Apparently Kevin Garnett was right: Anything is possibuuuuuuuullllll. Three days ago, I was absolutely certain about at least two things: Donald Sterling would never give up his position as majority owner of the L.A. Clippers, and Tom Izzo would never leave Michigan State University.
But the allure of LeBron James can move mountains in the NBA. Reports surfaced yesterday of billionaire David Geffen promising he can “deliver” LeBron if he acquires 51% ownership of the Clippers, and today, it’s been reported Izzo will be the next coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
My first thought is that Izzo has to know something we don’t in regards to LeBron’s free agency plans. With the legacy he’s created at Michigan State — making six Final Fours and winning a national championship in 2000 — Izzo would only leave the school for one of three reasons: (1) Money, (2) Taking on a new challenge, (3) The opportunity to coach a legendary talent like LeBron.
Izzo already makes good money at MSU, and unless he goes Bobby Knight and starts randomly hemming kids up on campus, he’s never going to be fired. So maybe this is about taking the next step; Izzo feels he’s mastered the college game and wants to see if he can win on the NBA level. Pro teams are wary of hiring college coaches given the track record of guys like Rick Pitino, John Calipari and Mike Montgomery, but college coaches will still take NBA jobs if they’re offered. Like any competitor, they want to prove themselves on what’s perceived as the highest level of competition.
But then if Izzo were going to take an NBA job, why Cleveland? And why now? The fact that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is a Michigan State alum is a cute coincidence, but that’s not enough. If the Cavs lose LeBron this summer, everyone is predicting catastrophe, because it’s going to be tough for Joakim Noah‘s favorite city to attract other top-level free agents. So sans-LeBron, Izzo would be inheriting a middle-of-the-pack Eastern Conference playoff team at best, hardly a championship contender. And if Izzo simply wants to stay in the Midwest, why not wait until Joe Dumars inevitably fires John Kuester too early and take the Detroit job?
So I’m inclined to think Izzo knows (or thinks he knows) that LeBron is coming back to the Cavs.
If that’s true, does that mean Izzo is the right man for this job? I think so. I respect Izzo probably more than any coach in the college game, in part because he consistently contends for national championships without the benefit of introducing a slew of All-American recruits every year. While other NCAA-to-NBA busts like Pitino and Calipari could be blamed on those coaches not knowing how to cope when they weren’t getting their pick of the nation’s elite recruits, Izzo isn’t like that. He’s a coach’s coach.
And having worked with college kids for so long, he might be the right guy to balance out Cleveland’s fun-loving, college-atmosphere locker room with the seriousness and focus required to win an NBA championship.
Of course, like everything with the Cavs, it all comes back to LeBron. Gilbert recently made a slightly ridiculous statement where he went over-the-top in claiming LeBron has zero influence on the team’s front-office and personnel moves, which just doesn’t make any sense. Every NBA team wants their superstar to be on the same page with the front-office and coaches around him, whether it’s Chris Paul (who wanted Monty Williams as New Orleans’ coach) or Kobe Bryant (who got the roster he wanted after demanding a trade a couple years ago). It doesn’t make the player a dick, that’s just how the business works. So if the Cavs offered Izzo a job, I’m sure they already know LeBron would be in favor. Now is it enough for him to come back? We’ll see.
Do you think hiring Izzo is a good move for the Cavs?