Tom Izzo (above), who has taken Michigan State to 6 final fours and 1 national championship (2000), and who revived a glorious basketball tradition at Michigan State, the alma mater of Magic Johnson, has been in negotiations to become the next coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. But he isn’t the only coach that Cleveland is talking to, without having consulted impending free agent star Lebron James, the league MVP, a possible sign that the Cavaliers do not expect to re-sign their star, who also happens to be the pride of Ohio. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, a Michigan State alum, is high on Izzo, who once turned down an opportunity to coach the Detroit Pistons, who were a championship calibre team.
If Phil Jackson isn’t coming, Izzo might be the next biggest name available. But at 55 and without any NBA experience, there is plenty of risk involved on both sides. Izzo is a proven champion in college, coaxing an injured team devoid of its best talent to the Final Four in April. He has reached the Final Four in consecutive seasons now and six of the past 12.
That doesn’t make him ready for the NBA, where the only recent college coach to successfully make the leap was Larry Brown. The list of failures is much longer, but that doesn’t seem to be scaring away the Cavs.
“It’s finding the right guy,” new General Manager Chris Grant said. “When we hired Mike Brown five years ago, a lot of you might have said, ‘Who’s Mike Brown? Can he really coach LeBron?’ Right now we’re open to anything: assistant coaches, college coaches . . . When you go into a coaching search, hiring the head coach is always the most important hire because it is the most important job.”
Not that Izzo isn’t an excellent coach, but questions about his ability to transition to the pros abound. Many fine college coaches have failed at the NBA level, and that doesn’t make them bad coaches. But would Lebron want to play for the defensive minded Izzo, who seems to do his best work with depleted rosters in defensive struggles.
My feeling is that if Lebron wanted to play for a college coach, he’d have gone to college. There have been questions about whether Lebron would play for coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, who is a much more high profile coach with a more famous olympic pedigree. In any case, with a college coach, would Lebron James be willing to ride through a transitioning coach’s growing pains in the NBA?
www.hoopsnotes.com has reported that Cleveland also has interest in former Nets’ and Hornets’ coach Byron Scott, and Chris Broussard of ESPN reported earlier that Cleveland has had discussions with Scott in the last 24 hours. Scott had a reputation as a Pat Riley tree, hard work guy, but his NBA teams have been panned for lazy play. Scott has also been criticized as being a poor bench coach and for conducting very short practices. It’s seems that Scott is more from the D’antoni coaching tree than the Riley tree.
But Scott is a player’s coach, which could attract James, moreso than say, Jeff Van Gundy, who is obviously the best coach available, and who called the Cleveland job a “tremendous opportunity” publicly, but who has told confidantes that he is not looking to get back into coaching next season. To us, that’s a strong indicator that he believes James will be elsewhere. Conditions don’t bother Van Gundy–he went to Houston, afterall. But what would bother the gym rat coach is not having James in place.
Lebron James recently made his first public appearance since the Cavs playoff ouster in Boston, and declined to address his future and refused to talk to the media.
Be a Knick,