Sidelines with John Clay

Bottom line: The Knicks aren’t hiring John Calipari

Kentucky head coach John Calipari talked with an official during UK’s win over UCLA in the NCAA South Region semifinals at FedExForum in Memphis, Tn., Friday, March 24, 2017. Calipari has denied reports that he has interest in being team president of the NBA’s New York Knicks.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari talked with an official during UK’s win over UCLA in the NCAA South Region semifinals at FedExForum in Memphis, Tn., Friday, March 24, 2017. Calipari has denied reports that he has interest in being team president of the NBA’s New York Knicks. cbertram@herald-leader.com

Don’t worry. John Calipari is not going to the New York Knicks as team president/coach. The reason: The Knicks aren’t going to hire him -- not as president, at least.

Citing sources, ESPN reported Thursday that Calipari representatives had contacted the Knicks to inquire about the team’s opening for a team president after owner Jim Dolan dumped the slacker Phil Jackson.

Calipari disputed that report. Currently in Egypt to coach the USA U19 team, Cal tweeted that he woke up to the reports, which he said weren't true. He talked to his old pal Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News. And he was on ESPN’s Mike and Mike to say he never contacted the Knicks and to call Kentucky the best job he could possibly have.

Who knows who’s telling the truth in these situations? These days, coaches wrap themselves in so many protective layers so that they can (a) make such inquiries and (b) have plausible deniability that he or she never personally would do such a thing.

Here’s the thing: An NBA team isn't going to hire a college coach to be team president or general manager, even one who has put a ton of college players in the pros. It just isn’t done. There are too many issues that NBA administrative personnel have to deal with, including salary caps, free agency and personnel evaluations. The feeling now is that you need familiarity and relationships inside the league.

Look at Billy Donovan, who led Florida to back-to-back national titles and two other Final Fours. Two years ago, he left the Gators to join the Oklahoma City Thunder, not as team president or GM, but as coach under general manager Sam Presti.

Mike Krzyzewski might be the exception who proves the rule. But the Duke coach has won five NCAA titles and has experience coaching and evaluating NBA players when he coached Team to USA to gold medals in the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

None of this is a knock on Calipari. He’s a Hall of Fame coach. The job he did at UMass was among the most remarkable in the history of the sport. He led Memphis to the national title game, which the Tigers should have won. In eight years at Kentucky, he has won a national title and has been to four Final Fours.

And after being fired by the New Jersey Nets after just two-plus seasons, Calipari might want to someday prove that he can coach in the NBA. It’s a hole in his resume. And he loves nothing more than proving his critics wrong.

As for New York, I’ve heard some people say that if Calipari did return to the NBA, it would have to be in a better situation than the Knicks. Not sure that’s true. The Knicks have nowhere to go but up. And considering Calipari’s relationship with young NBA players, those he coached at Kentucky and the few he recruited but didn't sign, he might think he could recruit free agents to the Big Apple. After the 2017-18 season, there could be a free agent by the name of LeBron James.

[Knicks to interview former Cavs GM David Griffin]

Still, it’s not going to happen. Calipari isn’t headed to New York. Not as team president, anyway.

And now, some links:

▪ Give it up for Mitch Barnhart, who has guided Kentucky to its best finish ever in the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup. UK finished 10th overall, topping its previous best of 11th for the 2013-14 school year. UK was among the top 30 for the seventh consecutive year.

Look at the top five on the list: Stanford, Ohio State, Florida, Southern Cal and North Carolina. Excelling in all sports does nothing but enhance the overall brand of your school.

▪ Jonathan M. Alexander of the Raleigh News and Observer has an interesting story about how top college basketball recruits are beloved by a fan base until they pick another school. Then, social media attacks. UK signee Kevin Knox is a major part of the story.

▪ Homer Bailey’s comeback is not going well. The Reds pitcher made his second MLB start of the season on Thursday night and was rocked for the second straight start. Milwaukee scored six runs off Bailey in just three innings on the way to an 11-3 victory. Bailey’s ERA is 27.00. Milwaukee hit six homers in the win.

▪ The Bulls are shopping Rajon Rondo in advance of decision day on the guard, reports K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. After saying they wanted Rondo back, the Bulls are now apparently set to waive the former UK star. Signing Rondo at a lower salary is apparently a long shot.

▪ Chris Leach of the Herald-Leader reports on Khalil Lee, an outfielder who leads the Lexington Legends in home runs but just as easily could have been a pitcher. Two of this year’s top MLB draft picks, Hunter Greene of Cincinnati and U of L’s Brendan McKay of Tampa Bay, are two-way stars.

▪ And you should check out Cheryl Truman’s story on Dan Richards, who calls himself the “Progressive Liberal” as a wrestler for Appalachian Mountain Wrestling. As part of his act, Richards rips President Donald Trump and is booed by the crowd. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes did a Thing 1/Thing 2 segment Wednesday on Richards. I tweeted about it and got a re-tweet from Hayes, or at least his staff.

▪ One of the good guys, Mark Purdy, is hanging it up at the San Jose Mercury News. As a young guy trying to learn the craft, I was an avid reader and admirer of Mark during his days with the Cincinnati Enquirer. Happy trails to a great writer who said he is hitting the “exit ramp” before he becomes an “old grump sportswriter.”

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