After his firing following an FBI probe at Louisville, Rick Pitino is planning to use the season to immerse himself in the NBA game and hopes to become a candidate for head-coaching openings in the spring.
"I just want to be a part of an organization," Pitino told ESPN. "I want to develop young players. I want to be part of a team. I miss it terribly. I'm using this time to really study the NBA. If something opens up with a young basketball team, I'd have deep interest in it.
"I think the league is going to get younger and player development will become even more important to every organization. That's my forte. I believe I can help an organization find a pathway to success."
For Pitino, this is a change of course from an early September public declaration to ESPN's Mike Greenberg on Get Up that he was "finished coaching."
Pitino has hired Drew Rosenhaus, a high-profile NFL agent, to represent him. Rosenhaus' company does represent two NBA players: Portland's first-round pick Anfernee Simons and Clippers center Montrezl Harrell.
Pitino, 66, was fired at Louisville in the aftermath of the FBI probe into college basketball. Testimony and recordings of government-taped calls suggested that Pitino was unaware of the payments made to former Louisville recruit Brian Bowen's family.
The FBI probe was one of a series of scandals at Louisville under Pitino, including an NCAA investigation into strippers and prostitutes used in recruiting visits with players.
In all likelihood, Pitino has a bigger obstacle to returning to the NBA than NCAA failings: convincing league executives and owners that his ego would allow him to be a willing partner with a front office. Many GMs say that they'd be hesitant to hire Pitino based on the belief that he'd be difficult to coexist with, especially in the turbulence of a rebuild.
Nevertheless, few question his greatness as a coach, his ability to maximize the talent of young players and organize them into a competitive group on the floor. Among others, Pitino's task will be to convince decision-makers of his sincerity in scaling back his persona and reshaping himself as humbled, determined basketball coach.
Organizational structures have changed dramatically since Pitino served as president and coach of the Boston Celtics, and several GMs asked about Pitino believe that an owner would be more apt to take a chance on Pitino than a top basketball executive.
Pitino posted a 102-146 record with the Celtics before resigning early in his fourth season in 2000-01. Pitino was reported to have been overwhelmed with his dual roles under what had been pro sports' biggest coaching/executive deal to date: a 10-year, $70 million contract. He resigned with nearly $30 million left on the deal.
"I'm not looking for any of that [power/control] at this stage of my life," Pitino told ESPN. "I want to develop teams and develop players and build a winner. I value analytics. I want to fit into an organization. At this stage, that's all I'm interested in."
Pitino had a shorter, but more successful, run as coach of the New York Knicks in the late 1980s, winning an Atlantic Division title and reaching the playoffs twice (1988 and 1989) before leaving for Kentucky. The Knicks won 52 regular-season games and reached the conference semifinals in Pitino's final season at the helm.
Before the scandal that ousted him at Louisville, Pitino authored a legendary college career. He won two national championships (1996 and 2013) and reached five Final Fours.