NEW YORK – John Calipari couldn’t believe his awful luck when he stepped into an almost empty hotel elevator a week ago in Sarasota, Floriday, (site of the Dick Vitale Gala) and the door closed before he recognized its lone occupant.
Shortly after the Final Four, I had tried to track down the Kentucky coach to confirm or deny a source’s educated speculation; that Calipari would replace Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni if James Dolan decided not to keep the Knicks’ leaders.
Of course, I knew, it was an exercise in futility to reach out. But every once and awhile you’ve got to fake a professional approach. Strictly as a courtesy, l left a message with a mutual friend so Calipari wouldn’t get caught unaware when the story broke.
Finding him suddenly available, I had seven floors to find out whether he would comment.
“Well, are you joining the Knicks or not?” I wondered.
However, 10 minutes later in the lobby, after Larry Brown and I spoke for the first time since he accepted the Knicks’ job — both behaving as if I were his biggest booster next to Mike Lupica — Calipari gave up the goods without mentioning any names.
“They tell me both guys are coming back,” he stated. “Then again, they also told me the Knicks were going to sign LeBron James.”
It’s unnecessary to ask who “they” are. It’s well-known they’re CAA’s talent-hoarding force field agents Leon Rose and Wes Wesley. Wide World Wes kind of “represents” Calipari in that the NBA Players’ Association sort of insists negotiators pick up commissions exclusively from players or coaches, not both.
Due to the increasingly cozy relationship between Dolan’s Camp Cablevision and CAA’s posh clients, Rose and Wesley would be privy to such classified information and, in Calipari’s circumstance, a need to know it.
If that’s the case — and undeniably it is — then why haven’t the Knicks announced Walsh is being retained for next season and beyond . . . which all but automatically assures D’Antoni of being on the sidelines for at least the final year of his contract?
Why the delayed announcement?
Because the give and take was not completed until last week, I’m informed. Late changes were made by Walsh and approved by Dolan.
Once Camp Cablevision’s required “six signatures” (I don’t think my source was being facetious) are on the dotted line, apparently sometime this week, the deal will be done, if not immediately publicized.
Clearly, the new arrangement will give Walsh the control to finish the Knicks’ renovation the way he sees fit. If there was any uncertainty about that, it would have demonstrated Dolan did not want him back. That would have shoved Walsh into retirement.
Instead, Walsh has major decisions to make, starting with D’Antoni’s lame duck status.
Will he extend him a year to ward off the compulsion of players to exploit a coach’s inherent/amplified insecurity and paranoia?
I seriously doubt that’s in the offering:
I soundly suspect Walsh long since stopped being enamored with D’Antoni’s coaching-by-the-clock-versus-game-situations, defensively-delinquent competence.
It amuses me how coaches (Tom Thibodeau being the anti-D’Antoni) demand players perform at both ends, yet coach only one end . . . and get anointed for such specialization.
Here’s the second and more important reason it’s unfathomable D’Antoni will get an extra $6 million tacked on to his original $24 million:
Other than Amare Stoudemire, whose numerous differences with D’Antoni when both worked for the Suns miraculously became non-issues once he joined New York for $99 million, not a single consequential Knick thinks their coach can coach.
One player said Chauncey Billups, especially after he got injured, did far more coaching on the bench and in the huddle during the playoffs than D’Antoni, and “made a helluva lot more sense.”
In private, the Suns veterans — excluding Steve Nash, perhaps — similarly degrade D’Antoni.
Come to think of it, though, I doubt D’Antoni would even consider a one-year extension. I’m sure he would regard anything less than a multiyear proposal as an insult and would prefer to become a free agent after next season.
At least, I hope that’s his attitude.
Where’s Mark Jackson when Walsh needs him?
In the Finals to fill the head coaching vacancy for the Golden State Warriors.
Oh, well, Kurt Rambis should be a free agent momentarily.
Scottie Pippen, before later amending his bankrupt remark, pronounced LeBron as possibly the greatest player in NBA history, better than Michael Jordan, because of all he’s able to accomplish at both ends.
But would James have been good enough to get Pippen six rings and a Hall of Fame induction?
Even if James wins his first championship within the next few weekends, column chondriac Richie Kalikow says “I’ll never consider him the best until he hits higher than .202 in AA baseball.”
Peter Vecsey covers the NBA for the New York Post.