Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Updated: June 16, 8:22 AM ET
With Izzo out, who will Cavs seek next?
By Marc Stein
There is no obvious Tom Izzo fallback. No clear-cut Plan B.
The most reliable signals out of Cavs land on Tuesday night, after Izzo passed on owner Dan Gilbert's millions, indicate that Gilbert doesn't quite have his own Monty Williams picked out, as the New Orleans Hornets did when they hired Williams last week after Tom Thibodeau turned them down.
Now that Izzo has definitely declared his intention to stay at Michigan State? "No favorite" was the brief advisory from a source familiar with Cleveland's thinking.
Yet it's also true that the Cleveland Cavaliers -- fearing this exact outcome -- never stopped talking to prospective candidates (most notably ESPN analyst Byron Scott) while the agonizing wait for Izzo's answer consumed more than a week. So the Cavs won't be starting completely over when they resume the unenviable challenge of trying to secure a new coach without being able to assure any potential hire that LeBron James will be a Cav after June 30.
Barring the hard-to-fathom willingness of Phil Jackson or Mike Krzyzewski to relocate to Ohio, Izzo was undeniably the Michigan State-schooled Gilbert's dream hire. It remains to be seen, though, whether the Cavs' owner is still determined to have a new coach in place by the start of free agency July 1.
If Gilbert remains so determined, look for Scott to quickly emerge as the new favorite, because he's by far the most accomplished candidate still on the Cavs' board, and he would receive a strong recommendation from LeBron's good buddy Chris Paul.
The Cavs also surely realize that their best shot at Scott is offering him the job fairly quickly. If they ultimately determine that Scott is next in line, it's best for the Cavs to strike while the Los Angeles Lakers are playing out the rest of the NBA Finals, after which they'll likely have to wait at least a week for Jackson to tell Lakers owner Jerry Buss that he'd like to return next season if he and Buss can hash out a new contract.
The Lakers are undeniably (and understandably) Scott's dream job, but colleagues say it's rather unlikely that he'd discourage Cleveland's interest just because L.A. might need a coach in a few weeks. And while NBA coaching sources consistently identify Scott and current Lakers assistant Brian Shaw as the two most likely top candidates if the Lakers find themselves with an opening -- largely because both Scott and Shaw have a good relationship with Lakers star Kobe Bryant -- Jackson has not backed off his recent claim that "the probabilities are great" he and Buss will come to terms after the Finals. That's even though Jackson knows he'll have to take some sort of pay cut.
The Cavs would be giving Scott lots to think about if they make him an offer by, say, Thursday or Friday. It's not inconceivable that Scott would still decide that it's best to wait and see what happens with Jackson and the Lakers, but a firm offer from a free-spending owner like Gilbert would be hard to resist ... with or without any firmer read on James' intentions.
But if Gilbert is turning flexible about that July 1 target date or has reservations about Scott, don't be surprised if the Cavs decide to wait until after James finally chooses his address in free agency to get as serious with another coach as they were with Izzo.
For someone like Jackson or Krzyzewski or even ESPN/ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy, moving fast makes total sense. I'd also say the same for Gilbert's dogged pursuit of his favorite Spartan -- even though Izzo was unlikely to impress LeBron like those first three names -- because I generally applaud attempts to be bold and creative. For all the well-chronicled pitfalls involved in plucking NBA coaches from the college ranks, Gilbert saw that one of the biggest personalities in the sport was willing to give Cleveland real consideration. He had to go for it.
Hard as he tried, though, Gilbert couldn't get Izzo to commit. Van Gundy, meanwhile, has told the Cavs, Nets and other teams that he's determined to spend at least one more season in television. Who else on the coaching market, if they're not sold on Scott, do the Cavs need to rush after?
They might as well hold off at that point until after James makes his choice, since LeBron could quickly change the whole nature of the search by surprising all of us know-it-alls and announcing that he's staying in Ohio.