Is Tom Izzo the choice for Cleveland? I'm not so sure.
The news is out, and confirmed by Chris Grant at his formal introduction as the team's new GM on Tuesday: The Cavaliers have contacted Izzo about their coaching vacancy, with unconfirmed reports of a five-year, $30 million contract having been discussed.
Izzo has been for many years a college coach with terrific NBA potential. But this is one franchise that needs a coach who can step into the job and produce a championship immediately. It is not fair to demand instant excellence from Izzo, who has never coached in the league.
This coaching job is open because coach Mike Brown failed to deliver a championship over the last two postseasons, with LeBron James among the many who questioned Brown's ability to adjust strategically and tactically during crucial sequences of playoff games. So we are to believe that Izzo, in his rookie NBA season -- while growing accustomed to the pace of the work and newfound relationships with players who, for the first time in his career, will be making more money than him -- can neutralize NBA lifers like Stan Van Gundy and Doc Rivers and Phil Jackson?
Majority owner Dan Gilbert emphasized that the Cavs have met with other potential coaches and no offer has been made to Izzo. One league insider questioned whether the leaked reports of a $30 million deal to Izzo have been meant to create a market for their coaching job by letting the world know the Cavs will be paying big money.
The enormous salary offer for the Cavs' next coach is a strong signal of their belief they'll re-sign James this summer. They wouldn't be advertising terms of $6 million per year otherwise.
Of course the issue of a big coaching salary is one of those chicken-and-egg things: The Cavs won't be able to re-sign James without first hiring a big-time coach. Gilbert emphasized that James won't dictate whom they hire to coach him. But they're also not going to hire a coach who won't impress James. They need someone who can recruit LeBron, as well as deliver a title.
That's why this coaching search will ultimately be decided following some kind of dialogue with James and/or his people for an understanding of what is best for him and the Cavs. No other franchise has the right to speak frankly with James about these issues, so why wouldn't Cleveland take advantage of the access to the league's most coveted star?
My hunch is that consideration will have to be given to Kentucky coach JohnCalipari, who has NBA experience as well as a relationship with James to go with a dribble-drive offense that James likes; and Larry Brown, who is one of four active NBA coaches with a championship ring and could deliver one immediately. (The Bobcats would have to be compensated, but there is history between Brown and Gilbert, who tried to hire him five years ago.)
This is meant in no way to discredit Izzo, who could be an excellent NBA coach. But it will take him time to develop those professional skills, and that time is one thing Cleveland can't offer to any coach.