Calipari is no Cavalier

 Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Calipari contradicts Cleveland’s reported $80 million offer, stays at Kentucky

By: Joe Mags

John Calipari’s decision to remain at Kentucky – leaving a reported $80 million contract on the table with the Cleveland Cavaliers – is astonishing news.

How did that guy pass up that offer? What exactly did Calipari pass up in Cleveland?

To compare, Phil Jackson just inked a 5-year, $60 million contract to become a first-time President of Basketball Operations. But he is Phil Jackson.

John Calipari is no Phil Jackson.

So for Calipari to turn down that type of figure means one of two things: (1) he has had a sudden stroke of moral fortitude, a refusal to sign a contract he knows he couldn’t possibly live up to…

Sidebar: HAHAHA! Yeah, RIGHT?!!

… or (2) he would rather have the Kentucky job.

That makes sense in a vacuum. Cleveland has not been a luxurious destination for any head coach, both in recent history and at-large, and their ownership is still more bark than bite. Plus, Kentucky is a blue blood program that entices the best young basketball players every year. It’s an incredible coaching job.

But it’s not as simple as which job has the bigger name. The Cavs own the No. 1 overall pick in an awesome draft, they have cap space, they have Kyrie Irving, and they play in the lowly Eastern Conference. And Calipari was offered $80 million over the next decade to call the shots.

How valuable is the top selection this year? If the Cavaliers use the pick on whomever they feel is the best player, they own that player for four years at a rookie’s wage. That could very well translate to paying peanuts for Joel Embiid to average 15 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks per game, or Andrew Wiggins to become the next Paul George, or Jabari Parker to average more than 20 points a night from the get-go.

Oh, and before those rookie contracts expire, the Cavaliers can offer a max-level contract to their player that no other team can. The Cavaliers essentially control (or have semi-control) of their elite basketball prospect for nine years. This year’s top selection is not just a draft pick; it’s a magic wand that can undo years of terrible decision making and reinvigorate a franchise.

Cleveland has been very vocal about wanting to make the playoffs ever since last year’s lottery when they put their own foots in their mouths. The Eastern Conference is so bad that Kyrie Irving and Embiid/Wiggins/Parker might be enough of a combination to sneak into the bottom of the field – and that’s before using their remaining cap space, as well as testing the market for players like Dion Waiters, Jarret Jack and Anderson Varejão.

It’s their playoff hopes that make trading the top selection a fascinating option as well. On the one hand, drafting an elite player this season and adding him to an incredibly young core might be the smartest option. On the other hand, Kevin Love is on the market, which is a rare opportunity for a mid-market team like Cleveland to acquire a superstar talent outside of the draft.

The question that Cleveland’s upper management has been pondering for weeks is what move is better for the franchise: many years of whomever they consider the best player in the draft, or one – maybe two – years of Kevin Love before he becomes an unrestricted free agent?

That’s not an easy choice, and it also fails to recognize Minnesota’s desire for additional compensation – as well as the many other offers from other Love suitors. Still, for $80 million over ten years, Calipari could have made these choices, and if they had gone well they might build a statue of him outside the arena.

So why didn’t he take the gig? Well for starters, there is a high room for error. Suppose Love gets moved somewhere else, or not at all. Suddenly Calipari is left with a complicated Irving negotiation looming, an otherwise young and unaccomplished roster, and Cleveland ownership that has proved to be disastrously impatient when it has cap space to blow. (See: Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes.)

More importantly, Calipari already has a job that he is excelling at. Kentucky was in the championship game in April, and its returning most of that team. Next season’s team adds four top recruits that Scout considers among the six best players at each of their positions respectively. And as Calipari knew along, Kentucky pays pretty handsomely as well.

Joe Mags (@JoeMags_hoops) is a staff writer for and interning for the Watertown Daily Times. Peace, love, recycle and ball.

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