As the Big Blue Nation gets ready to head off to their Memoria..."/> As the Big Blue Nation gets ready to head off to their Memoria..."/>

The Stan Van Gundy situation: Why would Calipari want to be a part of THIS NBA??


by Paul Jordan
As the Big Blue Nation gets ready to head off to their Memorial Day Weekend, it does so with a lingering question in the back of their minds: Will John Calipari suddenly bolt and leave the University of Kentucky for the riches of the NBA and a chance to be LeBron James personal whipping boy?

It’s a question that has been answered several times by Calipari over the last two weeks. John Calipari has stated without a doubt that he is happy at Kentucky, he wants no other job, and that he is not interested in the NBA. Regardless, the question looms. The New Jersey Record kept the rumor going with the the lazy assertion that “Calipari is trying to get back in the league”. Never mind the fact that the Record just threw out that assertion without any fact. It was written, it’s out there, and because a newspaper printed it, it’s true to some people.

I know that Calipari deserves some of the second guessing about his future. He said a year ago that he was not going to leave Memphis. Coaches lie. It’s part of what they do. Nick Saban was never going to leave the Dolphins. Billy Donovan was going to coach the Magic. Rich Rodriguez was not going to leave West Virginia. Urban Meyer was going to retire. Bobby Bowden said his players did not cheat on tests. It’s part of the game. Deny the rumor, and do the opposite. Every coach does it. But that is not what this is about today. Maybe I am gullible, but I do not think Cal is leaving Kentucky until  he wins a title or two. With the top ranked class coming in 2010 and possibly the best recruiting class of all time shaping up for 2011, Calipari would be an idiot to leave for the NBA as he has Kentucky on the verge of a 1996-1998 style run in the NCAA.

The question is WHY would John Calipari want to leave Kentucky and be a part of this NBA?

Welcome to today’s NBA where winning is not nearly enough. Meet Mike Woodson. Woodson took over a moribund Atlanta Hawks franchise and led them to a 13-69 record in 2004-2005. Over the next five seasons, Woodson improved on his win total every single year and had very good records of 47-35 last season and a .646 winning record this season at 53-29. The Hawks lost in the second round of the NBA playoffs to the Magic, a team that the Hawks finished behind this regular season. And like that, Woodson was fired, despite turning a truly awful team into one of the fastest rising teams in the NBA.

Meet Mike Brown. All Mike Brown did in five seasons as head coach of the Cavaliers was win 272 games and guide the team to the NBA Finals. Brown was the coach of the year last year after going 66-16, which was a franchise record for the Cavs. Yet Brown was fired. And this is where we get into the ugly nitty gritty of the NBA.

Brown had the task of babysitting LeBron James and in effect, had the task of having to win an NBA championship. And Brown was canned for not delivering a title, even though King James shot just 33.9% (18-53) in the Cav’s last three losses. And now the buzz is that because of his close friendship with LeBron that John Calipari wants a piece of becoming the next coach fired because LeBron James does not win a title? There is no “win win” for Calipari going to the NBA to coach LeBron. If he delivers a title, LeBron will be the reason and the coach will be merely a footnote. John Calipari has too much of an ego to be LeBron’s personal caddy in the NBA, and that is why the LeBron/Cal marriage will not happen.

And if Cal needs another reason to not consider the NBA, all he needs to do is look at Stan Van Gundy. As much as I love Stan Van, his story should be a warning sign for all college coaches who think the pasture is greener in the NBA.

Van Gundy toiled as an assistant for nine seasons with the Heat and took over a 25 win team when Pat Riley resigned. Van Gundy led this team to a 42 win season and helped make rookie Dwayne Wade an household name in the process. In the off season, Riley as President of the team, traded three of Van Gundy’s starters (Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, and Brian Grant, plus a future first round pick) for Shaquille O’Neal. Van Gundy oversaw the maturity of Wade and despite an almost new team, led the Heat to a 59-23 record and his team lost to the Pistons in seven games of the Eastern Conference Finals. Wade suffered an injury in game 5 of that series and caused him to miss Game 6 and most of Game 7.

During the off season, Van Gundy was part of a power struggle with Pat Riley, who suddenly wanted to return to the team that Van Gundy turned into a powerhouse and Van Gundy was forced out of Miami midway through the next season. No one bought Van Gundy’s retiring “for personal reasons” as Riley won his 5th NBA title with Stan Van’s team.

Non plussed, Van Gundy ended up at Orlando after Billy Donovan resigned, and promptly took a 40-42 team to the first of three straight division titles. In Van Gundy’s first season, the Magic went 52-30 and won their first playoff series in 12 seasons. Since then, the Magic have gone 59-23 twice and made the NBA Finals last season.

And yet, today, Stan Van Gundy, on the morning of his biggest game of the season in Boston, is having to take time to deflect rumors about his NBA future thanks to Michael Wilbon. And while part of Van Gundy’s charm to me is his penchant for talking first and thinking second but this time, this has created a huge distraction as the Magic battle in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.

Wilbon, one of the co-hosts of ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” defended Van Gundy as a coach and admitted that he got the shaft in Miami, but then threw out the rumor that there were “rumblings” that Van Gundy’s job was in jeopardy if the Magic lost to the Celtics. Now Wilbon is pretty well connected in the NBA and to give him credit, Wilbon is not the type to make up “rumblings”. Now of course, you know the media was going to ask Stan Van about it, and his job security was probably not something he wanted to address while preparing his team for the Celtics, so Van Gundy ripped Wilbon and questioned his motives while in a defensive mode:

“I’ve refused to be on PTI (Pardon the Interruption) over the years. Look, I follow this stuff. If you’re on guys’ shows, they don’t criticiize you and if you won’t go on their shows, they do (criticize you.) That stuff is never made known. There’s a lack of integrity in the business. So whatever Mike wants to say, that’s fine. He’s certainly not an expert in my business and I’m not going to worry about it too much.” 

To be honest, Stan Van’s comments are over the top. And if you want to throw a stone at Wilbon, his tossing out rumors in the eastern Conference Finals is over the top as well. But now the focus of the Celtics-Magic series is a stupid feud between Van Gundy and Wilbon, and even if the Magic win tonight, all people will want to talk about is Van Gundy and Wilbon.

Keep in mind that if the Magic win tonight (and a sizable if), they are on the verge of history and could become the first team to ever come back from an 3-0 NBA deficit. The fact that this Game 7 would be in Orlando and against the storied Celtics makes it an even more amazing story. And if the Magic lose the series? Well, the Stan Van Gundy watch is officially on and Stan will have to endure speculation daily speculation about his job, despite being the best coach the Magic have ever had and one of the top coaches in the NBA.

In the four seasons before Van Gundy took over, the Magic were mired in medioc
rity and had a winning percentage of 40.5%. During this time, they were coached by guys named Johnny Davis and Chris Jent. Since Stan has arrived in town, he can boast of a 69.1% winning percentage and has turned the Magic into an Elite team. Yet he has to battle job security rumors. It is ridiculousness exemplified, yet it is a fact of life in the NBA. Ask Mike Woodson. Ask Mike Brown. Their teams won 69.5% of their games this year and went 114-50. Yet, both will have a chance to be the Magic’s next coach should Van Gundy be let go. And yet some people insist John Calipari wants back in this coaching fraternity.

Seriously, why would John Calipari want any part of this?

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