Vaccaro believes LeBron will leave

Updated: May 13, 2010, 5:43 PM ET
ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Sonny Vaccaro once brought LeBron James to Chicago to play in a high school charity basketball tournament at the United Center, and Vaccaro believes James could return to Chicago this summer and call the UC home.

Vaccarro, long known as the most powerful man in amateur basketball and the godfather of lucrative shoe contracts before he retired, said Thursday he believes the Chicago Bulls have a chance to land James, as well as coach John Calipari.

"I think there is a shot. Legitimate? Sure," Vaccaro said on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "I think that all people would be very interested.

"The scenario has now been discussed, even though people deny everything. This could happen."

Vaccaro said he considers James to be a friend, and Vaccaro believes James will leave the Cleveland Cavaliers to have a better shot at a championship.

"If he chooses to leave, and I believe he will, he has the pick of the litter of where he can go," said Vaccarro, who touted the Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers as having top, young talent. "In my opinion, the Bulls are the perfect fit."

Vaccaro believes there's one scenario that could lure Calipari from Kentucky.

"If it happens, it will be because of the ultimate quest," Vaccaro said. "What is the ultimate quest? To be a professional champion. And the only blight on the basketball court on John's resume is the failure with the Nets.

"This would be the only scenario in my mind -- I can't speak for John in an official capacity - that he would leave for. And it would also be tangible because of LeBron."

Vaccaro said James and Calipari are very close.

"There's a very close, wonderful relationship there, and the seeds have been sown over a period of time now," he said. "And it has nothing to do with anyone thinking they're going to either Chicago or the Knicks or John Calipari going back to the pros. It's a friendship."

Calipari, who coached Bulls star Derrick Rose at Memphis, raised eyebrows on Tuesday night by making an appearance in Cleveland, where James and the rest of the Cavaliers lost to the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Calipari could not be reached for comment on Thursday. He was hosting a dinner party for a select group who contributed to the successful "Hoops for Haiti" telethon he spearheaded in January. The event raised over $1 million to help the earthquake ravaged Caribbean nation.

He said last week that he was "very happy at Kentucky" and not interested in a raise, though he was open to any ideas athletic director Mitch Barnhart may have on helping grow the program.

Barnhart isn't worried about Calipari bolting for the pros.

"I'm very confident he's going to be our coach next year," he said. "He's made comments to me that he wants to be here a long time."

Calipari led the Wildcats to a 35-3 record in his first year of an eight-year contract that averages just under $4 million annually.

Barnhart and Calipari are already in talks about a restructured deal that could have the 51-year-old Calipari on the Kentucky sidelines well into his 60s. Barnhart said the focus is on extending Calipari's contract, not fattening up his salary, already the highest in the country.

"We just wanted to send a message that we're doing OK and we're heading in the right direction," Barnhart said. "We wanted to send a message in recruiting that we're committed to the long term and we're committed to keeping John around here to allow us to have success in our program."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.