New York did, it’s not clear whether those clubs would’ve been willing to pay the price necessary to bring him aboard. According to Bondy (Twitter link), Payne will earn over $1.5MM with the Knicks, making him one of the NBA’s highest-paid assistants.
Here’s more from around the Atlantic:
- Two of the Raptors‘ key rotation players, OG Anunoby (right knee soreness) and Serge Ibaka (right knee contusion), sat out again on Friday, but MRIs on their knees came back clean and head coach Nick Nurse believes both players will be ready to go when the playoffs begin on Monday, per Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca (Twitter link).
- Raptors two-way player Paul Watson has had a chance to get some playing time in Orlando and took advantage in the team’s final seeding game on Friday, pouring in 22 points in 27 minutes and impressing Nurse. “He’s pretty good. He can play,” Nurse said of Watson (Twitter link via Blake Murphy of The Athletic). “… He’s gonna be part of our future from what I can see so far.”
- Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer wonders if Ben Simmons‘ absence in the playoffs might give the Sixers an opportunity to answer some nagging questions about their roster. Even if Philadelphia is eliminated quickly, the team will get a chance to see what it looks like when it leans primarily on Joel Embiid rather than balancing its two stars, O’Connor writes.