Two weeks ago, a familiar college basketball offseason ritual returned.
It often begins like this: Rumors tie John Calipari to an NBA job, Kentucky fans panic and Calipari eventually announces, uh, tweets his intentions to stay in Lexington.
In the latest Calipari-will-turn-pro account, a source told ESPN that Calipari's people had inquired about the New York Knicks' president vacancy after James Dolan fired Phil Jackson. Then, Calipari tweeted a rebuttal and reiterated his love for his current job a few hours before he took his national U-19 squad to see the pyramids during a trip to Egypt for the FIBA World Championships.
What became clear -- what has always been clear -- is that Calipari will continue to entertain NBA opportunities throughout his tenure at Kentucky.
That makes sense.
The NBA's free agency fiasco of the past week demonstrated the value of relationships at the next level. The Los Angeles Lakers hired Magic Johnson, the key to the franchise's plans to pursue stars in 2018. Brad Stevens recruited Gordon Hayward -- again -- this time to the Boston Celtics. Jimmy Butler followed former coach Tom Thibodeau and joined the Minnesota Timberwolves.
A trove of former Kentucky Wildcats -- Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Karl Anthony-Towns, John Wall, Devin Booker -- could come together and create the next superteam in the NBA. And Calipari seems like the perfect candidate to draw those talents toward one franchise.
But will he go someday?
Maybe. Maybe not.
He told ESPN last year that he would not consider a move while his son, sophomore walk-on Brad Calipari, is on the roster.
His current contract runs through 2024, but the deal does not include a buyout. So Calipari could resign and take an NBA gig without owing the school a dime.
Here are the pros and cons of a Calipari move to the NBA as a coach or executive:
Reasons to leave Kentucky
Calipari, who recently signed an extension that will boost his compensation to $7.75 million per year next season and $8 million per year after that, is second only to Mike Krzyzewski ($9.8 million per season) in college basketball. Rick Pitino also makes $7.7 million per year, according to USA Today's database.
That's a bunch of cash. But the Knicks paid Phil Jackson $12 million per year to ruin the franchise. The Minnesota Timberwolves pay Tom Thibodeau nearly $10 million per year to run and coach the team. Gregg Popovich makes $11 million per year in the same role for the San Antonio Spurs. It's not crazy to imagine an NBA franchise with an eye on former Kentucky stars throwing a wild, nine-figure contract at Calipari in the coming years that would demand serious scrutiny and consideration.
At Kentucky, Calipari coached three of last season's NBA all-stars (DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and John Wall) and four players who participated in the Rising Stars Challenge (Jamal Murray, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles and Karl Anthony-Towns).
The bulk of the best athletes in the NBA's 26-and-under bracket played at Kentucky. And they all maintain close ties to Calipari and the program. Calipari preaches "family" often, and a trip back to the NBA could create an opportunity to build a potential monster franchise with some of his former players.
At the collegiate level, Calipari has won 78.2 percent of his games as a head coach at UMass, Memphis and Kentucky. That's a remarkable tally that includes a national title in 2011-12. In the NBA, however, the New Jersey Nets fired Calipari after a 3-17 start to the 1998-99 season. It was his third and last year in the NBA, a stretch that featured a lone playoff appearance in 1997-98. I wonder if a coach who has achieved everything at the collegiate level wishes for a second chance in the NBA so he can revise the only competitive blemish (yes, I know about the NCAA drama at UMass and Memphis) on his resume?
Reasons to stay at Kentucky
Per ESPN.com, Calipari has locked up the top recruiting class in America for the sixth time in nine years. He failed to match that mark during the three seasons that Kentucky finished ... second. Every year, Calipari has access to the best high school talent in America. Every year, Calipari assembles a roster that -- on paper -- can compete for a national title. Every. Year.
The NBA is a weird, uncertain space for leaders, regardless of previous achievements and prestige. Phil Jackson won 11 titles and then, the Knicks fired him. And every team in the league is trying to catch the Golden State Warriors. So Calipari could turn pro and never enjoy the same position he holds in college basketball right now.
Every coach wants to finish the season with a ring. Calipari's chances to achieve that goal are far better at this level.
Kentucky's critics will say, "Kentucky fans are crazy" or "Kentucky fans support the Wildcats because they don't have anything better to do." They're both shortsighted, vain perspectives of a community that backs its favorite program with a passion that no fan base in America equals.
Debate all you want about "the best fans" in the country. Kentucky boasts the most committed fans in America. They flood Rupp Arena. They bombard prospects with tweets. They analyze every element of the program. And they'll forever cheer Calipari, assuming he keeps the elite talent coming. No NBA coach enjoys that widespread fervor and admiration.
The NBA is a frustrating venture for the head coaches scrambling to rebuild their rosters. And Calipari would likely inherit a lucrative yet complicated project if he decided to leave Kentucky.
Fred Hoiberg walked on water at Iowa State. Now, he's leading a disassembled Chicago Bulls squad that will likely miss the playoffs this season. Brad Stevens has a stronger Celtics team with Gordon Hayward in the mix, but the Cleveland Cavaliers remain the leaders in the Eastern Conference. Billy Donovan has an intriguing combo with Paul George and Russell Westbrook, the reigning MVP. Both players could leave Oklahoma City, however, in 2018.
At the collegiate level, Calipari has power. He remains tied to the NBA, via the talent pool he attracts each season, without the politics and challenges that come with a pro job. He mingles with Drake and Jay Z. He hosts celebrity softball games and father-son camps. Local establishments name drinks after his players and meals after him. Calipari is still having fun -- more fun than most of the coaches at the next level.
Should he leave?
The NBA is not an automatic destination for him.
Calipari, in the right situation, might want to run a team that features a collection of his former players. But the obstacles -- contract situations, salary cap -- could make the scenario impossible at the next level.
He has the best job in college basketball right now. He can win multiple titles before he retires. He runs the one-and-done era. Why leave?
Sure, a great NBA gig that would offer Calipari an opportunity to compete for a championship and earn an eight-figure check each year might entice him. And if that possibility emerges, who could blame Calipari if he decided to go to the NBA?
Only a handful of jobs in the NBA would present those desirable traits, though.
At Kentucky, he's in a better position than most of the coaches in the NBA. And he knows it. The rumors will never stop. A perfect job, however, is the only gig that would encourage Calipari to leave Kentucky.
But he has a dream job now, one that's worth maintaining until the end of his career.