Why John Calipari was right to turn down the Cavaliers' money

Ronald Martinez

Cleveland reportedly offered $80 million to entice Calipari, but the coach was smart enough to know what he has in Lexington.

The amount of money and power the Cleveland Cavaliers extended to Kentucky Wildcats coach John Calipari is so astronomical it barely has a footing in reality. Cleveland offered Calipari "full control of basketball operations" in addition to becoming the franchise's next head coach, according to Yahoo! Sports. The offer was reportedly worth as much as $80 million over 10 years. Calipari presumably took the offer with a straight face before deciding to sign his third contract extension in five years to return to Kentucky.

For Cleveland, the incentive behind offering Calipari the moon always should have been clear. Calipari has a strong relationship with LeBron James, and the world's best player has the ability to opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat this offseason.

This is hardly the first time Calipari and James have been linked. In the summer of 2010, there were rumors of a proposed packaged deal that would deliver both Cal and James to the Chicago Bulls. As recently as May, Calipari said he would love to have the opportunity to one day coach James.

At 55 years old, Calipari is something of a deity at Kentucky.

Full control of an NBA franchise with an extra $80 million in the bank would be tempting for anyone, but there was never a promise James would leave Miami for a Cavs team that finished 33-49 this season. Cleveland has cap space, the No. 1 pick in the highly-touted 2014 draft and 22-year-old star point guard Kyrie Irving, but even the addition of Calipari likely wouldn't have been enough for James to ditch the Heat.

The context of this isn't lost on anyone. The offer to Calipari essentially amounts to a desperate, all-in attempt by Cavs owner Dan Gilbert to to get James back. As you might remember, Gilbert threatened legal action and embarrassed himself forever with a letter bemoaning James' "shocking act of disloyalty" when he left for the Heat in the summer of 2010. Contrast that against a welcoming and winning environment in Miami, one that's seen the Heat become the first team since the '80s Celtics to reach the NBA Finals four years in a row, and it's easy to see why James' return to Cleveland was always a longshot.

At this point in his career, it simply wasn't worth it for Calipari to leave Lexington. It likely never will be. At 55 years old, Calipari is something of a deity at Kentucky. This most recent extension has him making an average of $7.5 million per year at Kentucky. He's already making more money than any NBA coach, and the only college coach cashing a bigger check is Coach K at Duke.

Calipari has money. The thing he has at Kentucky that he'd likely never be able to re-create anywhere else at this stage of his career is the type of legacy he's formed in Lexington.

It might be hard to remember after three Final Four appearances and one national championship in the last four years, but Kentucky wasn't always the powerhouse it is now. Calipari signed on as head coach after two years of Billy Gillispie, who nearly left the Wildcats in ruins. Calipari has rebuilt the program through a special ability to connect with recruits that leads Kentucky to having arguably the most talented roster in the country year in and year out.

It didn't take the mystique of Kentucky to make Calipari a monster recruiter; he signed Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, Dajuan Wagner and plenty more big chippers while at Memphis. But since arriving at Kentucky, Cal has turned Lexington into the country's top breeding ground for future professional talent. It's easy to recruit when you can point to John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis in the NBA. Julius Randle is the next Wildcat to become a top 10 draft pick. A year later, it will be Willie Cauley-Stein or Karl Towns or Dakari Johnson. As long as this country continues to produce top basketball talent, John Calipari will find a way to get it to Lexington.

For all the 40-0 talk that smothered the start of Kentucky's season a year ago, the team Calipari has next year should be even more talented. There aren't many NBA teams with the size Cal has to work with next season. He'll have 7-footers in Cauley-Stein, Johnson and the freshman Towns at center. He'll have blue chip recruit Trey Lyles, junior Alex Poythress and sophomore Marcus Lee at power forward. After adding four McDonald's All-Americans to his recruiting class for this upcoming season while retaining guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Calipari now might have the deepest and most talented team he's ever had at Kentucky.

What Calipari has done at Kentucky is something no NBA franchise can offer him. He's a living legend in Lexington now, arguably the most successful coach in the country at arguably college basketball's premier program. The Cavs have seen the way Calipari recruits and thought he'd be able to land them LeBron. Unfortunately for the Cavs, they need John Calipari a whole lot more than he needs them.

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