In the wake of Florida's loss to Kentucky on Sunday, it may be kind of hard to read words from John Calipari. But Calipari made a great point in a must-read interview with Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy, and it relates to how special Joakim Noah and the rest of the Oh-Fours really were.
SN: This is one of those unlikely scenarios, both in real life and the nature of how you’ve run the program. But what if you won a championship with seven guys who weren’t NBA prospects? It’s never really happened, but ...
CALIPARI: It will never happen. You’re kidding yourself. For anybody to act like they’re going to coach ’em up, take second-level players and compete for national titles—dude is a liar. You have to have two or three NBA players on your team to win a national title.
SN: But you’re also creating a false scenario on the other side, because if you win a national championship and they are NBA prospects, they’re going to be drafted. They’d all have to go out and rob a bank the next day to not get picked.
CALIPARI: I could convince them to stay.
You see where this is going, right?
SN: What if they really wanted to stay? What if, like the Florida kids, they wanted to chase history?
CALIPARI: Well, they’d have to explain to me why they want to stay. Like Patrick Patterson had to. "I want to stay." OK, well, you tell me why. And if it’s logical, I’d say, "Yeah." If the kid’s the No. 1 pick in the draft, you’re going.
SN: So you’re saying what Joakim Noah did was illogical?
CALIPARI: He wasn’t the No. 1 pick. Where was he picked?
SN: He ended up going ninth. Legend has it that he would have been No. 1 if he’d left after his sophomore year.
CALIPARI: Well, that’s legend. I don’t believe that. But you know what? To each his own. I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m telling you how I feel.
You would be forgiven for forgetting the 2006 NBA Draft: After Noah decided to come back for his junior season, Andrea Bargnani went No. 1, and Adam Morrison, Shelden Williams, Randy Foye, Patrick O'Bryant, and (Mouhamed) Saer Sene all went in the top 10; Wikipedia's article has the phrase "generally considered one of the weakest drafts in history" in its first paragraph.
Noah was coming off a sizzling NCAA Tournament, and a 16-point, nine-rebound, six-block performance in the final against UCLA that affirmed his status as the best collegiate player at the end of that season; his skill set was (and is) more limited than Bargnani's, and his athleticism a little less impressive than No. 2 pick LaMarcus Alridge's, but he had all the momentum in the world and would, I think, have gone first. At least, he definitely have been taken no worse than third.
That was a costly decision. Bargnani made $4.5 million in his rookie year, and $21M over the course of his four-year rookie deal with the Toronto Raptors; Noah, taken No. 9 by the Chicago Bulls in 2007, made $2.1 million in his rookie year and $10M over the course of his four-year deal.
Noah has since set himself up to make up the difference on Bargnani with a five-year, $60 million extension that began this season, while Bargnani is in the second year of a five-year, $50 million deal. But he's not competing with Bargnani; he's competing with the hypothetical 2006 No. 1 pick Noah. If he'd been the No. 1 pick then and made $21 million over four years before signing a five-year, $60 million extension, he would be on pace to bank $81 million by the end of 2015. In reality, Noah will have made "just" $56 million in salary by then.
There are mitigating factors at play here — Noah would not have ended up with Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau in Toronto, but might have been a terror next to Chris Bosh (and, yes, there's probably a scenario in which Joakim Noah leaving Florida in 2006 prevents LeBron James heading to the Miami Heat) — and Noah has a long career ahead of him, and a nice endorsement deal with Le Coq Sportif. And he's been comfortable his whole life, thanks to his his father Yannick's own professional tennis career, so Noah probably didn't need every dime.
But $25 million is a lot of money for even the richest person to pass up.
Is trading million for another season playing with one of the best teams of the modern era and securing a place in history illogical? Probably.
I am still so, so happy that Joakim Noah did.