June 08, 2010
It's by no means a given, but it's worth wondering about. And then it's worth wondering as to how it will work out.
Adrian Wojnarowski first reported last week that Cleveland Cavalier owner Dan Gilbert was planning on making a big offer to Michigan State (that's a college where they have a basketball team) coach Tom Izzo to coach the Cavs. With former coach Mike Brown let go and former general manager Danny Ferry (and his meddlin' ways!) out of the picture, Gilbert (a Michigan State alum) was free to make a big splash for his dream coach.
Some other reports surfaced, telling you that an offer had been made, but that noise was a bit premature. Monday, though, the hammer hit. Brian Windhorst reported that Gilbert had made it known that a five-year, $30 million deal was on the table if Izzo wanted it, along with some other perks (free parking, free bagels on Tuesday, free use of a private jet) to be tossed in.
From there, it's all tea leaves.
Izzo probably doesn't want to leave Michigan State, where he's put together an exemplary record. He's from the state's upper peninsula, he's done exceptionally well with the Spartans, and the perks and bonuses from his own college contract have him already making more than quite a few NBA coaches.
On top of that, if he were to come to the NBA, would it be to coach a team without LeBron James(notes)? Not to tell you that James is gone from Cleveland, far from it. But Izzo's going to want some assurances, and I don't know if you've noticed, but James has spent the last four years declining every chance he's gotten to assure Cavalier fans. James might stick, but Izzo would have to sign well before James does.
Let's say it happens, though. LeBron or not. LeBron stays, with the way the Cavaliers are, and they'll probably be just about where they were last season on paper. LeBron splits, and Izzo has a rebuilding process to look over — unless Gilbert thinks that some sign-and-trade prize or a Mo Williams(notes)-led armada is worth clinging to. Please tell me he doesn't think that.
The bottom line is what we always return to in these deals. A bottom line we haven't had to revisit since the time the Orlando Magic hired and nearly retained Billy Donovan as their next head coach in 2007.
Can a college coach succeed in the NBA?
The consistent answer, with a few exceptions (Larry Brown, technically, would be one; Rick Pitino did OK considering his roster), is a resounding "NO, jerkface."
Conventional wisdom will tell you the modern NBA player — with his cars from Germany, yachts on the reg and minks straight off the rack — will refuse to listen to a college coach he doesn't respect. Or that a college coach too used to getting to work with a recruit that is more or less under his thumb, can't adapt to dealing with players that, jokes aside, don't really need him.
I'm telling you, it goes deeper than that. And simpler than that, thankfully. And the way to get college coaches pumping up their relative winning percentage in this league is a little easier than most would think.
It has to do with knowing a league's personnel. And time and again, with the NBA's most recent NCAA hires, I've too often seen coaches too stubborn to kowtow to what might not make sense to them. To something as simple as, "Antoine Wright, though you think he might be a strong hand chucker, actually likes to go left 90 percent of the time."
The best way to avoid failure from a college coach on this level is to find someone who doesn't fancy himself a know-it-all. Which is kind of hard to do when dealing with college coaches.
But you have to seek one out, because this league (in spite of some cable commentators or writers from websites that are funded by cable companies) teaches you something new every night. And the last batch of college coaches just seemed too set in their ways to want to take on new scouting reports.
Or scouting reports, in general. College coaching involves systems more than anything, and though you have to bone up on the tendencies of certain players while preparing for a team you'll face three times in a year or a player who could be a first rounder next year in the NCAAs, it isn't nearly to this extent.
Because in the NBA, a seventh man can win four games in five nights for a team, or the same seventh man can lose the same amount on the other side. The individual impact is that strong, and no system can really stop that if it is being put in place merely to try and supersede willful ignorance.
So, of course, Izzo could succeed. Succeed in terms of what he'll be given (success for Tim Floyd with the Bulls would have been 21 wins, not 15), of course, but he'll have a sound chance nonetheless if he goes in humble. The same way I go in humble when, in spite of the 18 trillion hours I've spent watching pro hoops, I go to watch or try to critically think about an NCAA game. I don't know these boys.
And Izzo, though he might be able to name 400 out of this league's 450 players, doesn't know these men. How could he? He's got a job doing something else. It's understandable.
But if he takes a job doing, well, this? He needs to know. He'll have to learn everything all over again.