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John Calipari: I wouldn’t have gone to Cavs even for LeBron James

John CalipariA little over two months ago, a report surfaced that indicated John Calipari was in “deep discussions” with the Cleveland Cavaliers before he finalized a new contract extension with Kentucky. That was before LeBron James shocked the world by announcing he was heading home to Cleveland.

In hindsight, Calipari was probably using the Cavs and any other NBA team as leverage to get more money from Kentucky. But what if he knew that taking a job in the NBA would mean getting a chance to coach the greatest player on the planet? Would Calipari have left the Wildcats for King James?

“No. No. I don’t think so. Because he and I have a great relationship (with LeBron), but it’s not based on me coaching him,” Calipari told Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal. “We’ve got a relationship. I’ve known him for years and years. We’ve always been friends. But it was never based on that. I’ve said that. I’ve had a chance to coach Derrick Rose, John Wall and DeMarcus (Cousins), Anthony Davis and Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist). And I’m leaving names off, but I’ve coached some of the best players in basketball, and it is a thrill. There’s nothing better than that. Especially when those guys are all good guys.

“Well, LeBron is also that kind of player and that kind of person. But again, leaving guys who made decisions based on what’s right for their career was something I couldn’t have gotten by anyway.”

Once the Harrison twins — Aaron and Andrew — decided to stay at Kentucky along with Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson, Calipari said there is no way he was going to leave. Kentucky gave him a $52.1 million extension through 2021 just to be sure.

“They came back because it was good for them and their careers and they knew they needed more developing and coachingm” Calipari explained. “That was by me. That’s what they wanted. So that made it a tough deal to say, ‘I’m just going to leave these guys here.’ With who? It may be somebody I don’t know that wouldn’t do the things for them that they needed to do.”

Somehow, I find that hard to believe. The potential to make $8 million per season as an NBA head coach and president of basketball operations while coaching the best player in the league probably would have intrigued Calipari more than the thought of inheriting a rebuilding project. He’s only human, after all.

Team USA wears shooting shirts to honor Paul George

paul-george-stretcher-smallPaul George was unable to participate in Saturday’s exhibition game between Team USA and Brazil, but he was still prominently featured.

When Anthony Davis, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, and company took the floor at United Center in Chicago, they did so wearing special shooting shirts which honored their injured teammate.

The shirts displayed the phrase “United We Stand” and George’s initials.

During the broadcast, ESPN’s Mark Jones and Fran Fraschilla interviewed George via telephone. Among the topics of discussion was the two-time All-Star reiterating his desire to play for the 2016 Olympic team.

Jay-Z to blame for Kevin Durant quitting Team USA?

Kevin Durant Jay-Z

Kevin Durant pulled out of Team USA two weeks ago much to the shock of USA Basketball coaches, players and executives. Durant cited mental and physical fatigue as his reason for quitting the team during the middle of training camp, only weeks away from the start of the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

“After going through training camp with USAB, I realized I could not fulfill my responsibilities to the team from both a time and energy standpoint,” Durant said in a statement. “I need to take a step back and take some time away, both mentally and physically in order to prepare for the upcoming NBA season.”

Though many took Durant for his word — and he certainly has earned the benefit of the doubt — there has been a lot of skepticism about KD’s reason for quitting the team.

USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo said Durant pulled out because of contractual obligations, but he later issued one of those “clarifications.”

We speculated that Durant pulled out because he’s concerned with his next big shoe/apparel endorsement contract. It sounds like that is the case.

In a long, rambling, and at times incoherent opinion piece, Chris Sheridan says Jay-Z, who is the man behind Durant’s new agency Roc Nation Sports, is to blame for KD withdrawing from the team.

Though Sheridan never explicitly states what Jay-Z did, he says Durant’s agent is behind the surprising decision.

And what I have discovered in talking to members of the U.S. federation over the past two days is this: Durant and his agency, Roc Nation, are more interested in cashing in on his MVP award and his expiring Nike deal than they are in having Durant keep his word to the people who were with him in 2010 in Turkey at the World Championship and in 2012 in London at the Olympics.

Sheridan points out that since signing with Jay-Z, Durant has ended many of his previous business relationships. He ended his endorsement deal with Gatorade in favor of Sparkling Ice. He is now shopping around shoe/apparel companies even though he’s been with Nike since entering the NBA.

The implication is that Durant/Jay-Z/Roc Nation are more concerned with setting up his business deals than having him participate with Team USA.

For instance, Durant spent the day at Under Armour’s headquarters on Wednesday. UA is a Maryland-based company and reportedly was preparing a monster offer for the reigning NBA MVP. Sheridan also says adidas is preparing a big offer for Durant and that the Thunder forward re-signing with Nike is still a possibility.

Sheridan mentions that Durant may not have wanted to spend several weeks around Nike people (Nike sponsors USA Basketball) while he is shopping for a new deal.

Overall, it comes across as though Sheridan has more inside information on the subject than he can share, but he feels strongly enough to write a very opinionated piece on the matter.

The bottom line is this: participation on USA Basketball is voluntary. Durant is well within his right not to play for the team. He just handled the timing of his leave very poorly.

Jabari Parker doesn’t want to join list of second overall pick busts

jabari-parker-bucksAfter a standout freshman season at Duke, Jabari Parker was selected with the second overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks aren’t expected to be very good this season. However, in Parker the organization feels they have someone who can be the face of the franchise. That, along with being the No. 2 pick in the draft, means expectations for the 19-year-old are high.

Aware of it takes to get where he wants, Parker seems to have the right frame of mind heading into his rookie season. He also knows there have been several chosen in the same position he was in the draft who didn’t fulfill the promise expected from them.

Brett Pollakoff from Pro Basketball Talk spoke with Parker, who emphasized he doesn’t want to join the list of players we commonly refer to as busts.

There’s been a lot of second pick busts,” Parker said Saturday morning, at the grand opening of the redesigned Jordan space inside Nike Chicago. “I’m just trying not to be that bust. Everyday that I step on the court, I just remind myself that I have a long ways to go. If I want to be one of those guys in the first tier of the NBA, like a LeBron, like a Kobe, like a [Blake Griffin], then I have to have that mentality starting off from the ground, and work my way up.”

Some players go on to become stars. Others evolve into solid role players. Then, there are the ones who never pan out. It’s the crap shoot that is the NBA Draft.

Hasheem Thabeet, Darko Milicic, and Derrick Williams were each selected second overall. All three left the teams who drafted them wanting more. Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge were picked No. 2 overall as well. To go back a little further, so was Jason Kidd.

With Jabari Parker’s career just getting underway, we will have to wait a few years to determine which end of the spectrum he falls into. The Bucks, and Parker, are certainly hoping for the positive end.

Paul George on leg injury: It felt like gasoline was on my leg and someone lit a match

Paul George met with the media on Friday for the first time since breaking his leg during a USA Basketball scrimmage in Las Vegas two weeks ago.

The Indiana Pacers star said there was no timetable on his return and said USA Basketball should not be blamed for what he described as a “freak accident.” He also shared what it was like to go through the horrible experience. And, man, it sounded every bit as bad as it looked.

“When I looked down and saw my bone sticking out, I knew it was bad,” said George. “I’ve felt pain before. This was a pain I’ve never felt before. So I knew how bad this was.

“Just on fire. My leg felt like it was in flames.

“It was a quick five minutes, and then my body kind of went into shock. I was in pain for a good 5-10 minutes. It just felt like a burning sensation throughout my whole leg.”

What’s comforting is that George is maintaining a positive outlook despite the horrifying experience.

“I’m really taking this in a positive way. I can sit back and watch the game and just learn,” George says of his upcoming year off.

George has also been busy giving back to his hometown. He is switching jersey numbers from 24 to 13 and donated all the old jerseys to his high school in Palmdale. With his attitude, we can definitely expect him to be in top shape when he returns. He definitely has the mental part down.

Paul George stretcher

Andrew Wiggins: Kobe Bryant is closest thing to Michael Jordan

Andrew-WigginsAndrew Wiggins has a ton of respect for Kobe Bryant’s game and compares him to the player he considers to be the greatest ever: Michael Jordan. Wiggins even wants to challenge the Lakers superstar 1-on-1 more than any other player in the NBA.

In a 2013 interview with ESNews that took place before he even began his college career at Kansas, Wiggins was asked which NBA great he’d play 1-on-1 if he had his choice. He named Kobe.

“I’d want to face Kobe because he’s the closest thing to the greatest ever. I think Michael Jordan’s the greatest ever, but Kobe’s second to Michael Jordan, and I want to see where I stand.”

Wiggins also said in the interview, “I’m a big fan,” of Kobe Bryant.

Wiggins was drafted No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers and is expected to head to Minnesota as part of a Kevin Love trade. In this particular interview, he mentioned the Toronto Raptors as a team he’d like to be drafted by. If he still feels strongly about Toronto, keep that in mind for when he becomes a free agent.

Also keep this interview in mind when it comes time for Wiggins to face Bryant. Based on his words, you know he’ll be bringing his A-game.

(Note: A previous version of this post contained a supposed quote from Kobe saying the Wiggins trade would be like the Hornets trading him to the Lakers. That appears to be a fabricated quote.)

Stephen Curry denied beer because he didn’t have ID

Steph Curry WarriorsStephen is comfortably among the better plays in the NBA and may be the league’s best shooter. He’s been an All-Star, broken records, and made an appearance with Chris and Cliff Paul in a State Farm commercial.

All that said, it’s still a good idea to carry proper identification when you’re out and about, even if you’re an NBA star.

In an interview with Dime Magazine, Curry recalled a story when he attempted to order a beer while with his wife at California Pizza kitchen. Naturally, they had a waitress who didn’t recognize him.

“It happened at California Pizza Kitchen in the Bay Area like 15 minutes from my house. We went, I tried to get a drink after the season, that’s exactly what happened. Me and my wife went to dinner, and we didn’t have our daughter with us, and she was with the babysitter. So I ordered a beer, and I didn’t have my ID with me, ‘cause I left it in the car and I thought she’d recognize me.”

“So the waitress asks, and I was like, ‘uh, is your manager here,’ and I took my chances with him knowing who I was, and…he knew. But she basically — yeah — she wouldn’t give me the benefit of the doubt, knowing that I didn’t look like I was over 21 and not knowing who I was.”

Does this qualify as an air ball for the sharp-shooting Stephen Curry?

You would think if there is a place Curry might be able to get the benefit of the doubt it would be in the Bay Area, but not this time, atleast initially. Curry does look young in the face, so props to the waitress for doing her job since she wasn’t aware who she was serving. Thankfully, there was a member of the staff able to identify him.