Iannazzone: Don't rule out Calipari return to NBA, Knicks

Kentucky head coach John Calipari reacts during the

Kentucky head coach John Calipari reacts during the second half of the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game against Kansas. (April 2, 2012) (Credit: AP)

John Calipari earned one of the things his career has been missing when he guided the Kentucky Wildcats to the NCAA championship Monday. But his legacy is not complete.

Calipari did not fare well as an NBA coach and executive during a 2 ½-year stint with the Nets. Competitive and driven to succeed, Calipari wants to prove he can win in the NBA.

That's why despite his denials this week about leaving Kentucky for the NBA, you can't rule out a return. Calipari has strong ties to two organizations - both of which will be playing in New York next season.

"I think he will be coaching the Knicks or the Nets next year," said an NBA executive who wanted to remain anonymous.

During the NCAA Tournament, a prominent college coach said if Kentucky won he could see Calipari return to the NBA and with the Knicks.

They seem like a more realistic landing spot for Calipari because they can win now and he has links to some Knicks' power brokers.

Calipari is represented by Creative Artists Agency, the same group that calls Carmelo Anthony a client. MSG president Scott O'Neill and Knicks director of pro player personnel Mark Warkentien have relationships with CAA.

William Wesley, aka Worldwide Wes, has sat courtside at some Knicks' games this season, home and away. Wesley, a CAA consultant, and Calipari have a long-standing relationship. Wesley and Leon Rose, who is Anthony's agent, attended Monday's NCAA title game.

Also Calipari recruited Amar'e Stoudemire to attend Memphis in 2002. Stoudemire verbally committed to play there before deciding to turn pro.

This doesn't mean Calipari will coach the Knicks next season. You just can't dismiss him as a candidate, yet.

Calipari is close friends with Nets CEO Brett Yormark. But it's doubtful Calipari would join a team trying to rebuild and in danger of losing its star player, Deron Williams, to free agency. Beside, Avery Johnson is the coach of the Brooklyn-bound Nets and should be back because they play hard and are competitive despite a host of injuries.

The same can be said for Mike Woodson.

He has the Knicks playing inspired defense and should be considered strongly for a return engagement. If Woodson guides them into the postseason and they advance it would be hard to justify not retaining him.

Van Gundy: Knicks better on D without Amar'e, Lin

Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said the Knicks have become better defensively without Amar'e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin. He said by going smaller with Iman Shumpert, they're quicker and called Baron Davis a better defender than Lin.

"Their injuries have made them a far better defensive team," Van Gundy said. "I'm sure if you ask them right now they'd love to take Amare Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin back. But they wouldn't be as good defensively as they are now."

The Knicks have given up 88.6 in the six games minus Stoudemire and Lin and are 4-2. In two of the wins, against Van Gundy's team, the Knicks allowed 83 points per.

Magic drama starts with Howard

Finding work shouldn't be hard if Stan Van Gundy is fired by the Magic. It probably will be more difficult finding a coach who didn't applaud and respect what Van Gundy did Thursday.

Van Gundy said he knows Dwight Howard went to Magic executives and tried to get him fired. Howard is hardly the first player to do that, but Van Gundy has to be one of the first NBA coaches to reveal he's been stabbed in back while still in his position.

Coaches, including Van Gundy, usually cover for players for the good of the team and their jobs. But Van Gundy knows he's not long for Orlando because Howard is running that team.

The Magic doesn't seem as if it will do anything immediately because it continues to try and protect Howard's image as a likeable, good-natured, big kid. But his actions this season on the court - he's looked so disengaged in many games - and off of it - trade requests and Van Gundy admission - should obliterate Howard's rep.

AROUND THE NBA

Novak "flattered" by Granger

Steve Novak laughed after seeing replays of Pacers forward Danny Granger doing the "Discount Double-Check" following a three-pointer Tuesday.

Novak, a Milwaukee native, motions as if he's putting on a championship belt following a big three as a tribute to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Novak did it in Indiana after his three put the Knicks up 17 late in the third.

The Pacers came back and won the game, and Granger, who had a big fourth quarter, did Novak's signature move during their run.

"I thought it was hilarious," Novak said. "I thought it was flattering he decided to use it. I stole it from Aaron Rodgers. Danny Granger stole it from me. I was flattered.

Green excelling with Spurs

North Babylon's Danny Green has landed on his feet since being cut by the Cavaliers last season. The second-year player has been starting for the Spurs, who have the second-best winning percentage in the NBA, and he scored 19 points this week in victory over his old team in Cleveland.

"It does mean a little something to me because this was my first team," Green said. "It's nice, but that's not the important thing for me. It's more important that we continue to get better. We want to keep winning going into the playoffs."

Green, who went to St. Mary's High School, is averaging 8.7 points this season and had 21 in a win in Oklahoma City three weeks ago.

"He's been really consistent for us and he's been a great surprise for us," Tim Duncan said.

"He's an NBA player and he's playing with confidence," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Right now he's playing well and been a significant part of what we've done."

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@Al_Iannazzone

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