October 25, 2014

Medina
Intermittent clouds
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Izzo visits Cleveland

INDEPENDENCE — Tom Izzo was in town Thursday touring the Cavaliers facilities and meeting with front office members, but a source said it was unlikely the Cavaliers would announce a coaching hire today.

Izzo, who has led Michigan State to six Final Four appearances and one national championship in the last 12 years, flew into town Thursday afternoon on one of Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s private jets.

The Cavaliers have offered the 55-year-old coach, who with incentives makes around $3 million a year at Michigan State, a five-year contract that will pay him at least $6 million a season.

Izzo, who held a team meeting with his Michigan State players Tuesday night in East Lansing to tell them he was talking to the Cavaliers, appears to be seriously considering taking the job, as evidenced by the fact he met with his team and took the time to fly to Cleveland.

Even that required a bit of espionage, as Izzo’s flight from East Lansing changed its landing site from Burke Lakefront Airport to Cuyahoga County Airport in Richmond Heights because camera crews and reporters were stationed at the former.

Izzo has been targeted by NBA teams before and came close to accepting a job with the Atlanta Hawks 10 years ago, but this appears to be the most seriously he’s considered making the jump.

Izzo, however, is not the only coaching candidate being eyed by Cleveland.

It is believed that the Cavaliers have begun talks with Byron Scott, 49, who won three NBA titles as a player with the Los Angeles Lakers and was fairly successful as coach of the New Orleans Hornets, with whom he was named NBA Coach of the Year in 2007-08.

Mike Brown, fired by the Cavaliers after they lost to Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals this season, was NBA Coach of the Year in 2008-09.

Izzo is the Cavaliers’ top choice, but it’s not known how long new general manager Chris Grant and Gilbert are willing to let the process drag out.

It is also not known if Cleveland has given Izzo a deadline, nor is it known if Michigan State officials have asked their highly successful coach to give them a decision by a certain date.

If Izzo, who is under contract through 2016, does leave the Spartans, he must pay the school $500,000 within 30 days of terminating his employment.

Izzo, who has been at Michigan State since 1983 and served as head coach since 1995, would probably like to know if two-time league MVP LeBron James is going to re-sign with Cleveland before he takes the job, but free agency doesn’t officially begin until July 1.

Players can reach agreements with teams on that date, but the earliest they can sign is July 8.

It is likely the Cavaliers – and Michigan State, for that matter — will want a decision before then.

A source said James, who the Cavaliers insist is not being consulted in their coaching search, likes Izzo, but it is not known if the two have talked.

The same source said that under ideal circumstances, the 25-year-old James would like to play for a head coach with NBA playing experience, but Izzo could probably make up for that by hiring a staff that includes experienced coaches who were former players.

If Izzo does take the job, he’ll be out to buck a trend of high-profile college coaches who have not fared well at the NBA level.

Tim Floyd, Jerry Tarkanian, Rick Pitino and John Calipari all quickly returned to the college game after unsuccessful stints in the NBA, but the Cavaliers are more talented, especially with James, than any of the clubs they inherited.

It is not unprecedented for a highly successful college coach to make the transition to the NBA, as Larry Brown prospered at both levels.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.