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Hiring Calipari to coach Bulls would be foolish move
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Columnist

Kentucky coach John Calipari posted a 72-116 record in two-plus seasons as coach of the New Jersey Nets. In college, he's coached four players who were top-four picks in the NBA draft (we're counting John Wall) and never won a national championship.


Associated Press file

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Published: 5/9/201 9:05 PM | Updated: 5/9/2010 9:06 PM

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LeBron James has won consecutive MVP awards, living up to his considerable teenage hype to become the NBA's best player. He's led the Cavaliers to back-to-back 60-win seasons.

But what James really wants in his basketball career is to play for John Calipari. At least, that's what a flood of recent news stories have suggested.

If the Bulls hire Calipari as head coach, LeBron will follow. Unless, of course, the Cavs make a pre-emptive strike and replace Mike Brown with the first-year coach at Kentucky.

Why wouldn't that happen? After all, Calipari posted a 72-116 record in two-plus seasons as coach of the New Jersey Nets. In college, he's coached four players who were top-four picks in the NBA draft (we're counting John Wall) and never won a national championship.

As this is being written, a team of lawyers may well be petitioning the NCAA to return James' amateur status so he can enroll at Kentucky next season.

In reality, this plan doesn't make much sense at all, which is why the Bulls are not considering Calipari for their coaching vacancy.

Here's why James figures to re-sign with Cleveland once he becomes a free agent this summer: If he leaves now, he'll be hated in his hometown for years to come.

The Cavs have posted the league's best regular-season record two years in a row and James is still just 25 years old. So even though his Cleveland supporting cast is getting old (Shaquille O'Neal is 38, Anthony Parker and Zydrunas Ilgauskas turn 35 in June, Antawn Jamison is nearly 34), James should be in no hurry to bail out.

If James wins a couple of NBA championships, ending Cleveland's 36-year run without a pro sports title, he can go save basketball in New York or some other major city three or four years from now and leave as an Ohio hero.

So rather than hire Calipari as a combination head coach/recruiting coordinator, the Bulls should focus on a simple message during free agency: The chance to win.

As the NBA playoffs progress, it seems clear only three teams are capable of winning a championship - the Lakers, Cavaliers and Magic.

It won't be easy to break into that pack, especially since James and Orlando center Dwight Howard haven't even hit their dreaded late-20s. Atlanta does not seem on the verge of a breakthrough after losing two of three games to the Magic by at least 30 points.

The Bulls might have a chance of moving up if they can squeeze two prime free agents into their current lineup. The question is whether anyone will sacrifice a few million for a chance to contend.

As mentioned here before, the Bulls might be able to free about $23 million if the salary cap is set at David Stern's prediction of $56 million and the Bulls create extra cash by giving away this year's first-round draft pick, along with James Johnson.

It's starting to seem doubtful any team will give Atlanta's Joe Johnson, the best shooting guard on the market, a maximum contract. In the Hawks' last six playoff games, he's averaged just 11.5 points and shot 31.2 percent from the field.

He took his frustration out on booing Atlanta fans following the 105-75 loss to Orlando in Game 3 on Saturday.

"It's about us in this locker room," Johnson said, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We could care less if they showed up."

Splitting $23 million between Johnson and Toronto's Chris Bosh seems a little far-fetched. By starting Bosh at $13 million, the Bulls could give him $75.4 million over five years, compared to a max of $96.1 million for five.

The most logical plan right now is the Bulls going all out to sign Bosh, then using what's left to go after a lower-priced shooting guard, such as Ray Allen or Utah's Kyle Korver.

The other option is to try and pair Johnson with a lower-priced power forward such as Carlos Boozer or David Lee. Either way, it's a better plan than counting on Calipari to deliver LeBron.

Coach search static: There's been no real change from the Daily Herald's original list of Bulls' coaching candidates. The top three are Kevin McHale, Maurice Cheeks and Lawrence Frank. Jeff Van Gundy, Sam Mitchell, Tom Thibodeau and Dwane Casey are among those under consideration.