I’m kind of confused at the sudden outburst of commentary on Twitter about Calipari turning down Cleveland. Yes, he would have had the opportunity to coach LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, and maybe Andrew Wiggins also. For this reason, we are seeing a lot of commentary about how Calipari missed a chance to do something great.
On the other hand, Tim Sullivan points out in today’s Courier-Journal that Calipari has missed only the bus, not the opportunity. Consider:
Maybe Calipari had some basis to believe LeBron was coming back to Cleveland. Maybe Calipari was confident he was salesman enough to sign basketball’s preeminent player as a free agent. Yet in the absence of formal assurances that James was poorly positioned to provide while under contract to another team, Calipari was wise to wait for a surer thing.
Perhaps, but I think even this is overblown. You really have no idea how long LeBron will stay in Cleveland despite his protestations that he wants to retire there. At the end of the day, James wants to win, and he wants to be with a winning organization. He would prefer that be in Cleveland, but James is getting older and isn’t going to have an infinite number of chances to win an NBA championship. Cleveland, to date, has not proven that they are a winning franchise, and perhaps that is reflected in James taking only a two-year contract rather than upping for four years.
I’m sure Calipari, like other coaches, would love to coach James on a championship team, but I don’t think that is near the “bucket list” item so many seem to think it is. Calipari would have surrendered the opportunity to coach what could be (and let me emphasize “could”) one of the best college basketball teams ever to take the floor. Next year’s Kentucky team looks for all the world like it could win the NCAA Championship, and a second NCAA title to go along with the rest of his success would assure Calipari a place in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, if that place isn’t assured already.
I doubt that Calipari is concerned about James or Cleveland right now. Besides, one of the reasons Cleveland allegedly wanted Calipari is to help lure James back — that proved to be an unnecessary step, so exactly what would be their justification for wanting him now? Also, from Calipari’s perspective, Cleveland as currently constituted doesn’t look all that much like an NBA champion despite the absurd betting lines and hype. James is the best player in the league, no doubt, but basketball is still a team game.
I think Sullivan is right — Calipari will have more opportunities if he is interested, and although I think Coach Cal might enjoy the thought of coaching James, It’s my opinion that he believes his best interests are served by coaching at Kentucky, at least for now. Job security is much better, even if that concept is pretty meaningless to a man of Calipari’s means. Not only that, he sits atop the world of college basketball in a way that is extremely difficult in the NBA, where loyalties are fleeting and coaches are a dime a dozen, not to mention the proven reality that coaches coming from college to the NBA have fared poorly. Calipari himself is proof of that truism.
Calipari is objectively in the best place he can possibly be right now. He is the right coach for a legendary program on a roll that shows no signs of abating anytime soon. I don’t think he has any regrets.