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Basketball

BLUM: The Mayor’s dilemma

Fred Hoiberg is going to have a decision to make this offseason and every offseason: Stay put at Iowa State or embark on his next chapter in the NBA.

It is the number one storyline around Iowa State athletics and I’m sure each one of us has wondered, “When will Fred leave?” It is not going away any time soon.

I haven’t written anything about this up until now and I promise this isn’t a run-of-the-mill throw content against the internet wall to get clicks. There are sides to this decision that many aren’t considering and hopefully opens some eyes to all angles for Cyclone fans.

There are a few statements I know are true:

Fred Hoiberg knows what is best for him and his family.

When you mention Fred to the NBA on Cyclone Fanatic or elsewhere, the quickest reply to negate the thought is, “Fred and his family love Ames and he won’t leave until his kids are grown.”

While this thought is absolutely logical, nobody knows exactly what Fred and his family are thinking. Yes, Fred has said publicly that his family loves Ames. It’s just too complex of a life decision to assume that just because he loves it, he will be here for 10 more years.

Being the most visible and popular figure in a town the size of Ames that has only seen you succeed can also be extremely stressful. Hoiberg has built a "Hoiball" empire, but last year showed us that unrealistic expectations can be impossible to maintain and truly suck the fun out of winning. It’s a different pressure in Ames for Hoiberg than any other place in America. It’s like running a family business, the burden of failure is much more intense. 

Fred Hoiberg is ultra-competitive and wants to be challenged at the highest level.

Few humans are as competitive as The Mayor. The man is seemingly good at everything he attempts. Make no mistake, the NBA is the highest level of basketball in the world. Hoiberg has shared his fondness for the brand of basketball in the NBA on multiple occasions and has said he watches more NBA basketball in his free time than college basketball. I believe at some point, Hoiberg wants to embrace the challenge of matching wits with the NBA’s best.

Yes, some long-standing legends like Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo have spurned multiple offers to coach in the NBA, but in the last few years, we have seen a supposed college-lifer like Brad Stevens shock everyone and take a job with the Boston Celtics (coincidentally Hoiberg was also a candidate). Stevens has been extremely successful in his first two years and has said he has no plans to return to college. In the past month, Florida coach Billy Donovan has also made the leap to the NBA.

Fred Hoiberg is a basketball guy first and foremost. With the mountains of red-tape, regulations and year-round recruiting that surround college athletics, off-the-court activity can encompass a majority of a coach’s time. In the NBA, it’s basketball first. Yes, there is an immediate pressure to win, monster egos to manage and the media scrutiny is 100 times worse in any NBA city than in Ames, but the problems center around schematic basketball things, not extracurricular nonsense. Gregg Popovich isn’t visiting with Boris Diaw and Diaw’s neighbor about persistent loud music or Matt Bonner’s mom about playing time issues. 

The NBA wants Fred Hoiberg. 

Hoiberg is a hot commodity in NBA circles and will no doubt be presented with several more opportunities this offseason. He played 10 years, worked in the front-office and knows the player personnel side, has the demeanor that players want to play for. And, by the way, he’s a helluva coach that plays an open, three-happy style that has been increasingly successful with teams like the Spurs, Warriors and Rockets. Hoiberg’s style of play is the model everybody is driving towards.

However, there is no guarantee of continued success. There is little doubt Iowa State will be loaded next season and Hoiberg will lead the Cyclones to a fifth straight NCAA Tournament and continue to be a household name. But, if Iowa State does miss a tournament in the next several years, does Hoiberg’s star dim in NBA eyes? Maybe. Just look across the state. Kirk Ferentz had several chances to coach in the NFL and never jumped. Now, he’d be a tough sell to any NFL GM. And a good portion of the Hawkeye fan-base that wanted to build a statue of the man a decade ago, want him on the next Uber out of town. The comparison isn’t perfect, but I’m sure Hoiberg realizes opportunity isn’t an infinite window.

With all of these factors, I believe the NBA is Hoiberg’s ultimate destination. The question is how soon?  I have thought for a while that Hoiberg would be wise to stick around another season as Iowa State has their best chance to do something historic next season. With three returning All-Big 12 selections, two potential All-Americans, several more key cogs, the Cyclones are going to be in every preseason top 10 poll. Conventional wisdom says that would be tough to leave.

But the more I pondered the situation, it struck me that if the jump to the NBA is inevitable, perhaps now is the time to leap.

As the kids say, “Let’s keep this 100.” Everybody is using the Hoiberg to the NBA speculation against Iowa State in the recruiting and transfer market world. And that won’t stop until Fred comes out and says something to stop the rumors or he does leave. It is reasonable to think the NBA speculation is a hindrance to Iowa State’s recruiting efforts at the moment.

Hoiberg loves Iowa State and no doubt cares more about the future success of the program than any of us. If he is concerned (like the rest of us) about a drop-off if he does leave for the NBA, wouldn’t it be best for him to leave the keys to somebody with a loaded top 10 caliber roster?  The job becomes that much more attractive for his successor and sets up for immediate, program-establishing success. That helps future recruiting and maintains program stability. The program could continue momentum when Fred leaves instead of hitting a fork in the road with a coach AND roster turnover.

The initial reaction would be brutal. Having Iowa State’s biggest icon leave town would be a punch in the gut and leave a monstrous void that is difficult to even comprehend.  But if Hoiberg sees himself in the NBA, it is my belief he should jump at the right opportunity sooner righter than later. This, in the long run, could benefit Iowa State as well.  What will happen? Only Hoiberg can truly know. 

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