Former Coach Lue Wishes He Were Still Directing Cavaliers
At some point, the Cavaliers figured Tyronn Lue wasn't a fit. It happened after an 0-6 start to last season, just a few months after LeBron James left for the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Cavs still had the likes of Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith and a few other members of their run to four straight appearances in the NBA Finals. After James left, it seemed as if they weren't sure if they wanted to try to win ... or lean toward development.
Once it became clear they would have to focus on the latter, Lue was fired.
Today, Lue is in the first season of his second stint on Doc Rivers' staff with the Los Angeles Clippers. The Cavs get their first look at the Clippers tonight in LA (10:30, FOX Sports Ohio).
Lue, of course, isn't the biggest name to have joined the remade roster. The Clippers also added Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and All-Star Paul George. They fully intend to compete for a championship.
Meanwhile, the Cavs still have Thompson and Love (for now) and are clearly again playing for next year, or perhaps the year after that.
But Lue would be just fine with all that, he said in an exclusive interview with The Athletic. He said still wishes he had an opportunity to work with Cavs GM Koby Altman and lead the franchise into its next phase.
"Yeah, I do. What I tried to build there, I think the culture I tried to set ... I thought we could do it together," Lue said. "Koby being a young GM, me being a young coach, having young players."
Lue and James led the Cavs to the lone championship in the organization's history, overcoming a 3-1 Finals deficit over Golden State in 2016. The Cavs returned to the Finals in each of the two seasons after that.
But Kevin Durant joined the Warriors in the summer of 2016 and it was too much for the Cavs (or anyone) to overcome. So James wanted to go somewhere that he felt he had better chance to build a power.
Lue said the relationship between the two was always strong in Cleveland.
"Before coach and player, we had a friendship," he told The Athletic. "I know how to talk to LeBron, I know how to handle it when it comes to LeBron. He trusts me, he believes in me. You can kind of see that from my time in Cleveland."
Lue took over the Cavs in the middle of the 2015-16 season. Then-GM David Griffin decided to move on from coach David Blatt for the same reason Altman moved on from Lue. It was determined Blatt was no longer a fit.
So it was up to Lue to get through to James, to sell his team leader on believing and get him to buy in. Right away, it seemed to work.
"The first thing I had to do was sit down with him, one on one, talk about the things I wanted to do," Lue told The Athletic. "My vision. What we needed to do to fix this team and get our spirits right. He said, 'Man, T. Lue, I'm on board. Whatever you need to do, whatever you need from me, you got it.'"
Lue reached James, but when James left, his reach with the remaining Cavs came into question.
"This was a very difficult decision," Altman said at the time of Lue's firing. "It is especially so, considering Coach Lue's time with us over the last four years, including four straight trips to the NBA Finals. We have respect and great admiration for Ty, not only as a coach, but a person."
The Cavs (12-28) have played better lately, winning two of their past three games, all on the road. One of those wins took place over the mighty Denver Nuggets.
They played well for a half against James and the Lakers on Monday. But then James turned it on, as he often did in Cleveland, and that was that. A close game became a blowout.
Lue was replaced by Larry Drew, who was replaced by John Beilein -- a college coach for 40 years and now in his first NBA season.
Just like Lue, Beilein has faced his fair share of drama with the Cavs. There was a reported revolt, a reported heated argument between Love and Altman at shootaround, and lots of Love trade rumors. Along with all that, Beilein raised a fuss when he accidentally referred to his own players as "thugs" during a team meeting last week.
It must not have impacted anyone too drastically, because the Cavs have played some of their best basketball since.
Still, it just goes to show, coaching in the NBA can turn into a constant crises of player management and navigating through meaningless off-the-court stuff.
Lue found that out in Cleveland. But he also won a title and he reiterated that he wished he'd been given more of a chance in the seasons that followed.
"I won a championship there, so you have a chance and an opportunity to do something different, and you should have that leeway to be able to go through a couple challenging years," Lue said. "To win a championship and go to the Finals should buy you a little time, you would think."