I'm going to be as factual and as non-speculative as I can be in this article after the way Izzo basically ripped the media and bloggers in particular for their coverage of this on-going saga earlier this evening. I don't want to be one of those guys, Tom!
When news broke around 7 pm tonight from the Detroit Free Press that Tom Izzo was going to turn down the Cleveland Cavaliers job to remain at Michigan State, I wasn't entirely disappointed.
I have ulterior motives as a basketball lover outside of being a Cavs fan. I'm a Buckeye as well, and seeing Izzo stay a Spartan was a bit of a blessing.
Michigan State may not think of Ohio State as much of a basketball rivalry, but I surely do. Since Izzo's been there, every team in the Big Ten has used the games against MSU as a measuring stick for success. If you can beat the Spartans, odds are you have a damn good team.
Staying at Michigan State means Izzo has cemented his legacy. Much like Mike Krzyzewski, he had an opportunity to jump ship and didn't do it.
We're going to remember him as one of the greatest college coaches of all time and not one who enjoyed success but went to the NBA under the delusions of grandeur. As a basketball fan, I wanted to remember him as the Michigan State legend, not the guy who went to the NBA and (perhaps) couldn't get the job done.
But after watching his press conference tonight, I realized my thinking was erroneous and flawed. Izzo passing on the job might be far more impactful than I, and presumably many others, originally believed.
When giving his introduction, Izzo spoke with passion and emotion from the heart. Quite frankly, something that the Cavs were completely lacking this postseason.
This is a guy that's given everything he has to Michigan State. There's little doubt he would have done the same for the Cavaliers.
And maybe the most important thing about Izzo-coached teams: they always seem to overachieve. They always get better as the year goes on, and the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.
For the 2009-10 Cleveland Cavaliers, the exact opposite was true—the whole was collectively far worse than sum of the individuals.
Maybe it would have been a good match.
But all of that is irrelevant. Izzo is the head coach at Michigan State and not for the Cavs. For me though, I just can't shake the biggest elephant that's perhaps ever been in the room: LeBron James.
There was something about Izzo's body language and his responses during the press conference. He truly seemed like a man that was this close to giving an entirely different speech.
He basically said as much. "There were days when [the Cleveland job] looked like a great opportunity," he reiterated. To paraphrase, he said that he woke up each day not knowing whether his future would be in Cleveland or East Lansing.
It took about 45 minutes for a reporter to finally ask the question that everyone in the world (OK, maybe just every Cavs fan in the world) was dying to know: If Izzo had a firm commitment from LeBron James that he'd be playing there next year, would he have taken the job?
Quick tangent: if you didn't see the ten minute exchange between Izzo and this same reporter about the media coverage of this story, and pretty much about media coverage in general, find it. It's the best banter between coach and reporter I've seen in quite some time and it's wildly entertaining to see the two go back-and-forth in a somewhat heated manner.
He didn't dance around the question, but took a minute before he finally responded. "If LeBron would've stayed," he said, "that doesn't mean I would've been there. It was not the only factor."
But he then added, "Was it a big factor? Sure."
For some reason, it was the one answer I just didn't fully appreciate. I mean, if he chewed over the decision for this long, was wined-and-dined by Dan Gilbert and the Cavalier organization, and truly didn't know what his future would be even with LeBron in limbo, then a firm "yes" from No. 23 would have had to bring him to Cleveland...right?
But James' stubborn silence on the decision was undoubtedly the most important factor in Izzo's decision (sorry Tom, I don't want to be one of those speculators and a guy who starts inaccurate rumors...but this has to be true). James did not want to be involved in the Cavs coaching search and refused to back off from this.
I understand his stance, and he doesn't owe it to me, you, or anyone to change it just because we might have a problem with it. And it's a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation—if he directly talks with Izzo, and Izzo takes the job and LeBron still winds up leaving, he's ultimately a pariah.
He doesn't want to be a coach killer, a player that gets his GM axed, or a guy that picks his coach and the future of the organization. I get that.
At the same time, he has to understand the magnitude of his decision. He has to understand that no coach in their right mind is going to make a call on the Cavs coaching job if he keeps quiet.
LeBron's a smart man, and that's the scary part. If some amateur wannabe writer like me says "he has to understand this" or "he has to appreciate the magnitude of that," then he more than likely does. That's what terrifies me as a Cavs fan.
That, and the fact that Izzo said in his press conference that he didn't speak to James directly, but was in contact with people in LeBron's camp and "felt comfortable with things I needed to know."
Maybe it's just the exorbitant amount of paranoia in me seeping out. After all, what was he going to say to Izzo? "Yea, I'm definitely coming back, I'm just dragging this out for some pub."
Or, "there's no chance in hell I'll be in Cleveland so don't even waste your time."
Or, "I really have absolutely no idea what I'm going to do, so you're basically taking a shot in the dark."
Not very likely.
But to not even sit down with the guy that your current organization values so highly and desperately covets? To not even discuss the possibilities (he doesn't have to commit to anything) of things like in-game styles, overall philosophy, and the potential direction of the franchise?
I can't throw LeBron under the bus for this—he made a stance and stands by it, and I know myself and the rest of the faithful Cavalier fans have to swallow our tongues and accept it. But for me personally, I take it as a bad omen.
And now, the Cavalier coaching search continues. Rumors have Byron Scott's name floating around, but he won't make a decision until he knows the future of Phil Jackson and the Lakers.
Besides, the Cavs now almost definitely won't have a coach until James makes his final decision. They'll most likely swing for the fences once again, but it'll be LeBron who is holding the bat and determine if they strike out or hit a home run.
One last point to end on. For some reason, these quotes from Izzo stood out to me more than anything:
"I think there's still opportunities that everybody deserves to look at... And like anybody who's successful—you, me, them (the players), anyone else—I've had many opportunities to look at other things.
"The good thing is when you have people strong enough to give you that opportunity, when you make a decision, I think you feel better about it."
Maybe Cavs fans (or just me in particular) can learn from Izzo; maybe we can be strong enough to give LeBron his opportunity to look around and determine what's best for him. He's given us so much, we owe it to him.
But maybe he too can learn from Izzo and stay home where he belongs. Only time will tell.
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