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Knicks expected to name new head coach by month's end, source says

Knicks president Leon Rose watches his team play

Knicks president Leon Rose watches his team play the Houston Rockets during the first half at Madison Square Garden on March 2. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Knicks’ coaching search is nearing its end, but there’s still more work to be done.

New team president Leon Rose said in his only interview since taking over that he hoped to have a coach in place by mid-to-late July. He remains on target, scheduling more talks for the coming week with a plan to name a coach before the end of the month, according to a source.

Rose and his front-office staff have conducted two rounds of interviews with 11 candidates, finishing up Monday with former Nets coach (and former Knicks assistant) Kenny Atkinson. The Knicks would not comment on how many candidates remain in play, but the favorite still is believed to be Tom Thibodeau, with Atkinson and Jason Kidd getting consideration.

No negotiations have begun with any of the candidates, a source said.

“We want to find the right leader that can develop our young players as well as hold everyone accountable and take us from development to becoming a perennial winner,” Rose said last month in an interview with MSG Network’s Mike Breen. “We also want somebody that we think will be collaborative with the front office and someone that when you’re in that huddle and you’re looking in that coach’s eyes, every player that’s looking at him knows that that person is driving the ship and is going to get the job done.”

There has been some speculation that John Calipari could get into the mix. Calipari has had a long relationship with Rose and William “World Wide Wes” Wesley, who officially joined the Knicks as executive vice president/senior basketball adviser. Calipari had a brief run in the NBA as the Nets’ coach before returning to the college ranks and has been a fixture as Kentucky’s coach for the last 11 seasons.

Although Calipari has maintained that he has no interest in the NBA, some sources believe he could find this the right time to move, given the uncertain status of the college game because of the coronavirus pandemic and with some of the top prospects opting for the G League and the ability to go straight from high school to a well-paid internship for the NBA.

Calipari certainly doesn’t sound as if he’s going anywhere, tweeting just two days ago, “Little extra bounce in my step the last two days because I’ve had a chance to work with our guys. Hasn’t been much — just individuals — but getting to see their faces and talk a little basketball has me smiling.” He followed up with some talk about how excited he is about this year’s team.

It would seem unlikely that Calipari would dive in this late to the process, and the speculation may be more of a byproduct of the long process that Rose has gone through with this search. With Calipari earning a reported $12 million per year at Kentucky, it would be a costly jump in salary for Madison Square Garden executive chairman James Dolan to consider. Thibodeau signed a five-year, $40 million deal with the Timberwolves, but it was to serve a dual role as coach and team president.

Atkinson and the Nets parted ways, but he still has support from one of his former players.

Nets center Jarrett Allen, speaking on a conference call Thursday, praised Atkinson, who was the coach for Allen’s entire NBA career until he was let go two games before the shutdown.

“I came in to the Nets and we weren’t making a mark in the NBA,” Allen said. “You could see every year that I was with him and every year that he coached us, we kept getting better and better. The players that were under him kept developing and developing and bringing us more confidence. So whatever team he goes to, they’re going to get a hell of a coach.”

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