Sunday, June 13, 2010
Report: Izzo wants to talk to LeBron
ESPN.com news services
The Cleveland Cavaliers' wait for Tom Izzo continues after a weekend of mostly silence from the Michigan State coach.
But there was a pertinent development Sunday night in the Izzo saga, when the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported on its website that LeBron James would not oppose Izzo's hiring after it was previously reported that James prefers to play for a coach who has played in the NBA.
The Plain Dealer, quoting what it termed a "high-level source," said James would "100 percent" endorse Izzo's hiring.
“ It won't go on forever, I can tell you that.”
-- Michigan St. coach Tom Izzo on Thursday regarding job decision
It remains to be seen what impact that sentiment will have on Izzo's decision, given that Izzo's hesitation in accepting Cleveland's five-year, $30 million offer is believed to stem mostly from the fact that James becomes a free agent July 1 and has given the franchise no known indication that he intends to re-sign.
Although the Cavaliers hoped that Izzo would make a decision over the weekend, Izzo only issued a brief text message Sunday to several reporters, including ESPN.com's Andy Katz: "Still gathering."
Katz reported Sunday that Kentucky coach John Calipari, who is friendly with James, is one of the coaching colleagues Izzo has consulted, not only for advice about moving into the pro game but also in an attempt to get a read on James' thinking.
Izzo is apparently still trying to speak directly to James, according to Lansing (Mich.) television station WLNS, but that had not happened as of Sunday night.
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert insisted last week that James is not directly involved in the search for a replacement for Mike Brown. James also told CNN's Larry King in a recent sitdown interview that he does not want to be deeply involved in selecting his next coach, but any evidence that James would be supportive could help Gilbert in his determined chase for Izzo's signature.
The Tom Izzo Spartan Basketball Camp, meanwhile, is scheduled to begin Monday morning in East Lansing, but it was not immediately known if Izzo will be in attendance.
On Friday afternoon, Izzo told his Michigan State players he was undecided about whether to accept the lucrative offer from Michigan State alumnus Gilbert, according to a person at the meeting. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the meeting was intended to be confidential.
Although Izzo gave no indication of his decision, his players came away with the impression that he would take the Cavs job, The Plain Dealer reported.
Izzo flew to Cleveland on Thursday and visited with the Cavs for several hours. Chief among the issues he's mulling over is whether he'd still want the job in the event that the Cavs fail to re-sign James in free agency.
A source told ESPN.com on Friday that Izzo is also wrestling with what he feels is a life and career change. There is still no firm timetable for when his decision will be announced.
"It won't go on forever, I can tell you that," Izzo said Thursday night at the Lansing airport before getting in a car and heading home with his wife, daughter and son. "I feel bad that I can't talk. I feel good that I did what I had to do."
Gilbert and general manager Chris Grant have repeatedly declined media requests to elaborate about their pursuit of Izzo.
If Izzo spurns the Cavs, they could turn to former New Orleans and New Jersey coach Byron Scott, who not only won three NBA rings as a player with the Los Angeles Lakers but also has experience coaching stars Jason Kidd and Chris Paul.
The Cavs have maintained contact with Scott's camp for the past few weeks after losing in the second round of the playoffs to Boston despite having the league's best regular-season record for the second straight season. The Cavs, though, have not interviewed Scott face-to-face.
“ Coach is the best thing that ever happened to me.”
-- Michigan States sophomore Derrick Nix on Tom Izzo's impact
Since firing Brown, Cleveland has also been linked in media reports with recently dismissed Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Woodson, Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Kelvin Sampson and Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw. Grant said the Cavs have spoken to a "number" of candidates, but did not divulge any names.
As for Michigan State, Spartans athletic director Mark Hollis said last week that he has a long list of candidates he would consider if he needs a new coach.
Michigan State has been bracing for Izzo's possible exit for a decade, dating to an offer from the Atlanta Hawks in 2000 after he led the school to its second national championship. Each offseason his name emerges as a candidate for openings in the NBA and NCAA. But Izzo has never been this close to taking the leap.
Izzo could double his current pay with an annual salary of $6 million and leave the headaches of college recruiting behind. Of course, Izzo has an obvious emotional attachment to Michigan State -- and a team expected to contend for the national title next season -- that makes it difficult to leave, along with the knowledge that the overwhelming majority of college coaches that jumped to the pros have not been successful.
Dayton's Brian Gregory, Tulsa's Doug Wojcik, Utah's Jim Boylen -- all assistants under Izzo -- would likely be on the Spartans' list of potential replacements along with associate head coach Mark Montgomery and Dwayne Stephens. Both played for the Spartans when Izzo was a relatively unknown assistant for Jud Heathcote.
Izzo first met with his players last Tuesday, informing them he was in discussions with the Cavs. About 500 people, including center Derrick Nix, tried to convince him to stay at a rally Thursday night.
"Coach is the best thing that ever happened to me," said Nix, a freshman last season.
The rally at the Magic Johnson statue outside Michigan State's arena was suggested by fans on message boards and social networking websites. Hundreds wrote personal messages on a huge banner that was taped up to the windows of Izzo's office. An "Oh no, please don't go Izzo," banner was taped at the base of Johnson's statue.
Izzo has been at the school since 1983 and has been the Spartans' coach since 1995, leading them to six Final Fours in the past 12 years. The late John Wooden at UCLA and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski are the only other coaches who have accomplished that feat.
"I'm happy for him either way," said Los Angeles Lakers guard Shannon Brown, who played for Izzo. "He deserves everything he gets. He works hard. He knows his stuff. He rarely sleeps. He's always thinking about different ways to get better and different ways to stay on top of his game."
On Sunday, Michigan State fans planted "WE LOVE IZZO" signs -- with the love represented by a red heart -- alongside roads Izzo would take on his way to work.