EAST LANSING, Mich. — Tom Izzo resisted the temptation of possibly coaching LeBron James to focus instead on a sure thing — building the next generation of superstars at Michigan State.
"Instead of coaching them in the NBA, I'm going to coach them in the NCAA," Izzo said Tuesday night at a news conference after he turned down a chance to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Izzo rejected the NBA in part because he was unable to speak with James, although he did speak with people in his camp.
"That was one of the key factors, 100 percent true," Izzo said. "That was not the only factor. Was it a big factor? Sure."
James' uncertain future will make for a difficult decision for any prospective Cavs coach. He is unlikely to tip his hand publicly before free agency begins July 1.
For the past nine days, Izzo has been trying to decide whether to leave the place that has been his home since 1983 and jump to the NBA to perhaps make $6 million — doubling his salary — and possibly coach one of the best basketball players in the world.
Izzo readily admitted that the idea of coaching James was very tempting.
"I thought playing one-on-one with LeBron James every day would be a good thing," he said.
Now, he's hoping James will join him for "stay-at-home month," referencing the 25-year-old superstar's uncertain future.
"I'm staying at home," Izzo said. "I hope he stays."
Izzo certainly plans to.
A decade after declining a contract to coach the Atlanta Hawks, Izzo vowed he would not entertain another offer.
"I knew at the beginning that whatever decision I made would be a decision for life," Izzo said.
"I am going to be a lifer. This is what I'm going to be, and I'm damn proud of it."
Izzo's decision ends a nearly two-week courtship by Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who was hoping a reported five-year, $30 million contract would be enough to land the Spartans' coach and perhaps show James that he intends to remake the Cavs following a bitter postseason loss.
"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."
Izzo didn't seem at ease as he walked into his news conference along with his wife, Lupe, Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon and athletic director Mark Hollis.
He kept his head down when Simon made her opening remarks, sipping water, tapping his feet and fidgeting with his fingers and rubbing his hands.
This past season, Izzo led the Spartans to the Final Four for the sixth time in 12 years. Only the late John Wooden at UCLA and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski also have done that.
"It's a great day, knowing he's coming back," said Mateen Cleaves, perhaps Izzo's favorite player and one of the stars from his 2000 national championship team. "It put the biggest smile on my face to know he's coming back."
Milwaukee Bucks guard Charlie Bell, who played on the 2000 national championship team, was also glad to hear Izzo's staying. "Izzo is Michigan State basketball," he said.
For Cleveland, Izzo's decision appears to be another setback.
Izzo's snub has further tangled a tricky summer for the Cavaliers, who are weeks away from knowing whether James will be back with them.
Since losing to Boston in the second round of the playoffs, Gilbert fired Mike Brown, the most successful coach in team history; general manager Danny Ferry left after deciding not to renew his contract following five banner years; and now Izzo, a friend of Gilbert's, doesn't want to be in the Cavs' future.
James' decision hangs over all of it. Without knowing whether he'll return, the Cavs' pursuit of a coach has been nearly impossible. They can't promise candidates that No. 23 — soon to be No. 6 — will be around to make another run at a title.
The Cavs were adamant that James would not be consulted during their coaching search. Even if a coach had talked to the two-time MVP, he wasn't going to reveal his plans before hitting the free-agent market with an All-Star class that includes fellow Olympians Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Cleveland's next option appears to be Byron Scott, who spent an hour on the phone last week with Cavs GM Chris Grant and assistant Lance Blanks. Scott, who was fired by the Hornets in November, may not be a slam dunk backup plan for the Cavs because the former New Jersey and New Orleans coach would be interested in the Los Angeles job if Phil Jackson retires.
Scott won three titles playing for the Lakers and has dreamed of coaching in L.A. He had an out clause built into his contract with the Nets so he could pursue the Lakers' job if it ever opened. He also loves the West Coast and might seriously listen to the Clippers if they're interested in him.
The Cavs also have contacted Milwaukee assistant Kelvin Sampson and former Atlanta coach and Cavs assistant Mike Woodson. The team could bring one or both of them in for interviews but may wait until after it has a better sense of James' next off-the-floor move.
Gilbert knew that finding Brown's replacement would be difficult. He said it would be ideal to have a coach in place by July 1, but that may be unrealistic. The draft is next week, and although the Cavs don't currently have a pick, they've been shopping around to obtain one.
They've also talked to several teams about possible trades, hoping to upgrade their roster and make it more appealing to James.
Brown was fired after five seasons for failing to win a championship. His successor will be hard-pressed to match Brown's success over a five-year span, when the Cavs went to the Finals, won two division titles and had the league's best regular-season record the past two seasons.
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