Michigan State coach Tom Izzo flirted with the idea of the NBA last spring when he had something to return to.
But would he have stayed without a Final Four-caliber team returning?
An interesting question. And probably more salient than you might think.
Consider: Last May the Atlanta Hawks offered Izzo the job. Coming off of a national title, a third straight Big Ten title and a highly regarded recruiting class, East Lansing loved him.
He took a perennial middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team to the national title.
In his five years, the Spartans evolved from repeat NIT performances, to the Sweet 16, to the Final Four.
And then, of course, the national championship.
At the time, Izzo considered the NBA because: “You get to coach at the highest level and you get to make a lot of money.”
Not to mention “Nobody yet has won an NBA title and an NCAA championship.”
With Andre Hutson and Charlie Bell”s graduating, and with Jason Richardson and Zach Randolph likely leaving early for the NBA, Izzo will need to decide if he has a team capable of contending for a fourth-straight Final Four. Or if the Michigan State dynasty will fall apart, forcing him to rebuild.
Without its four best players, even a well-coached Michigan State will struggle contending for an NCAA berth let alone a national title. Just ask the 1998-99 Wolverines. They followed up their Big Ten Tournament title with a12-19 performance. And they had Louis Bullock returning, their second-best player.
Now, some might think, well, Izzo did it once, what will prevent him from rebuilding Michigan State again? Or, next year freshman Marcus Taylor and recruit Kelvin Torbert will be around, so the cupboard won”t be that bare.
Both are true.
But Izzo built the Spartans into a heavyweight when Michigan was at its weakest. Rumors swirled of the NCAA placing Michigan on probation because of Ed Martin. Michigan had an unestablished interim coach who carried little credibility with anyone, and Flint Izzo”s base for talent was developing future Spartans like Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson and Bell.
Rebuilding will not be so easy this time around. Rumors have subsided of the NCAA hammering Michigan with probation. Tommy Amaker is considered by many to be the best young coach in the business, and is famed for his recruiting ability. Teamed with Terrence Greene, the Flint-native and incumbent assistant coach who might keep his job, Amaker is a legitimate contender for just about every recruit in Flint.
As for having two young guards returning? If Izzo thought about jumping to the NBA with a potential history-in-the-making roster, why would he return for Louis Bullock and Robbie Reid, err, Taylor and Torbert.
Obviously, the first sign of danger doesn”t mean Izzo will just up and leave.
First, another NBA team needs to offer him a job something that”s not certain, now that he”s one year removed from his title. Also, he turned down the NBA last year. So what will push him to go pro this year?
Without the talent and with a new-and-improved Michigan, Izzo must realize that keeping Michigan State as a perennial contender will be damn-near impossible.
The emperor can tell everyone he”s wearing clothes, but sooner or later, people will realize he”s not.
zzo most likely knows that Michigan State is not capable of contending for a national title year-in and year-out. It doesn”t have the name draw that Michigan does. It doesn”t have the history and tradition that Kentucky and UCLA have. It doesn”t have academic excellence that Stanford has. And it doesn”t have the mysterious allure that Duke has.
What does it have?
Izzo”s stock will never be higher. Really, who could blame him for taking a job in the NBA? You do get to coach at the highest level. And you do make a lot more money.
Nearly $2 million a year more.
With a legitimate chance of winning a fourth consecutive Big Ten title something only two other schools (Ohio State and Indiana) have done and has a chance to defend his national title something only one school (Duke) has done since UCLA”s glory days, Izzo returned for a chance to make history. A chance to cement his name as one of college”s best coaches ever.
Now, with the cracks in the cement showing, he has more reasons than ever to leave.
Raphael Goodstein can be reached at email@example.com.