Tom Izzo the Right Coach for Cleveland Cavaliers, Not LeBron James

Ross LipschultzAnalyst IJune 11, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - APRIL 03:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans reacts from the sideline while taking on the Butler Bulldogs during the National Semifinal game of the 2010 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship on April 3, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

As Tom Izzo does the typical dance around a big decision, sources told ESPN yesterday that the Michigan State head coach is leaning towards a move to Cleveland.

Hopefully, he doesn’t take a boat. The city’s rivers can light on fire.

Rumors have swirled about Izzo receiving $6 million per year to coach the Cavaliers, even without a guarantee LeBron James will return to the Q. While owner Dan Gilbert has made the right move to go after a coach without James’ say, could Izzo really be the one?

Sounds like a Bachelor promo.

But throw a big wrinkle into the situation. What if LeBron doesn’t return, leaving the Cavs with a roster full of role players and incredibly strapped for cash?

If that’s the case, then Izzo is the right guy.

The city of Cleveland just gasped and then said, “Wait, what?”

Yes, it is a strange idea to think about, but Izzo may actually be better for the Cavaliers if he doesn’t have LeBron James. Cleveland may exile me like Galileo, but looking at the Spartans coach’s body of work, he may not have the right system for King James.

With an analysis of Izzo’s style of play, the possibility becomes less insane. Coming from the Big 11, where flashy play hasn’t existed since Magic Johnson left Michigan State, Izzo hasn’t exactly been a huge fan of one-man highlight reels on his teams.

Imagine LeBron never dunking on a fast break. Or getting benched for not passing to Jamario Moon.

Now breathe—in and out. In and out.

The Spartans have also been known for their incredible half court sets. If Izzo takes his system straight to the NBA, the Cavs are going to be running the shot clock down to single digits before even considering a shot. Pass after pass after pass until the defense gets outworked, leading to an easy jumper.

Can LeBron wait that long?

I’m guessing that’s as likely as a Chicago Cubs World Series—in the next 50 years.

Izzo also brings an extremely restricting coaching style. Past Spartans have noted he is extremely tough on his players and is in charge of the great majority of the play calling. Unlike Mike Brown, Izzo will be the head signal caller and won’t be so lenient at practice.

What are the odds King James gives up the play-calling power?

What are the odds of the Rams winning three straight Super Bowls?

But Izzo’s greatest strength is working with minimal talent. He’s made the Final Four six of the last 12 years, and he does it by emphasizing a team game. His fifth-seeded Spartans turned out an impressive performance in the 2010 tourney, surpassing many expectations in the hardest region with teamwork that would make the late John Wooden proud.

After Bron Bron watched his two running mates, Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison, pull a Houdini on him, can he trust them in big games any more?

So maybe, just maybe, if Izzo is the guy Gilbert and new Cavs GM Chris Grant want to run their team, maybe they don’t need LeBron after all.

It may sound like crazy talk, but if the best player doesn’t fit in with the coaching style, the team can’t succeed. Why do you think Phil Jackson worked so well with Kobe and MJ?

Because they bought his system.

Okay, it took Kobe much longer than Michael—but the point remains.

So why not take Izzo’s top abilities, and put them to use on a team of yeomen instead? Izzo can use his hard-edged style to push the Cavs into a blue-collar mentality, giving them a scrappiness that they have lacked since the Craig Ehlo days.

Sorry, that name makes Cleveland cry.

But then again, what doesn’t? It’s Reuters’ most miserable city in the country.

Sure, LeBron may be the best athlete in the NBA, but he would have to give up a lot of power to come back to his hometown with Izzo in charge. He won’t be able to get the “whoever I want” supporting cast there, unlike anywhere else he could sign.

But then again, judging on his earlier than expected exits from the postseason recently, should anyone let him have whomever he wants?

Michael Jordan had that deal in Washington and drafted Kwame Brown.


While Izzo is not the coach of the Cavaliers yet, and has only been reported by unidentified sources as the front runner, he still makes a great hire, regardless of LeBron is around to play for him.

Izzo’s talents suit the Cavs better as a group of players that work hard, and if they don’t have James as a safety net, they will have to step up to avoid the Eastern Conference cellar.

Say “Hi” to the Nets for me!


Follow Ross on Twitter at Rossel64 and check out more from him at