Friday, July 9, 2010
Tom Izzo made the right call
By Eamonn Brennan
Hey, remember Tom Izzo? Who almost left his hero-for-life gig at Michigan State for a potential opportunity to coach LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers?
Izzo's decision already looked like the smart one. After all, he never received any assurances from LeBron's camp -- heck, LeBron wouldn't even talk to Izzo -- that the talented and now universally disliked star was planning on coming back to Cleveland. Still, Izzo seemed tempted. He wavered. He took a few extra days to think things over. He talked to other coaches with NBA experience. The eventual consensus, which Izzo admitted played heavily into his decision, was thus: If LeBron's not a sure thing, don't do it. It's not worth the risk. Stay where you are. Keep winning. Have fun.
As Jeff Eisenberg points out today, the hindsight of LeBron's capital-D Decision makes Izzo's lower-case one look remarkably reasonable, intelligent -- even prescient.
But there's another point here, too. Even with LeBron ignoring him, Izzo still seemed interested in taking over the Cavs. He was promised by owner and Michigan State alum Dan Gilbert that even if James didn't return, the Cavaliers would still fight hard to remain competitive through free agent signings and potential trades. A rich long-term deal and carte blanche from a supportive owner would be a dream scenario for most NBA coaches, no matter what the talent level. LeBron or not, NBA offers like Cleveland's don't come around all that often. Even if Izzo knew for sure that LeBron was leaving, he could have been forgiven for choosing the Cavs as his long-awaited NBA challenge anyway.
Thursday night changed that that calculus. The Cavaliers are now not only missing the best player alive, they're at the nexus of an infuriated city, a poisoned atmosphere, and an owner using comic sans to aggrievedly insult his former star and guarantee NBA championships on the team's website. Imagine being Tom Izzo, having just stepped away from Michigan State and into that situation. Do you really want to be that guy? Do you want your first offseason in a new job to place you smack in the middle of the angriest, most disappointed fan base since ... well, since the last time bad things happened to Cleveland? Uh, no. No you do not.
Instead, Izzo goes back to a state that loves him to coach a talented basketball team that can win a title this very April. That sounds slightly more fun.
So, yes, Tom Izzo made a good call. But the decision to return looks better now not just because LeBron chose to leave Cleveland. It looks better because of how LeBron left. Who, besides LeBron himself, would want any part of that?