By now, it’s well established that Tom Izzo is Dan Gilbert’s prime target to be the next coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. When most people heard this, present company included, the natural first reaction was to think that there’s no way Izzo would take this job without LeBron James already being locked up.
It’s a unique conundrum, because there’s a popular belief that LeBron won’t play for just any coach. If true, there’s a peculiar “chicken v egg” dance going on in Cleveland. It’s not unlike the famous Bill and Ted circular logic of needing Eddie Van Halen in the band to make a triumphant video, but not being able to make a triumphant video unless Eddie Van Halen is in the band. To quote the supreme brilliance of MTV’s Jersey Shore, “It’s a situation”.
Rather than worrying about the details of who would blink first, Izzo or LeBron, it’s probably more worthwhile to consider the reasons why maybe, just maybe, Tom Izzo would consider taking this job without a guarantee from LeBron.
The merits of hiring Izzo can be debated, but the fact remains that Izzo is the guy that Dan Gilbert wants, so the question then shifts. Dan Shanoff so indignantly asked the question why would Izzo even consider do something so stupid as taking the Cavaliers coaching job, so here are some answers to that question.
First and foremost, the most obvious reason is money. Any time you can double your salary, you’re going to at least consider it. For Izzo, he’s looking at a guaranteed $30 million no matter what happens, and his annual salary will double from $3 million to $6 million. That $6 million figure would tie Izzo with Mike D’Antoni, Gregg Popovich, and Don Nelson (who may end up retiring) as the 5th highest paid coaches in all sports behind only Phil Jackson ($10 million/year), Bill Belichick ($7 million), Larry Brown ($7 million), and Mike Shanahan ($7 million). If Izzo pushed, he could possibly even get his figure up to $7-7.5 million to make himself the 2nd highest paid coach in sports. That amount of money is something that should never be scoffed at.
Beyond the money, there are perks. We’ve already heard about the use of private jets, but who knows what else could be involved. Perhaps Gilbert will throw in some casino perks. Gilbert will spare no expense in making sure Izzo is comfortable in Cleveland and has everything that he needs to succeed.
Perhaps the biggest thing people are overlooking is support of the owner. Izzo knows the NBA will always be there for him whenever he wants, but he will probably never step into a more comfortable situation with more support from the owner than he will have in Gilbert and the Cavaliers. Gilbert is a Michigan State alum who holds Izzo in the highest esteem possible. This is personal for Gilbert in a way that most situations won’t be. Gilbert is more likely to give Izzo time to get himself established as an NBA coach than most other owners would be. For most, it would be a strict business transaction with extremely high expectations. If Izzo doesn’t meet those expectations, he will be quickly discarded. Gilbert showed patience with Mike Brown, and it would stand to reason that Izzo would be given more patience and a longer leash with Gilbert.
Failure in the NBA doesn’t seem to destroy one’s NCAA coaching career. Some, such as Lon Kruger (UNLV) and Mike Montgomery (Long Beach State) have found their way back to mid level programs, while other more high profile coaches such as John Calipari (Memphis and Kentucky) and Rick Pitino (Louisville) landed right back into major powerhouse programs. So the gamble for Izzo isn’t as great as it might seem. If he fails, he can always collect his $30 million and return to a comfortable program in the NCAA.
Even if LeBron doesn’t return to Cleveland, Izzo doesn’t have to fail. If he really is as good of a coach as most seem to think, he will always be given the opportunity to succeed as long as Dan Gilbert is owner. All this talk about the Cavs being in ruin if LeBron leaves is entirely premature. Sure, the Cavs were terrible in the years preceding LeBron’s reign, but those years were spent under a well-meaning but overwhelmed owner in Gordon Gund and a completely inept and incompetent GM in Jim Paxson. Not to mention the slew of poor coaches. People forget that in the past when the Cavs had solid front office leadership (Wayne Embry) and good coaching (Lenny Wilkens) that the team can be successful and the fans of Cleveland can still get behind the team.
The franchise doesn’t have to succumb to the gloom the national media is projecting on this franchise. If Gilbert can sell a great coach on coming to Cleveland without LeBron, it would be a huge step in the right direction. It’s a hard sell, for sure, but perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it outright. Gilbert is providing a scenario for Tom Izzo to make a lot of money to come try his hand at coaching basketball at the highest level in the world. He can give Izzo money, perks, facilities, patience, support, players….anything and everything he wants. Situations like that aren’t always easy to say no to.
Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Al Goldis)