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The Sacramento Kings are probing University of Kentucky coach John Calipari about his interest in taking over the franchise's front-office and coaching jobs, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Calipari has been communicating with owner Vivek Ranadive and other members of the Kings' ownership group in recent weeks, league sources said. Calipari has listened to scenarios with which the Kings could offer him complete control of the franchise's fledgling basketball operations to go along with coaching, league sources said.
No formal offer has been made to Calipari, and Kings ownership understands that it will take a multiyear financial package of $10 million-plus annually to get Calipari to seriously consider leaving Kentucky, sources said.
In recent weeks, Sacramento ownership's intrigue with Calipari has only grown with the dissolution of the relationship between All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins and coach George Karl, sources said.
Calipari coached Cousins at Kentucky for a season in 2009-10, and Ranadive believes Calipari could help serve as a mechanism to convince Cousins to back away from his desire to be traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, sources said. As much as anything, Calipari represents one more potential change of direction, as well as a public-relations splash for Ranadive.
Sacramento ownership, dismayed over Karl's fractured relationship with Cousins, has had lawyers studying Karl's contract, trying to determine if there's a way to terminate him for "cause," and free themselves of the three years and nearly $10 million left guaranteed on his deal, league sources told Yahoo Sports. If the Kings cannot convince Calipari to come to Sacramento – or never make a formal offer – Karl could simply remain as coach.
Sacramento's case on trying to get out of paying Karl his contract would be based in part on his involvement in mounting a campaign to get Cousins traded, sources said. The possibility of getting Karl ousted without pay is remote.
Calipari signed a seven-year, $54 million extension a year ago to stay at Kentucky. He turned down an eight-year, $60 million-plus offer to run the Cleveland Cavaliers before LeBron James made his return in free agency last year.
Nevertheless, Calipari's monstrous success at Kentucky – and his election into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this year – has further fueled his intrigue on pursuing a return to the NBA, league sources said. He had some interest in the New Orleans Pelicans' coaching opening, but that organization had no interest in turning its franchise over to him, sources said.
At Kentucky, Calipari has gone 190-37 (.837) with a national title and four Final Fours.
Calipari had general manager and coaching responsibility with the Nets in the late 1990s, but that partnership ended in less than three seasons. Calipari was 72-112 in two-plus seasons with the Nets, including a playoff appearance.
The courtship of Calipari could become one more dramatic turn of events for the Kings, who have struggled under Ranadive to set forth on a direction and stay the course. Around the NBA, senior league officials and confidants of Ranadive have pleaded with him to stop these sharp changes in direction, sources said.
As one league official familiar with Ranadive's mindset told Yahoo Sports, "He's trying to find a magic button to push that'll fix everything."
The emergence of Sacramento's intrigue with Calipari comes only two months after Vlade Divac – with no front-office experience – was hired to run basketball operations, and four months after Karl was given a four-year contract.
For several weeks this spring, the Kings had considered hiring Kiki Vandeweghe as the franchise's president, but those talks lost traction, league sources said. Vandeweghe is the NBA's vice president of basketball operations, and previously had been the GM of the Denver Nuggets and Brooklyn Nets. Eventually, Ranadive backed away from the idea and turned to hiring Divac, league sources said.
Most believed Ranadive had hired Divac in a ceremonial position, but the owner quickly decided to usurp general manager Pete D'Alessandro's authority to place Divac in charge.
D'Alessandro left the Kings for a front-office job with the Denver Nuggets two weeks ago. Around the draft, several front-office executives and player agents expressed frustration about dealing with Divac on instances involving the trading and drafting of players. Divac is largely unfamiliar with the collective bargaining and salary-cap rules, causing him to struggle with grasping the machinations of negotiating and completing deals.
Among other things, Ranadive has talked extensively with Calipari about how best to deal with Cousins, and communicated with him about the Kings' first-round pick, center Willie Cauley-Stein, in Thursday's NBA draft, sources said.
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