Storyline: Knicks Front Office

656 rumors in this storyline

Will the Knicks be able to add one of the top assistants in college basketball to Tom Thibodeau’s staff? Entering the weekend, some in the Knick organization were optimistic that Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne would choose to make the jump to the NBA, per sources. Payne joined John Calipari’s coaching staff at Kentucky prior to the 2010-11 season and was promoted to associate coach in 2014. Prior to working at Kentucky, Payne served as an assistant coach at the University of Oregon. He also played four NBA seasons with the 76ers from 1989-1993. He’s considered one of the top assistant coaches in the NCAA and is certainly one of the highest-paid assistants in the sport.

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Given Payne’s salary at Kentucky, it’s safe to assume that the Knicks would have to make a generous offer procure the coach. Would that set the market internally for what they’d have to pay other Thibodeau assistants? That’s unclear, but something worth keeping in mind as the Knicks put a staff together. Payne, as previously noted, has a close relationship with top Knicks executive William Wesley and has other ties to the Knicks organization. He has been known to coach big men at Kentucky, including Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns. “KP is one of the best development coaches in the world,” Towns told The Athletic last year. “KP is the horse beneath the jockey driving Kentucky basketball.”

Knicks president Leon Rose and senior vice president William Wesley were hired primarily as a conduit to luring stars, but Stoute believes he can form a Big 3. “With having Leon in, World Wide Wes and myself, the three of us, we’re the best sort of team as it relates to being able to speak with free agents,’’ Stoute said over the weekend on the “Breakfast Club” podcast. “Our relationship with talent to bring them to New York. They haven’t had this level of talent in the last 10 years that can go out and pitch free agents and convince them why New York is great.’’

According to an NBA source familiar with the situation, Robinson lobbied to have the Knicks’ top prospects who weren’t getting enough NBA time to spend a few games — or weeks — in the G-League to gain rhythm and grow confidence. Perry rejected the notion, feeling it would be perceived as too big a demotion and felt practice time as well as being around NBA coaches was more vital, according to a source. Robinson’s counter was that during the NBA season, practice time and scrimmages are limited.

On a Zoom call, Rose faced questions for the first time from the media as he introduced Thibodeau as their head coach. “We have not set a timeline. We are taking it one day at a time. We felt Tom was that coach who can take us with development to becoming a perennial winner. That happens one step at a time,” Rose said. “At the moment we don’t know what the roster will be moving forward. We have decisions we have to make. The important thing is to instill the culture, focus on the development and take it from there.”

But Rose also has taken a slow path through this process, doing his due diligence with the candidates — even if league sources have believed many of the 11 to be simply favors for old acquaintances at CAA, getting names of agency clients out there, with some not believed to be real candidates for the head-coaching job. Even some with previous experience, such as Mike Woodson, are believed to be more in line for an assistant coaching position. Mike Miller, who has served as the team’s interim head coach, is expected to be a part of the staff no matter who gets the head job.

The Knicks made sweeping changes to their front office this year, in hopes of reversing a two-decade trend of ineptitude. They hired power agent Leon Rose from Creative Artists Agency to become team president. Rose in turn hired William “Worldwide Wes” Wesley, a noted power broker and player confidante, as a top assistant, along with respected front-office veterans Walt Perrin, Brock Aller and Frank Zanin. But their task likely just got tougher, especially when it comes to wooing marquee players. “I think it’s a big black eye on the Knicks as an organization,” said an agent whose firm represents multiple stars, referring to the club’s silence. The agent, who is Black, added, “It will continue to be something that players look down upon, and it further explains why guys like Kevin Durant [passed on the Knicks]. You got all the resources and all the richness of the NBA, and still people don’t want to associate themselves with it.”

That is disconcerting not only to Knicks employees, but to a number of Black executives, players, agents and others around the league who spoke to B/R. “If you’re going to have a diverse employment force, then in this situation you’ve got to represent them and speak out against this,” said a Black team executive who has worked in the league for more than 20 years. “Otherwise, you’re sending a message to them that you’re ambivalent about it. Now you allow yourself to be questioned. And by the time you do come out and say it, then people doubt your sincerity.” The team executive and others interviewed for this story requested anonymity to preserve their working relationship with the Knicks.

Last week’s Knicks press release quoted new executive VP William Wesley on his “long history with and respect for Jim Dolan.’’ Sources confirm Wesley has been in the Knicks owner’s ear for 15 years, working behind the scenes. As is his custom. A Knicks coach from the Glen Grunwald era verified the influence of “World Wide Wes.” “When we were there, I was told he listened to ‘World Wide Wes’ more than he did Grunwald,” the coach told The Post.

Two former Knicks blasted the new front office, with Rasheed Wallace calling the hirings of Leon Rose and William Wesley “a brain fart” by the organization and Stephon Marbury labeling Wesley, in particular, a “world wide sucker.” Marbury didn’t get into specifics during his social media rant, but Wallace said the executives carry baggage into their new jobs because of their dealings as agents and won’t have the respect of players because they lack a basketball background.

“Whoever they had beef with or problems with, now it’s going to come up and affect them. Now that they have those executive positions with the Knicks they might not get these certain players. Or just going through the grapevine because there could be other agents mad at Leon Rose for trying to do this and that when he was an agent. It’s going to be interesting man. My thought is more power to them, I was with them for a while but this is a just brain fart right here.”

There’s at least one person who hates the addition of William “World Wide Wes” Wesley to the Knicks’ front office. Former Knick Stephon Marbury slammed Wesley on Twitter on Thursday afternoon. “Did you really just now bring world wide sucka to the New York Knicks? And I ain’t talking about a sucka like the sucka we call a sucka,” Marbury said in a video posted to his Twitter account. “Really? You brought this dude here? Why? I’m a real New York Knicks fan. I’ve been a New York Knicks fan since I was a spit. Come on Dolan, man. You gotta be kidding me, man. You brought this dude here? Really? What’s going on, man? There’s gotta be an explanation. Not him! Of all people, you bring this dude here? You bring him to NYC? To New York? He don’t got no credibility here! Nah.”

Stephon Marbury: “C’mon man, c’mon. At New York Knicks, did you really just bring world wide sucker to the New York Knicks. … Really? You brought this dude here? Why? I’m a real New York Knicks fan. I’ve been a New York Knicks fan since I was a [kid]. … C’mon [Jim] Dolan man. You gotta be kidding me, man. You brought this dude here? Really? What’s going on man. There’s gotta be an explanation. Not him. Out of all people, you bring this dude here? You bring him to NYC? To New York? He ain’t got no credibility here. Nah.”

Zanin essentially takes over for Ellis. Sources said Steve Mills was fired as president after the Kristaps Porzingis trade backfired when the Knicks were unable to use any of their cap space to sign a star player last summer. Sources have indicated Ellis is also taking the fall for that trade which included the disappointing Dennis Smith Jr. In Utah, Perrin is credited for being part of drafting five All-Stars — the latest being Donovan Mitchell. Perrin, according to a source, was instrumental in scoring an early workout with Mitchell even when it was obvious Utah would have to trade up to get him at 13.

“He’s been operating at a high level with Utah for a long time,” one member of an opposing team familiar with Perrin’s work said. “This is a really good hire. Really good.” Said someone else familiar with the scouting/executive community in the NBA: “He’s a really good guy. No nonsense guy.” In Utah, Perrin was most recently the VP of Player Personnel. Throughout his 19-year tenure in Utah, Perrin was regularly involved with Jazz drafts.

Zanin has been a scout with the Thunder for the past four years. Like Utah, the Thunder are respected throughout the league for their scouting on the college and pro level under Sam Presti. “If Presti hires you, it says something (about your ability),” one opposing scout said when asked about Zanin. Prior to his stint with Oklahoma City, Zanin worked closely with Billy King in Brooklyn. Zanin was an assistant GM with the Nets and elevated to acting GM after King’s dismissal. He stepped down after the Nets hired Sean Marks as general manager. Zanin, who began his career with King in Philadelphia, was described by one opposing scout as a hard worker who doesn’t seek the spotlight. During his tenure as acting GM, Zanin was in the spotlight for a brief time — but not from his own actions.

Perrin’s addition has been well-received after he played a large role in helping Utah have a number of successful drafts over his nearly two decades with the organization. He has earned a reputation as a well-connected and well-liked executive with a keen approach to the draft. Perrin was not the sole voice making picks with the Jazz, but as VP of player personnel, he was an integral part of advising O’Connor and then Dennis Lindsey in a string of draft-night successes. The Jazz were not without their mistakes over the last 19 years (Trey Burke and Dante Exum are two), but the franchise drafted six players who would become All-Stars in that time.

Charley Rosen, Jackson’s confidant/biographer and his former Albany Patroons assistant, has appeared in two episodes. He’s still worried Jackson’s failed 3 ½-year run as Knicks president has hurt his perception in New York. Rosen said Jackson should never have come out of retirement and taken the position in March 2014. “I told him not to take it because it’s crazy there,’’ Rosen said. “Jeanie [Buss] told him not to take it. If he came there, it would end their relationship 3,000 miles away.”

But when Knicks president Leon Rose took over in New York, tasked with leading the perennial Eastern Conference doormat back to prominence, Aller was his first call. Rose needed a smart, forward-thinking executive, one with a knack for successful team-building, savvy salary cap management and long-term planning. Rose needed someone he could trust. Their relationship went back years because of Aller’s growing role within the Cavs while Rose ascended the ranks and became one of the league’s most powerful agents — even representing LeBron James early in his career.

Rose will continue to evaluate the rest of the front office as he puts his imprint on the team. Several executives hired alongside Perry in 2017 are believed to have contracts that run late into this summer, league sources said, allowing him to put off a decision until then, unlike Perry, who had a trigger date coming Friday. But it is not yet known who Rose will keep, which will allow uncertainty about the future of the Knicks front office to linger. He also has to decide on a head coach.

Rose will continue to evaluate the rest of the front office as he puts his imprint on the team. Several executives hired alongside Perry in 2017 are believed to have contracts that run late into this summer, league sources said, allowing him to put off a decision until then, unlike Perry, who had a trigger date coming Friday. But it is not yet known who Rose will keep, which will allow uncertainty about the future of the Knicks front office to linger. He also has to decide on a head coach.

However, Perry’s long-term future as GM still is not guaranteed with his contract up June 30. The draft is scheduled for June 25 and could remain there if the NBA cancels its season in May. Though Rose is considering keeping Perry, one NBA source told The Post, “The impression is Leon will do his due diligence.’’ An urgency to make a change, though, is lessened because of the new logistics amid the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with New York the nation’s epicenter. “The shutdown may have helped everyone — at least temporarily,’’ one NBA source connected to the Knicks said.

Whether or not the Knicks play another game this season is out of their control, subject to the veracity of a pandemic’s spread. Regardless, new team president Leon Rose will form his staff and plan for a regime that will begin in earnest in the offseason. To that end, a source told the Daily News that Brock Aller — a capologist with the Cleveland Cavaliers — is a strong candidate to join the Knicks. Aller served as a personal assistant to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert for 10 years before a promotion in 2017 to senior director of basketball operations. According to Gilbert, Aller was “instrumental” in the Cavaliers trade with the Knicks for JR Smith and Iman Shumpert in 2015. At the time, Smith was a client of Rose, the longtime agent at CAA.

Ewing, who currently is the head coach of Georgetown’s men’s basketball program, is not the right guy either, according to Oakley. “I don’t deal with Patrick,” Oakley said. “He was one of the most difficult guys I’ve played with. I played with Patrick 10 years. He should know me. I should know him. It was a hard 10 years because he’s not easy to play with. High maintenance.” Oakley doesn’t see anything changing in New York any time soon either. “It’s going to take years,” said Oakley. “It’s like driving from New York to Texas. It’s a long road.”

Ewing, who currently is the head coach of Georgetown’s men’s basketball program, is not the right guy either, according to Oakley. “I don’t deal with Patrick,” Oakley said. “He was one of the most difficult guys I’ve played with. I played with Patrick 10 years. He should know me. I should know him. It was a hard 10 years because he’s not easy to play with. High maintenance.” Oakley doesn’t see anything changing in New York any time soon either. “It’s going to take years,” said Oakley. “It’s like driving from New York to Texas. It’s a long road.”

With the ongoing split of the Madison Square Garden Company into an entertainment company and a sports company, Andrew Lustgarten will be promoted to president and CEO of the business end of MSG’s sports company, it was announced on Friday morning. Dolan, who has been in the headlines again for his feud with Knicks superfan Spike Lee, will still be executive chairman of the MSG sports company. But Lustgarten’s rise to a bigger role is indicative of him having a stronger voice within the Knicks, Rangers and their other sports operations.

He will also have to make an adjustment from being an agent to the front office, one that can be difficult at times and comes with its own issues. To find out the what that process is like The Athletic spoke to three former agents about what it was like for them. All harped on different parts of the changeover and the differences from one job to another and the stresses that brings. “Your results will dictate how well you’re doing,” Myers said. “I feel like Leon will do very well. He’s seen a lot of different sides of the NBA and will come prepared.”

Rose has already called Myers to chat and seek counsel about what the job is like. Myers is bullish on how Rose will do, expressing an affinity for his former competitor in the agent business and then again from different sides of the industry. “I like Leon,” Myers said. “I think he’s going to do a good job. He had some great questions. He’s got a curiosity. He’s got a humility. It was probably my favorite part. He knows there’s a lot of work ahead of him and he’s OK with that.”
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