Coach John Calipari is one of the biggest names in college basketball, if not the biggest name that casual fans know. Calipari is the architect behind Kentucky's one and done system, shuttling in five-star recruits and sending a batch every year to the top of the lottery. His Kentucky teams have been very successful, as Calipari is 166-37 as the leader of the Wildcats in his five and a half seasons there.
Before Kentucky, Coach Cal led UMass to great success on the basketball court. He started in UMass with a team that went 10-18 in his first season as Coach and left after the 1995-96 Minutemen went 35-2 and made the Final Four. After UMass, Calipari coached 184 games with the New Jersey Nets before retreating back to the friendly confines of the college game, compiling a 214-67 record at Memphis before leaving for Kentucky, where he is now.
There is no doubt that Calipari is a great coach who can bring in top-flight recruiting classes but also maximize that talent in ways that is both best for the player and the greater team. But would Calipari's coaching methods work in the NBA, perhaps as the leader of the Cleveland Cavs?
This isn't as far-fetched as it may seem. According to ESPN, the Cavs offered Calipari a 10-year deal worth nearly $80 million to stand on the sidelines in Cleveland. The Cavs were clearly interested in Calipari, but he ended up staying in Kentucky for the 2014-15 season.
Also, recent grumblings have emerged about the Cavs current head coach, David Blatt. Blatt was put in a difficult situation for his first head coaching job. He latched on to one of the biggest media circuses in NBA history - the LeBron returns to Cleveland narrative is a powerful one, and there was a stinking concert with Kendrick Lamar and Kevin Hart for the first home game of the season.
The expectation before the season was that Cleveland would go 82-0 this season, or, at very least, easily win the Eastern Conference and approach 60 wins. When the Cavs didn't live up to those expectations in the first half of the season, and especially over the past few days following a tough stretch for Cleveland, there were grumblings about the head coach in charge, Mr. Blatt.
What is that noise? Noise that Cleveland might let go of Blatt at the end of the season if the playoffs don't go as planned (read: Cleveland doesn't win the championship.) And if Blatt gets fired, who would probably be Cleveland's first or second call? Mr. Calipari.
I think it would be an interesting experiment to have John Calipari as the coach of the Cavs. His hiring would immediately set off another media firestorm surrounding the Cavs, as national media would flock for his opening press conference to ask him stupid questions like "Will you be running the platoon system in Cleveland?" or "Are you going to trade for all of your former players at Kentucky?"
I think Calipari would be successful as the Cavs head coach if he was hired at the end of this season. That mostly has to do with the roster that Cleveland has and less with what Calipari would bring to the table from a coaching perspective. His first key to success would be winning over LeBron James. James is the leader of the team and all the Cavs young stars will fall in line behind him and the team and coach would be in sync, something you always need to be successful in any organization, sports or not.
Handling the media firestorm would also be key, but Calipari has gotten good at handling that kind of constant pressure at Kentucky. Remember, the situations at Kentucky and Cleveland aren't all that different in terms of preseason expectations. Cal is expected to turn McDonalds All-Americans into National Champions every season. It is championship or bust every year for him, and he has to deal with constant roster turnover from year to year. Blatt and Cleveland have similar expectations placed upon the franchise. Because of his background dealing with expectations and the media at Kentucky, I think Cal would do just fine in those areas.
At the end of the day, thinking about how John Calipari would do in Cleveland is nothing more than a fun water cooler conversation for now. Until Blatt gets fired, no real Calipari to Cleveland rumors will emerge. If Calipari ever does get to lead the reigns of a LeBron-led Cleveland team, though, I think he would do a fine job as coach. But then again, LeBron and this Cleveland roster would make a lot of coaches look good in that role.
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