A 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.