Like Pete Carroll, John Calipari Should Make Move to the NBA, Lakers

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Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari. Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Pete Carroll didn’t leave USC after winning a BCS Championship. He left in the middle of a major recruiting scandal with the program about to get slapped with a penalty that would cost it a significant about scholarships annually for the foreseeable future.

As Carroll proved, timing isn’t always everything.

Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari is again being connected to a job coaching in the NBA, more specifically the Los Angeles Lakers where it seems inevitable that Mike D’Antoni is on his way out. Will he or won’t he? — that’s the question being asked now in the aftermath of his team’s national championship loss.

“No, I’m right there at Kentucky,” Calipari told ESPN after Kentucky’t title game loss to Connecticut Monday. “I got the best job. Got a good group of kids. I love what I’m doing. Speculation — that’s there every year I coach.”

“The Lakers have a coach,” he added. “Kentucky has a basketball coach. I got the best job in the country. I’m not going to even dignify that stuff.”

The real question that needs to be asked, though, is why not? Calipari didn’t bring another set of nets back to Lexington, Ky. Tuesday morning, but he may have pulled off his best coaching job since taking over the Wildcats. Sure, the team was ranked first in the pre-season, but this team didn’t play that way against Arkansas, LSU and South Carolina, teams that hover around the middle of the pack in the SEC. But after a stellar run in the conference tournament, the elite group of recruits began to figure it out, if you will, and took that momentum all the way to the Final 2.

Like Carroll, Calipari had an unsuccessful first go-round in the NBA. But he’s had plenty of experience since, which makes him more seasoned and more wise to give it the pros another shot.

What’s intriguing about the Lakers gig is the roster is expected to be torn apart at the seams and built over from the ground up. With most of the current roster not expected back and a plenty of money in the bank to spend on free agents, the team needs to be re-pieced together. Now factor in Cal’s recruiting skills, and perhaps he can handpick his players to find the right fits for his scheme. There’s also a high lottery pick he’s got to work with, and of course, there’s the fact that Kobe Bryant is going to be hungry to make his last run for a Larry O’Brien Trophy.

For the Lakers, the fit makes too much sense.

Since Phil Jackson’s departure, the team has struck out with Mike Brown and now D’Antoni, and a marquee franchise like that can’t settle for journeyman head coaches. It needed to remain relevant, make big splashes and get the hot name — and Calipari fits that mold above anybody else.

Carroll passed up a number of NFL coaching jobs before he accepted one with the Seattle Seahawks, which as February’s Super Bowl triumph over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos proved, was clearly the right decision. Carroll was choosy, though, and rightfully so; he had nothing to lose by heading out to the Pacific Northwest because he had already accomplished so much with the Trojans, he could always fallback to the college ranks or simply sail off to the sunset.

Cal has reached the pinnacle of the college hoops, and while I’m sure his competitive juices probably make him want to go after another championship to put in Kentucky’s trophy case, the one thing that remains blank on his resume to begin a successful NBA coaching career. The season he had on the sidelines this season assures me that Cal is ready for another shot with the pros, and it doesn’t get better than doing it in Hollywood.

Sam Spiegelman is a native New Yorker covering sports in New Orleans. He likes Game of Thrones way too much. Tweet him @samspiegs.