Source: LeBron-Cal deal not on radar

Updated: May 18, 2010, 11:46 AM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

A source with direct knowledge of the Chicago Bulls front office's plans says the team believes it has the right players in place -- namely, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng -- to surround LeBron James when it makes its case with the free agent-to-be on July 1.

But the source said there has been no discussion of bringing Kentucky coach John Calipari in with James as part of a package deal.

The Chicago Tribune reported Monday that according to league sources, basketball power broker William Wesley -- a friend of both James and Calipari -- has been quietly contacting NBA teams that have coaching vacancies and salary-cap space about the possibility of bringing in James and Calipari together.

But the source with knowledge of the Bulls front office's thinking insisted that the team hasn't been approached about packaging Calipari to get James to come to Chicago. The source also said that bringing Calipari along to get James would lessen Calipari's status in the locker room, because of the perception that he was James' handpicked coach.

Another league source told the Tribune that another person, described as an "unknown Calipari connection," contacted the Bulls over the weekend.

However, ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported Monday on "SportsCenter" that according to his sources, James is not demanding Calipari coach him on whichever team he plays for next season. And a source close to Wesley told ESPN.com that Wesley had not contacted the Bulls or any other team about a James/Calipari package deal.

A source with knowledge of the Los Angeles Clippers' thinking denied there had been any contact with Wesley or any other inquiries about Calipari. The source called the report linking Wesley to the Clippers "inaccurate." Another Western Conference front-office executive questioned the validity of the story, telling ESPNLosAngeles.com via text message, "Nobody's buying that."

Calipari has publicly stated that he is coaching at Kentucky next season.

NBA teams cannot formally contact free agents until the league signing period starts at 12:01 a.m. ET on July 1.

James and Calipari have become friends through their mutual friendship with Wesley, who is considered one of the most powerful men in basketball. Wesley is part of the "family" that James referred to repeatedly in his postgame comments after the Celtics knocked James' Cleveland Cavaliers out of the playoffs. Wesley was also reportedly involved in steering Rose and Tyreke Evans to Memphis when Calipari was coaching there.

Calipari, who completed his first season at Kentucky this year, said Friday on his Twitter feed that he will remain in Lexington to coach the Wildcats in 2010-11.

"I've said many times that I've got the best job in the country. Still the speculation runs wild and I can't stop that. I want to address this with the Big Blue Nation one last time, I will be coaching at Kentucky next year. Now let's finish what we started!" Calipari said Friday on Twitter.

Calipari has one NBA stop on his coaching résumé, with the Nets from 1996 to '99, making the playoffs in 1997-98. He coached two full seasons and was fired 20 games into the 1998-99 season, finishing with a 72-112 record in 184 games.

But a source close to Wesley said it was "insulting" to assume that Calipari could get an NBA coaching job only with James' help. The source also said that it would take between $5 million and $6 million to pry Calipari from Kentucky, where he earns $3.5 million.

Multiple sources close to Calipari have also recently said it would take at least $5 million a year to bring him back to the NBA.

James
James
Calipari
Calipari

On Monday in response to the report, Calipari said on Twitter: "Now, do I have to respond to these rumors too?"

James, meanwhile, has declined to address whether he will return to the Cavs or sign with another team, as speculation about his future mounts. The Bulls, Nets, Clippers and New York Knicks are all among teams expected to make a full-court press for James, the NBA's two-time defending MVP.

The Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill., reported Sunday that according to league sources, James has contacted Rose to express interest in playing with him.

Fans in Chicago appear confident that James will choose the Bulls. In the first 24 hours after the Celtics eliminated the Cavaliers from the NBA playoffs on Thursday, the Bulls sold more than 500 new full-season tickets and a team official estimated call volume at about 50 times the normal level, according to the Tribune.

But the source close to Wesley said James has not made a decision and that leaving Ohio won't be easy.

"He has a $30 million compound there and with all his friends and family there that aren't going to just leave for another city, it's not easy to just leave," the source said, pointing out that James has spent his entire life in the Akron-Cleveland area.

The source said that anyone who says what James is going to do is "lying, because he doesn't know now."

Cleveland's second-most popular athlete made his pitch to James.

Browns Pro Bowl return specialist Josh Cribbs, whose connection with Cleveland fans helped get him a new contract, said Monday night that he would hate to see James bolt as a free agent.

Cribb says Cleveland "wouldn't be the same" without James.

"He's the king here. LeBron James is king, being in this city and growing up in the Cleveland area. If he goes anywhere else, he'll just be a phenomenal, extraordinary athlete.

"But he will not be the king in any other city but Cleveland."

Andy Katz covers college basketball for ESPN.com. Information from Ramona Shelburne and Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com and The Associated Press was used in this report.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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