October 21, 2014

Medina
Showers
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Cavs have few good options left, the CT’s Rick Noland says

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert tried to hit a mammoth home run, but he ended up striking out.

Tom Izzo announced Tuesday night that he will remain as Michigan State coach, sending Gilbert back to the dugout — and the drawing board — with $30 million in hand.

Gilbert went down swinging, but he whiffed nonetheless.

Despite flying Izzo to Cleveland on a private jet, introducing him to front office members, taking him to dinner and giv­ing him a tour of their facilities, the Cava­liers’ offer of a five-year, $30 million con­tract was not enough to lure the 55-year­old away from East Lansing.

“The entire Cleveland Cavalier organi­zation has nothing but respect and admi­ration for Coach Izzo and his family,” Gilbert said in a statement. “Tom is a special person in so many unique and positive ways. We only wish great things for him and his family in all the years ahead.”

That’s nice, but what is ahead for Cleveland?

Gilbert and new general manager Chris Grant will deny it, but it’s pretty clear the vast majority of the Cavaliers’ eggs were put into one basket — why that was the case remains a little mystifying — when it came to their rabid pursuit of Izzo.

If it wasn’t already, it’s now also crystal clear why Danny Ferry resigned as gen­eral manager. Trying to hire Izzo was a Gilbert move, and if Ferry wasn’t going to have final say in that matter, he probably felt it was only a matter of time before the owner went over his head again.

The Cavaliers, of course, will eventu­ally attempt to put a positive spin on all this, but that will be far from easy.

They’ll maintain, as they did on the day Grant was promoted to succeed Ferry as GM, that they’ve been talking to a lot of coaches.

Gilbert will continue to say Grant will have total control over the team’s coach­ing search, even though it’s strongly believed that the courting of Izzo began even before Ferry resigned.

There’s a chance the Cavaliers could come out of all this smelling like a rose, especially if LeBron James ultimately re­signs as a free agent, but there’s no way they’ll be able to sell their eventual head coach as their top choice.

We’ll get into those coaching possibilities in a moment, but first let’s address Gilbert’s infatuation — five years and $30 million definitely qualifies as infatuation, folks — with Izzo.

It’s understandable why Gilbert was interested in Izzo, and it’s understandable why he felt he had to offer a whopping contract to lure the man away from Michigan State.

But why Izzo? Why not college coaches like John Calipari, Bill Self, Rick Pitino, Tom Penders or Bo Ryan, to name just a few? Did Gilbert carefully research all those men and their backgrounds, or did he get a sudden Izzo impulse and act on it?

From here, it certainly looks like the latter.

And even on the slight chance the Cavaliers did research numerous college — and pro — coaches before settling on Izzo, we still have one question: What made him such a great choice?

Sure, the man has coached Michigan State to six Final Fours in the last 12 years. Sure, he won the 2000 national championship. Sure, he’s a defensive-minded coach.

But Izzo has never coached a day in the NBA, and making that transition is far more difficult than most people understand.

Not only does the NBA feature many more games and a vastly different style of play, Izzo would have suddenly been dealing with multimillion-dollar athletes with guaranteed contracts, not shaping recent high school graduates willing to do anything and everything to impress their coach.

In that sense, the Cavaliers may actually benefit in the long run, as there’s a fairly strong belief here that Izzo might have saved them from themselves.

Regardless, Gilbert, Grant and the Cavaliers aren’t in a great position today.

Former New Orleans Hornets and New Jersey Nets coach Byron Scott, who won three titles as a player for the Los Angeles Lakers, is still out there, but he’s said to be interested in the Lakers job, should Phil Jackson not return.

Lakers assistant Brian Shaw is a possibility, as are former Chicago head coach Vinny Del Negro and former New Jersey coach Lawrence Frank.

With the possible exception of Scott and perhaps a sudden change of heart by ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy, formerly the coach of the New York Knicks, are any of those candidates better than Mike Brown, the man Cleveland fired?

Maybe the Cavaliers can catch lightning in a bottle and land Jackson or current Boston coach Doc Rivers, but that would be like being down three runs in the bottom of the ninth, facing an 0-2 count and trying to hit a grand slam — against Mariana Rivera.

Gilbert swung for the fences once, and we know how that turned out.

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