Last night, Rex Chapman set everyone’s hair on fire with his tweet that Kentucky head coach John Calipari was not only coming to the Lakers but that it was “a done deal.” In his post game news conference it was the third question Calipari was asked. Of course Calipari emphatically dismissed the rumor as was expected. Calipari is pure theater; he loves attention, he is great in front of the camera and passion oozes out his pores. But to the dismay of the cultish followers of University of Kentucky, not once did Calipari say: I am not going to be the Lakers head coach. Instead he stated the obvious: The Lakers have a coach and Kentucky has a coach. Later in the evening he clarified he would be back at Kentucky next year. “Absolutely”, he said as if that would be the final nail in the coffin. Of course nothing in sports is absolute. Sports is a fluid world of here today gone tomorrow if the money is right. No one questions the money the Lakers can spend if they want to. But the question is, do the Lakers want to?
Rumors will be a constant this offseason because of the tight lipped nature of Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. His history is one of a mime- he moves his hands but keeps his mouth shut. It was why genius general manager of the Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey, who has successfully pitched Dwight Howard and pulled off the James Harden deal said Mitch was the toughest negotiator of all the general managers in the NBA. Mitch wants you to think what he wants you to think so he can do what he really wants to do privately. No one knew about the Pau Gasol deal until it happened. No one knew about the Steve Blake deal until it happened. The nightmare hire of Mike D’antoni was a stunner. For his part Mitch Kupchak has denied the John Calipari to the Lakers rumor. But that will not make it go away. Only a new head coach will do that.
Rumors creep into the conscious when there is something logical behind them. To most observers the Lakers need a head coach. The one they have has been miserable in all aspects of the game, in teaching it, in defending the Lakers history, in communicating with the players and in dealing with the media. John Calipari has a sixth sense about NBA talent. It is what makes him the best at what he does. He finds NBA players and he recruits them to Kentucky. He has coached 19 first round draft picks in his 22 year career. He has coached 11 top ten picks. But he had Kobe Bryant within his reach and chose Kerry Kittles in his first stint as a NBA coach. Calipari denied it was his choice. Kobe’s camp denied he forced the Nets into taking Kerry Kittles. But however you slice it Kobe passed them by and the Nets under Calipari were 72-112. But even that does not discredit the rumor. Look at history. Pete Carroll was a mediocre coach and was forced out of the NFL. He then created a powerhouse at USC and returned to the NFL for an amazing second act. The possibility that Calipari has that sort of reinvention in him and that Calipari is always looking to help Calipari (he may have started this rumor himself) is gasoline to this particular fire.
Of course rumors are always denied. It is page one of the public relations handbook. But it does not mean the rumor in question is not true. Doc Rivers coming to the Clippers was vehemently beaten down by all parties until it happened. Nick Saban’s face turned purple when he denied he was leaving the Miami Dolphins until, oops, he was the new Alabama coach. Professionals position themselves financially first and then they deal with the repercussions later. People forget and people forgive and chapters are always being rewritten. No one knows if the Calipari rumors have any merit in fact. But we do know this: brace yourself. More rumors are coming.
Mitch Kupchak could squash everything by clarifying Mike D’antoni’s status. Is he coming back next year? If nothing else a Calipari hire would change the script and energize a demoralized fan base not because Coach Cal is the greatest coach since Adolph Rupp but he is the anti D’antoni. He makes players accountable. He loves the guys who play for him. He is still in contact with his NBA stars, Anthony Davis, John Wall, Derrick Rose, DeMarcus Cousins. He is tough, someone with a perfectionist standards and he is a great motivator. And he lets you know where you stand.
These days Mitch is all over the map. He says D’antoni has done a good job considering the circumstances. He says D’antoni is going to be judged on wins and losses. He says he is going to wait until after the season to decide D’antoni’s fate. That is the opposite of definitive. And it leaves Mike D’antoni whipping in the wind like a paper puppet while he has to figure out how to win one game. The likelihood of that is slim. The surgeries of Xavier Henry and Kent Bazemore, 23 points in offense, just about kills any chance of the Lakers competing against any of the playoff teams on their upcoming schedule. Yes, they play Utah. But the Lakers have lost to Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Orlando, Sacramento…They have earned worst team in the conference status and that is where they will be when the season ends next week, the worst team in Los Angeles Lakers history. Coached by Mike D’antoni.
Rumors are like a wildfire in the California summer, they burn everything they touch, they spread like mad. But all that means is that social media platforms lose all sense of reality with what ifs. What if Derek Fisher was the new coach? What if John Calipari was the new coach? What if Coach K came to Los Angeles?
Prepare yourself because it is going to be a long and bumpy and wild offseason with every possibility on the table and every prediction of doom and gloom hanging like a cloud. It will not end until August. Only then will we know the coach of the Lakers and their lottery pick and the free agents on board. We will know what the team of the coming year will look like. Until then keep guessing. Everyone else will.