If the Lakers call, John Calipari should, and likely would, listen

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

ARLINGTON, Texas – About an hour and a half before Monday's national title game, former Kentucky great, ex-NBA front-office executive and occasional Wildcats TV color commentator Rex Chapman tweeted that John Calipari would be the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers next season.

"Done deal," Chapman wrote and he later stood by his tweet, claiming that's what he's hearing.

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Done deal? Well, that's almost assuredly an overstatement.

Possible? Oh you better believe it's possible, and not just because Chapman was seen with coaching agent and Calipari confidant William Wesley this weekend. (Wesley is actually a consultant, not an agent, for CAA and says he had no interactions with Chapman over the Final Four weekend until after Chapman's tweet.)

This can't be dismissed as the Cal/NBA rumor du jour. These are the 16-time champion Lakers, the best coaching job in the league and one that is expected to open at season's end with the firing of Mike D'Antoni. This year they'll have a high draft pick to go with their history of being the most attractive place for superstar free agents.

And who can be a superstar free agent this summer? LeBron James, a friend of Calipari. The concept of LeBron and Kobe Bryant playing side by side has seemed too impossible to even consider. It probably still is. Would LeBron even want to play for Cal? It's one thing to be friends. It's another to leave the Miami Heat and cast your career with the guy. At this point, though, who knows?

Mostly, it is foolish for anyone to dismiss that Calipari – or any coach, anywhere – would refuse to listen to the Lakers. Mike Krzyzewski once almost left Duke for the Lakers. They're that big of a deal.

"The Lakers have a basketball coach," Calipari said after Kentucky lost the national title 60-54 to Connecticut. "The Lakers have a basketball coach. I've got the best job in the country. I'm not even going to dignify that stuff."

That was a non-denial denial. There were two factual but pointless statements: of course, L.A. and Kentucky have coaches. There was an opinion that might only apply to the college level: UK is the best job in college ball or "the country." When discussing NBA jobs, people use the term "the league."

As for not dignifying it, that's an appropriate sentiment after just losing an emotional title game. Calipari knows, however, that it does nothing to squash speculation, fair or not.

Chapman's tweet and subsequent comments were sloppy and should hardly be considered a legitimate news report. However, it's reasonable to assume this is what he is hearing from people either close to Calipari, the NBA, or both. It's telling that he's dealing with massive backlash from Kentucky fans yet not backing down.

So let's start with this: There is no way this is anything close to a done deal. It's improbable the Lakers would negotiate with Calipari a) before firing D'Antoni; b) while the college season is still going on. There is no rush here. It makes zero sense for the Lakers. They could just wait a week.

And would they really even want a coach that would be so disloyal to his current team that he would work a deal while a national title was still possible?

Conversely, Calipari is unlikely to hash out a new NBA job on the day of a national title game. He has plenty of detractors, but his focus on this team and eagerness to win a second NCAA title is unquestioned. The guy is a competitor.

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So what's reasonable to conclude is that Chapman is repeating a projection of what he is being told – namely that the Lakers have interest in Calipari when they fire D'Antoni. Then Chapman is being told Calipari would, in turn, have interest in the Lakers.

It's just philosophical at this point, but to Chapman, the deal seems inevitable, just a run of falling dominos. That makes sense. Done deal, even if it isn't.

For their part, the Lakers told the Los Angeles Times there's no such deal and no negotiations with any coach anywhere. Of course, they also still have a coach and a string of games to play, so what else are they going to say?

Meanwhile UK officials expressed disbelief at the report and offered their own hopefulness.

"Cal looks great in blue," UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart noted after the game.

Barnhart repeated the sentiment in Kentucky that he doubts Calipari is going anywhere because Cal appreciates how great it is to coach the Wildcats. Big Blue doesn't lack self-esteem.

"When you travel as far as our fan base does…," Barnhart said. "When you look up and see all the blue in the stands … this is a very special fan base and I think he appreciates being the caretaker of our program and being in Kentucky. It's a very, very special place.

"Cal loves Kentucky. I've been in this long enough, nothing fazes me with [these reports]. You live long enough day to day with people – I've been with Cal for five years now – I think I know Cal fairly well. I think if there was anything I need to be concerned about, he and I [would] have had conversations."

All well and good, except these are the Lakers, one of the most storied franchises in all of sports.

Like UK, they routinely win titles. Like UK, they have all the recruiting advantages. Like UK, they have a massive fan base, only in this case a far bigger one and on a global scale. They are also the top attraction in the nation's second-biggest market, not a state with three million in population. And this is the NBA, the ultimate basketball level.

Calipari coached the New Jersey Nets in the late 1990s and went 72-112 in just more than two years, doing a better job than the record might indicate.

He might not exhibit the late-game coaching skill of top NBA guys, but he also may not feel that is possible under the current set-up. He nearly won the national title Monday with five freshman starters. Advanced basketball just isn't possible in such a short period with such a young team.

His ability to connect with players, motivate them and develop them in practice is clear. Is that enough for the Lakers?

Time will tell what's true or not here, but overreacting one way or the other at this point isn't advised.

Rex Chapman's claim this is a done deal doesn't seem plausible. It's just as wrong to blindly dismiss the possibility because Kentucky is Kentucky and nothing else can possibly compare.

If the Los Angeles Lakers actually have any interest at all, John Calipari would be a fool not to at least listen.

And one thing that everyone can agree on is that when it comes to climbing the professional ladder, John Calipari is not and never has been a fool.

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