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Thursday, June 10, 2010
Tom Izzo inches closer, but why?

By Eamonn Brennan

You already know the latest news: Tom Izzo is leaning more toward leaving Michigan State and taking the Cleveland Cavaliers job than ever before. That's what a source told our own Andy Katz today:
That source discussed Izzo's future with a close confidant of Izzo, who is coaching in the NBA. The source told Katz that Izzo, who talked to his team earlier this week about his interest in the Cavaliers, is leaning toward taking the job if it is offered.

"Three weeks ago that wasn't the case, but it has changed,'' said the source.

Which is very confusing, and here's why: What about LeBron?

With more than two weeks left until the summer NBA signing period begins, there's no guarantee that LeBron James is going to be a Cleveland Cavalier. All indications -- LeBron has intentionally played things this way -- say James has a soft spot for Cleveland, but that he's ruthlessly undecided.

He could go to Chicago. (Which would be cosmically unfair, given the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup last night, not that the locals would be complaining.) He could go to New York. He could go to the Clippers, of all places. And he could, with an emphasis on could, stay in Cleveland.

But there no guarantees. At this point, there aren't even any clues.

Still, Izzo seems on the precipice of taking the Cavaliers job. At the very least, he's closer to leaving Michigan State than ever before. This confuses me. It's been said before, but it's worth revisiting: The Cavas job rests on a gigantic if. If LeBron stays, it's easily the best job opening in the NBA. Izzo would be paid a boatload of money to coach the best player in the NBA in his prime. He could walk in to an NBA championship contender immediately. That's all true.

But if LeBron leaves? You're looking at a mediocre Eastern Conference team with a menagerie of aging veterans and so-so role players. It's a team built to exist around LeBron; without him, it's not much of a team at all.

So unless Izzo knows something about LeBron's future that pretty much everyone in sports media has been trying (and failing) to find out for the last year, he could be taking a gigantic risk. Without LeBron, Izzo might as well coach the Timberwolves. He wants to leave his kingdom in East Lansing for that?

Maybe Izzo just wants to be in the NBA. Maybe he thinks it's time. Maybe he values the working relationship Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, a Michigan State alum, has built with him in the past few weeks. That's all possible. But if Izzo is only interested in leaving Michigan State for a chance to win the NBA title, jumping to the Cavs without a guarantee LeBron is going to stay seems like a particularly risky way to do it.