First, Leon Rose bungled the summer by using the team’s much-ballyhooed cap space to bring in the one-dimensional Evan Fournier and re-up with a cadre of middling veterans. Then, during the season, there was the Kemba Walker fiasco, Julius Randle’s big step backward, Derrick Rose’s injury saga and the apparent disconnect over acquiring Cam Reddish.
Finally, as losses mounted and it became increasingly clear that the season was lost, Thibodeau was left to answer for all of it while Rose maintained radio silence.
That’s not to say that Thibs is without fault, though. His rigidity in terms of game strategy, player rotations and an unwillingness to put his young guns on the court warrant criticism. And they — perhaps even more than the team’s woeful win/loss record — have prompted some Knicks fans to call for his job.
Whether his job is actually in danger is difficult to discern. However, if the Knicks do opt to go in another direction, one of college hoops’ elite play-callers could be a candidate to take over as coach.
Calipari a Knicks Coaching Option?
During their latest livestream, Heavy.com’s hoops insiders Sean Deveney and Steve Bulpett mentioned Kentucky Wildcats coach John Calipari as someone who could hop back onto the league’s coaching carousel. It’s a move that the 63-year-old looks to have been eyeing for some time.
“Cal has, the word I’ve gotten is that he has wanted to be back in the NBA for a long time but he has been looking for the right situation,” Bulpett reported.
Although the Big Apple is anything but a basketball utopia these days, Deveney believes that a partnership between the Knicks and Coach Cal holds a level of intrigue.
“With Calipari, if he is going to wait for the right job, it might just get to be too late. At some point, he has to decide it is time to jump ship and go back to the NBA,” Deveney said.
“The Knicks would be an interesting situation for him given that Leon Rose is there, who he has a long relationship with, William Wesley as well who has been close with Cal in the past. Kenny Payne is there, a lot of Kentucky guys, Randle and Quickley and he coached Derrick Rose of course.”
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Can an Old Dog Learn New Tricks?
Calipari’s last bite at the NBA head coaching apple came during the late ’90s with the then-New Jersey Nets. During the 1997-98 campaign, he directed a squad that mixed up-and-comers Keith Van Horn and Kerry Kittles with veterans like Sam Cassell, Kendall Gill and Jayson Williams to a 43-39 mark and a playoff berth.
However, over parts of three seasons with the club from 1996 to ’99, he compiled a record of just 72-112 (for a winning percentage of 39.1). Calipari was fired just 20 games into the lockout-shortened ’99-00 campaign when the Nets started 3-17.
In addition to his last run in the Association not living up to the hype — not to mention the fact that the league has changed a lot since then — Calipari would be challenged with having to make the transition from being the godlike figure he is in Lexington to a cog in the machine while coaching professional athletes.
“It’s weird, it is hard for a college coach that has been that big a part of their program, to do the kind of change that is necessary to be an NBA coach,” Bulpett opined. “You’re not the program in the NBA. It would be difficult for any college coach who has established what Calipari has established.”
He would also have to walk away from an obscene amount of money to take on a new gig. Back in 2019, the coach inked a “lifetime” contract with the Wildcats, paying him $86 million over 10 years.