There are rumors that if John Calipari leads Kentucky to the national championship this season, he’ll leave Lexington for the NBA.
Is this a legitimate possibility?
Yes – but with Calipari, it’s always a legitimate possibility.
“It’s not like they’re talking about Gary Parrish going to the NBA – because it’s not on the table for me,” CBSSports.com com college basketball insider Gary Parrish said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “John will have an opportunity to go if he wants to. He had an opportunity to go last year if he wanted to. The speculation is rooted in something that is at least actually real. Can John Calipari go to the NBA? Sometimes we talk about these things, about people that have no chance. I live in Memphis. The speculation right now is (whether) Josh Pastner (will) leave Memphis for another job. Well, right now there’s not an opportunity for him to leave for another job, so where’s he going? But will Cal? Yes, he’ll have an opportunity to go to the NBA.”
The theory is that if Calipari goes 40-0 and wins a national title, he’ll have nothing left to accomplish in college. Parrish, however, doesn’t buy that.
“I sort of resist the idea (that there’s) nothing left to accomplish,” he said. “I just don’t think he views the world that way. By that standard, what does Mike Krzyzewski have left to accomplish? What’s he still doing? By that standard, what’s Larry Brown got left to accomplish? What’s he doing at SMU? At the end of the day, coaches like to coach and they like to win. And John is probably set up in about as good of a position as you can ever dream of to win at the highest level consistently – which is why though the NBA is a possibility, I don’t think it’s any more of a possibility this summer than it was last summer.
“The truth is, there’s only three or four, maybe five jobs he would even consider seriously taking,” Parrish continued. “And they would have to be jobs that a) were open, b) wanted him and c) were set up to win immediately. He ain’t interested in rebuilding an NBA franchise. And so, if one of those jobs that checks all the boxes I just named presents itself, he’ll think about it. Short of that, he’s going to make $8 million, coach future pros at Kentucky and win 35 games a year.”
The only reason Calipari, 56, might want to return to the NBA is to atone for his first foray into the league. Calipari coached the New Jersey Nets from 1996-1999 and finished 72-112 (.391). He was fired, became an assistant under Larry Brown in Philadelphia and eventually made his way to Memphis.
Parrish covered the Tigers for several years and was around Calipari a lot.
“I wouldn’t pretend that we’re best friends, but I feel like I know him as well as any other media member,” Parrish said. “And I can just tell you that the idea that he was an NBA failure eats at him. If you ever want to really get him going, ask him to talk about the time that he failed in the NBA – because he’ll stop you. He doesn’t consider himself a failure at the NBA level. He’ll give you all of these stories (about injuries and other things that happened). He’s got a lot of reasons for why it didn’t work out. And he’ll also tell you he made the playoffs, so how big of a failure is that?
“Either way, the perception is the reality, and the perception is he was an NBA failure,” Parrish continued. “And so, if he could ever right that, I think he would like to. It is the one place in his professional life that he didn’t just perform at an off-the-charts level and that’s something that’s in his head somewhere. But he’s also a brilliant man who’s not going to just go try to prove he can win in the NBA just to do it. He will only do take a job that’s set up for him to win.
“That’s why I think the window, while open, it’s not as open as some might think. He wants to coach a big-time franchise with big-time players that are ready to win at a big-time level right at the start. Short of that, he is happy to make $8 million a year, recruiting at an unprecedented level in modern history and setting himself up to stack Final Fours and national championships.”