Without doing a thing, Tom Benson made John Calipari a cool $8 million Tuesday.
But since it’s just another contract extension with Kentucky which he conveniently agreed to on the day when Anthony Davis and the Pelicans were suddenly in need of a new coach, Calipari won’t collect his loot until 2022.
However, we could well be seeing Mr. B handing Coach C an even bigger pot full of money long before the next decade.
This is semi-wishful thinking with no basis other than connecting the logical dots, but on the first day of what hopefully is not too long of a coaching search (Saints rookie minicamp starts Friday, after all), Cal to the Pels makes a lot of sense.
1. The team’s highest priority is getting Davis to sign a max contract extension that would tie him to the team five more seasons. Hiring AD’s college coach, the man who recruited him and with whom they won an NCAA championship three years ago in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome would go a long way in making that happen, if not clinching the deal outright.
2. Other players love Cal because he gets them NBA-ready. They may have spent only one season at Kentucky but they keep coming back to the school, even if they can’t tell you what classes they were taking back in the day.
Obviously there’s less recruiting in the NBA, but free agents could find a way to his team, too, especially one with Anthony Davis on it.
3. The Pelicans would like to make a splash hire. Despite the presence of Davis, this is a franchise that sorely needs to ignite the fan base.
Hot assistants from the Greg Popovich coaching tree are popping up like daisies in springtime, but does hearing about Attire Messina (Spurs assistant) or Kenny Atkinson (Hawks assistant) get your heart pumping?
4. As always, Cal’s got something to prove. He left UMass for the New Jersey Nets in 1996 only to be fired after three seasons, in large part, he says, because he wasn’t ready for the job. Now he would be.
Yes, traditionally college coaches have failed in the NBA (see Tim Floyd). But Brad Stevens got the Celtics to the playoffs in his second season and Oklahoma City believes Billy Donovan will be he deciding factor in retaining Kevin Durant.
It’s a small part of a trend that’s seeing more teams taking a chance on first-time head coaches from varied backgrounds (Steve Kerr comes to mind) rather than recycling the Byron Scotts of the profession.
5. The Wildcats are grinding him down.
Constantly turning over your team with one-and-doners means no rest from recruiting. Observers say that’s aged him greatly. Cal has said he was greatly tempted to go to Cleveland last year — and that was before LeBron’s return. The Cavs’ job could open again. Tom Thibdeau is as good as gone in Chicago — maybe to the Pels.
Whatever happens, Cailpari will have options.
6. Money’s not a problem. Sean Payton is tied with Pete Carroll as the highest-paid coach in the NFL. Benson could have the top earner in both leagues.
A few years back, the notion that Mr. B would want to have that distinction would have been unthinkable. But times change.
And since he’s giving away so much of his money these days, Benson might as well invest it in his NBA franchise.
Two problems though:
1. Cal’s a good coach. Not a great coach. He’s lost more big games than he’s won, and most of the time in the regular season his teams prevail on sheer talent.
In the NBA, everybody’s Kentucky. How many in-game adjustments has Cal had to make lately?
A solid staff helps. But it still falls on the head coach at crunch time.
2. He couldn’t come in as Dell Demps’ underling.
To get Calipari out of Kentucky, he’s going to have to be in charge of basketball operations, leaving the day-to-day scouting, etc., to someone with the general manager’s title.
Demps might be accepting of that, giving his somewhat precarious job status despite just having come out winning a power struggle with the departed Monty Williams.
But that’s not the organizational model Mickey Loomis wants to have, as he so effectively pointed out on Tuesday.
However, Loomis is able to live with Payton in roughly the same position as Calipari would be. And folks can learn to be flexible.
Still, the tea leaves point toward a younger assistant type — like Messina or Atkinson. Coaching retreads are out of style these days but Alvin Gentry gets major props from Steve Kerr for Golden State’s offensive success, and an offensive mind is what Demps is seeking.
And don’t rule out Mark Jackson, who had the Warriors on the verge of something big before getting on the wrong side of management. He may have learned his lesson.
Calipari isn’t the only college coach out there either.
Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg played in the NBA and was in the Milwaukee Bucks’ front office for 12 years before returning to his alma mater.
Or it could be someone completely off the wall.
Shouldn’t Larry Brown be feeling the itch to make another move by now? After all, New Orleans is where he started his pro playing career 47 years ago with the Buccaneers.
Good hunting, Dell.
Aren’t coaching searches fun?