CLEVELAND (AP) — Tom Izzo has flirted with the NBA before. He may finally be ready to commit.
Michigan State's highly respected coach visited the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday to get a firsthand inspection of a franchise undergoing a major makeover as it prepares to try and re-sign LeBron James, the free-agent-of-a-generation.
After flying to Cleveland in one of Cavs owner Dan Gilbert's jets, Izzo spent several hours visiting with members of the front office and coaching staff. He also toured the team's facilities before returning home late Thursday.
"It won't go on forever, I can tell you that," Izzo said at the airport upon his return to Lansing, Mich. "I feel bad that I can't talk. I feel good that I did what I had to do."
Izzo, who has been courted by pro and college teams in the past, is believed to be mulling a contract worth up to $6 million a season from the Cavs, who fired Mike Brown last month after they lost in the second round of the playoffs to Boston despite having the league's best regular-season record for the second straight year.
If Izzo and Cleveland do not come to terms, the team could turn its attention to former New Orleans and New Jersey coach Byron Scott, whose resume would make him attractive to Cleveland. Scott won three NBA titles as a player and has experience in coaching such stars as Jason Kidd and Chris Paul.
A phone message to Scott's agent, Brian McInerney, was not immediately returned.
AOL Fanhouse.com reported that Scott had an hour-long interview with new Cleveland general manager Chris Grant and assistant GM Lance Blanks.
"They asked him what his view was on championships, talked about his mentality that you either win or you come home on your shield trying," McInerney said.
Grant said the Cavs have spoken to a "number" of candidates, but did not divulge any names. The team has also inquired about Milwaukee assistant Kelvin Sampson.
Izzo recently said he would stay with the Spartans until they won another national title. But earlier this week, Izzo seemed to have a change of heart and met with his current players. He told them to continue to work hard, but did not say if he was leaving the school, associate head coach Mark Montgomery said.
The day began with Izzo on campus in East Lansing, Mich., but by early afternoon he was in Cleveland. His plane was scheduled to land at Burke Lakefront Airport, but was diverted to Cuyahoga County Airport in Richmond Heights, Ohio, to avoid TV cameras. Gilbert did arrive at Burke, which is a short drive from Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavs' downtown home.
Izzo's interest in the Cavs' job could hinge on James' future. The two-time MVP can become a free agent July 1, and is expected to entertain offers from several teams. It is not known if Izzo has contacted James to see whether Cleveland remains one of his possible destinations. Last week, James told CNN's Larry King that the Cavs, his team for the past seven seasons, have "an edge" to re-sign him.
Gilbert has been ultra-secretive in his pursuit of Izzo, whom he has known for years.
Grant, who recently took over when Danny Ferry resigned, confirmed this week the team has had contact with Izzo but would not comment on whether an offer has been made to the 55-year-old coach. Gilbert is a Michigan State graduate.
Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said in a statement that Izzo "made me aware he is meeting with Cleveland." Hollis added that details of any meetings are "between him and me."
About 500 people, including center Derrick Nix, showed up at the Magic Johnson statue outside Michigan State's arena, responding to a rally created by fans on message boards and social networking websites.
"Coach is the best thing that ever happened to me," said Nix, a freshman last season.
Hundreds wrote personal messages in different colors on a huge banner that was taped up to the windows of Izzo's office. An "Oh no, please don't go Izzo," banner was taped at the base of Johnson's statue.
Izzo has been at the school since 1983 and has been the Spartans' head coach since 1995, leading them to six Final Fours in the past 12 years. He has spurned previous overtures from the NBA, most notably from Atlanta, which offered him a five-year deal in 2000.
Izzo must weigh leaving a familiar situation that pays $3 million a year for probably as long as he wants the job, and perhaps a legacy that would put him among college basketball's all-time greats, for a chance to coach in a player-first league with a team that doesn't know if it will have James next season.
In recent years, several successful college coaches, including Rick Pitino, Tim Floyd and John Calipari, have struggled in switching to the pro game. Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown is a rare exception.
Several of Izzo's former players believe he's ready for the leap.
"I don't think coach would have a problem getting respect in an NBA locker room," Hornets guard Morris Peterson said. "Guys will buy into what he's telling them because he has a gift with people. Izz is one of the smartest coaches in basketball."
Milwaukee guard Charlie Bell said Izzo may have to alter his intensity when he talks to players who are making more than him and perhaps a superstar in James who would have more power.
"I've heard he's not as hard on guys as he used to be," Bell said. "He'd have to tone it down even more in the pros."