Izzo rejects chance to coach Cavaliers
EAST LANSING, Mich. – Tom Izzo is staying at Michigan State, turning down a chance to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers and perhaps LeBron James.
“I’m pleased to say I am here for life at Michigan State,” Izzo said in a statement released by the school on Tuesday night.
For the past nine days, Izzo has been trying to decide whether to leave the place that has been his home since 1983 and jump to the NBA to perhaps make $6 million – doubling his salary – and possibly coaching one of the best basketball players in the world.
“Just as I decided to stay home, I hope a 6-8, 270-pound forward in Cleveland decides to stay home,” Izzo said in a statement.
James’ uncertain future will make for a difficult decision for any prospective Cavs coach. The 25-year-old superstar is unlikely to tip his hand publicly before free agency begins July 1.
“It’s been an agonizing week as I tried to make a decision about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Izzo said in a statement. “I apologize for the time the process has taken, but sometimes there are opportunities that come about that must be thoroughly examined.”
Izzo’s decision ends a nearly two-week courtship by Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who was hoping a reported five-year $30 million contract would be enough to land the Spartans coach, and perhaps show James he intends to remake the Cavs following a bitter postseason loss.
“The entire Cleveland Cavalier organization has nothing but respect and admiration for Coach Izzo and his family,” Gilbert said in a statement. “Tom is a special person in so many unique and positive ways. We only wish great things for him and his family in all the years ahead.”
This past season, Izzo led the Spartans to the Final Four for the sixth time in 12 years. Only the late John Wooden at UCLA and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski also have done that.
“It’s a great day, knowing he’s coming back,” said Mateen Cleaves, perhaps Izzo’s favorite player and one of the stars from his 2000 national championship team. “It put the biggest smile on my face to know he’s coming back.”
Milwaukee Bucks guard Charlie Bell, who played on the 2000 national championship team, was also glad to hear Izzo’s staying: “Izzo is Michigan State basketball.”
Two of the five former assistants who are Division I coaches were thrilled, too.
“Thought he handled very difficult process very well,” Utah coach Jim Boylen wrote in a text message. “It was a win-win situation for him. Happy for him, his family and his team that it’s over.”
South Florida coach Stan Heath sent a text that read: “Tom is great for Michigan State and for college basketball.”
For the NBA franchise in Cleveland, Izzo’s decision appears to be another setback.
Izzo’s snub has further tangled a tricky summer for the Cavaliers, who are weeks away from knowing if James will be back with them.
Since losing to Boston in the second round of the playoffs, Gilbert fired Mike Brown, the most successful coach in team history; general manager Danny Ferry left after deciding not to renew his contract following five banner years; and now Izzo, a friend of Gilbert’s, doesn’t want to be in the Cavs’ future.
James’ decision hangs over all of it. Without knowing if he’ll return, the Cavs’ pursuit of a coach has been nearly impossible. They can’t promise candidates that No. 23 – soon to be No. 6 – will be around to make another run at a title.
The Cavs were adamant that James would not be consulted during their coaching search. Even if a coach had talked to the two-time MVP, he wasn’t going to reveal his plans before hitting the free-agent market with an All-Star class that includes fellow Olympians Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Cleveland’s next option appears to be Byron Scott, who spent an hour on the phone last week with Cavs’ GM Chris Grant and assistant Lance Blanks. Scott may not be a slam-dunk backup plan for the Cavs because the former New Jersey and New Orleans coach would be interested in the Los Angeles job if Phil Jackson retires.
Scott won three titles playing for the Lakers and has dreamed of coaching in L.A. He had an “out clause” built into his contract with the Nets so he could pursue the Lakers’ job if it ever opened. He also loves the West Coast after being fired by the Hornets and might seriously listen to the Clippers if they’re interested in him.
The Cavs also have contacted Milwaukee assistant Kelvin Sampson and former Atlanta coach and Cavs assistant Mike Woodson. The team could bring one of both of them in for interviews, but may wait until after they have a better sense of James’ next off-the-floor move.
Gilbert knew finding Brown’s replacement would be difficult. He said it would be ideal to have a coach in place by July 1, but that may be unrealistic. The draft is next week, and although the Cavs don’t currently have a pick, they’ve been shopping around to obtain one.
They’ve also talked to several teams about possible trades, hoping to upgrade their roster and make it more appealing to James.
Brown was fired after five seasons for failing to win a championship. His successor will be hard pressed to match Brown’s success over a five-year span, when the Cavs went to the finals, won two division titles and had the league’s best regular-season record the past two seasons.
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.