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Would John Calipari have turned down the Cavs if he knew LeBron was coming?

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger
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LEXINGTON, KY - FEBRUARY 15: John Calipari the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats gives instructions to his team during the game against the Florida Gators at Rupp Arena on February 15, 2014 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

When the Cleveland Cavaliers reached out to John Calipari, Tom Izzo and Billy Donovan about their head coaching vacancy this past spring, all three eventually decided the opportunity wasn't enticing enough for them to leave the stability of their college gigs behind.

It's fair to wonder if that trio would each still make the same decision today.

LeBron James' announcement that he is returning to Cleveland instantly makes the Cavs one of the favorites to win the NBA title next year and for the duration of his contract. That makes the role of Cleveland head coach a heck of a lot more appealing now than it was two months ago even if the position now comes with a lot more pressure to win a championship in the first year or two. 

It's unclear how serious Cleveland's pursuit of Izzo or Donovan was this spring, but Calipari certainly seems to have been a top candidate, perhaps in part because his longtime friendship with James might have been a potential selling point for the Cavs. My Yahoo Sports colleagues, Adrian Wojnarowski and Brett Dawson reported last month that Calipari had been "deep in discussions" with Cleveland on a longterm deal before agreeing to a seven-year, $52 million contract extension with Kentucky.

Calipari, Izzo and Donovan shouldn't be judged too harshly for their decisions for several reasons.

They had no way of knowing how seriously James would consider leaving Miami at that point because their discussions with the Cavs came before the Spurs made the Heat supporting cast look old and rickety in the NBA Finals. They each also have much better job security at Kentucky, Michigan State and Florida, schools at which they are revered for winning championships and competing for titles year after year.

Still, on some level it has to sting knowing that the chance to coach the best basketball player in the world has slipped through their fingers.

Before he signed his extension with Kentucky, Calipari was asked by the Cleveland Plain Dealer if he would like to coach James someday. His response was only surprising for its honesty.

"Are you kidding me?" the Kentucky coach told the newspaper. "Have a chance to coach the best player in the world? Yes, I would love to coach him. But what's happened is our careers are crisscrossing without crossing.

"I'm not in a position where I would leave Kentucky right now. I'm not sure whether this is his last contract, or his next-to-last contract. But I would tell you if I had a chance to, I would absolutely."

Whether he knew it or not, Calipari did have that chance and he passed on it to return to Kentucky to coach a loaded team with nine McDonald's All-Americans and aspirations of winning a second national title in four years.

Perhaps Calipari didn't think there was much of a chance James would return to Cleveland. Perhaps he simply didn't feel the timing was right to leave Kentucky. Regardless, an honest look back at that decision from Calipari would be fascinating but it's probably not something he'll share anytime soon. 

Calipari's only comment thus far was classy but not very revealing.

"Congrats to @KingJames & his family!" the Kentucky coach tweeted. "What's better than going home for the right reasons? I'm happy for Cleveland, the @cavs & their fans."

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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