June 7, 2010 at 11:42 pm

John Niyo

Cavaliers job is challenge Tom Izzo must accept

The lure of the NBA is a pull MSU coach Tom Izzo has felt before. (Dale G. Young / The Detroit News)

One of these days, he really might do it.

That's what Tom Izzo has been saying all along, if you were listening close enough to what he hasn't said all these years -- "No" doesn't mean "Never" -- as the job offers came and went and Izzo always stayed.

Until now, perhaps, with Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert -- a fellow Spartan and aspiring King-maker -- on the line, reportedly offering big money and a potentially huge opportunity.

But here's the question without an answer at the moment: Does this offer -- worth as much as $30 million over five years, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer -- come with a 30-day money-back guarantee?

Because that's the only way Izzo can take the Cavs job now, isn't it?

The lure of the NBA is one thing, and that's a pull the 55-year-old Izzo has felt before.

A chance to coach LeBron James and a title-contending team? That's another thing altogether, though.

And if King James is staying, then Izzo really must go.

That's as easy for me to say as it is difficult for Michigan State fans to hear. And for Izzo to do, I'm sure. He'd be leaving behind not only a team poised to make a serious run at another national championship -- something Izzo truly covets as validation for his program and his legacy -- but also his comfort zone as a college coach.

"In my opinion, Tom is the best coach in college basketball, so it's no surprise that NBA teams have expressed an interest in him," MSU athletic director Mark Hollis said Monday in a statement. "In fact, I encourage him to look at these opportunities, but it's my hope that Tom remains at Michigan State. Over the last 15 years, Tom has developed and maintained a healthy basketball program here, and we don't want him to leave."

Again, though, there's a reason the phone keeps ringing, and it's not just because the Spartans have been to six Final Fours in the last dozen years, a feat matched only by the late John Wooden at UCLA and Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.

It's because Izzo -- whose competitive fire is more like an inferno -- refuses to back down from a challenge. And for all the blood, sweat and tears it has taken to build this program in East Lansing, the greatest challenge always lies at the next level.

Honestly, I think Izzo's been told too many times that the pro game is not for him, and that only stokes his desire to prove otherwise.

He won't go blindly, of course. He told the Atlanta Hawks no a decade ago -- shortly after he won his first national title in 2000 -- well aware that only a fool walks the plank if he's got a better alternative.

And, yes, making $3 million annually as a local icon in your backyard certainly qualifies, especially when your boss is your former roommate. Comfortable? Sure. But content? Hardly.

Izzo recently told ESPN he wouldn't be interested in an NBA job "until I win another championship," but this just might be the perfect storm to rain on that parade. Provided James is part of the incentive package, that is.

Will he stay or will he go? James won't officially become a free agent until July 1, but if you think the backchannel maneuvering hasn't been going on for some time now, you're not paying attention.

The Cavaliers didn't just fire their head coach and push their general manager out the door on a whim. Likewise, Gilbert's not pursuing Izzo simply because they both know the words to the MSU fight song.

Still, some say Chicago's the frontrunner to land the reigning two-time MVP. Others say King James is destined for the Big Apple. James himself said last week -- though not all that believably -- that his hometown Cavaliers "absolutely" have "an edge" to keep him. We'll see about that.

Izzo recruited LeBron James once, and he might have to do it again. But how's this for a sales pitch? It just might be the last recruiting call Izzo would have to make -- ever.

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