UPDATE: Right before I was ready to post this, Coach Cal sent out the following tweet: I want to address this with the Big Blue Nation one last time, I will be coaching at Kentucky next year. Now let’s finish what we started.
The fact that LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Boston Celtics last night should really only matter to UK fans because UKâ€™s own Rajon Rondo proved himself to be the best player on the Celtics, and for a majority of the series, the most difficult to guard player on the court. But, LBJâ€™s loss means a crazy summer for UK fans, because where LBJ goes, our very own Coach John Calipari may follow.
Yes, I know, he has stated before that he is happy at UK and that he loves the job and everything else, but we are talking about LeBron James and a chance to be the Phil Jackson to LBJâ€™s Michael Jordan. The connections between Cal and LBJ run deep, but are primarily centered on Agent Leon Rose and International Man of Mystery William Wesley (AKA World Wide Wes). Gary Parrish of CBS Sportsline has a nice blog post about it here, but the word amongst everyone in the national media is that if Cal is offered the chance to coach LBJ than he is gone.
So, as UK fans, what do we need to know? The best situation for UK fans is for LBJ to become a New York Knick. The Knicks have a coach, Mike Dâ€™Antoni, who was hired with the idea that his fun and uptempo style would appeal to LBJ and other NBA free agents. This is the best case scenario for UK fans. If any UK fans are out there with time on their hands, they need to start a website dedicated to bringing LBJ to NYC. LBJ to the Knicks means everything stays great in Wildcat Country. All the recruits show up, the 2011 class grows larger and more impressive (thatâ€™s what she said), and local stores donâ€™t have to start discounting Coach Cal t-shirts.
The worst situation, in my opinion, is if LBJ goes to the Chicago Bulls. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah (and yes, we all still hate him) provide an attractive already there supporting cast for LBJ and Roseâ€™s presence would also entice Cal. Rose + LBJ would make it almost impossible for Cal to say know if offered. And he would almost certainly be offered. Teams going after LBJ know he likes Cal and LBJ is going to be in a position to call a lot shots.
The other two choices are New Jersey and staying in Cleveland. Either one of those would also be attractive, but I have a hard time seeing LBJ go to NJ or Cal returning to NJ. Cleveland would be interesting, but I think they will fire the GM first and the new GM may want his own guy as coach.
The key to any of this is whether the team in question would want Cal and that is no guarantee. He does not have a stellar NBA record and his national reputation is built around his ability to recruit, not coach. There are not a lot of coaches who would turn down a chance to coach LBJ, and NBA veterans (and proven winners) like Avery Johnson, Jeff Van Gundy, or even Phil Jackson might be more attractive.
If Cal leaves, the question becomes, what will happen at UK? It is difficult to hire a coach in May/June and I believe there will be a lot of pressure on AD Mitch Barnhart to hire someone who will be ready to make this job permanent. This points to former UK PG Travis Ford, currently the head coach at Oklahoma State. He would be a solid, if not spectacular choice. My guess is that this current recruiting class would lose Brandon Knight, but keep everyone else. The 2011 class would be gone, because they Marquis Teague and Michael Gilchrist were coming to UK to play for Cal. My dark horse candidate would be the aforementioned Dâ€™Antoni. If the Knicks lose out on LBJ, he may be ready to move on, considering their poor record the past couple of seasons. He would bring a fun, uptempo style and future PGs would have to look no further than two time MVP Steve Nash for how well the style suits a talented guard.
No question, losing Cal after one season would hurt. The chaos that we all went through last spring/summer with players leaving/going would repeat itself and the future would be incredibly cloudy. That being said, UK is UK and while the team might stumble at first I feel confident UK can avoid becoming the debacle that is now Indiana University basketball. That being said, I think I speak for most UK fans when I say, Letâ€™s Go Knicks!!!