Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman has fired head coach Tyronn Lue after a disappointing 0-6 start. Assistant Larry Drew will serve as the new coach on an interim basis.
Lue took over the Cavs’ coaching job in 2015, after then-head coach David Blatt was fired. Lue led the team to three consecutive NBA Finals appearances, including a championship in 2016. He ends his tenure with a 128-83 record as Cleveland’s head coach.
Few expected the Cavs to be good this year after LeBron James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers during the offseason. However, Cleveland was hoping to be competitive once again since they have veterans like Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, and George Hill remaining on the roster.
The idea was to revolve the offense around Love, while looking to the other veterans to fill various roles. This plan hasn’t panned out, though, with Love shooting under 35% to start the season.
Overall, the team simply lacks talent without James to carry them. They added point guard Collin Sexton with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft. But he’s not quite ready to carry a franchise.
It’s obvious that Lue isn’t the primary reason for the team’s dismal start. Altman and the rest of Cleveland’s front office did a poor job of acquiring more talent during the offseason. Of course, they have it difficult when considering that they’re strapped with bad contracts involving players like Smith, Thompson, Hill, and Jordan Clarkson.
Why Lue Had to Go Now
The one thing that Lue did have going for him is respect in the locker room. In fact, the respect that players have for him is a big reason why he took over for Blatt three years ago.
Lue spent 11 seasons playing in the NBA. He was also Cleveland’s top assistant before assuming head coaching duties. James was a big fan of Lue being the coach, considering he wanted a former player to lead the team.
The organization still feels that Lue is an “incredible coach.” This makes it all the more questionable why they let him go.
Cleveland.com writer Chris Fedor reports that Altman began to question whether Lue was the right person to coach this particular group. After all, Tyronn was no longer strictly dealing with veterans. Instead, Cleveland is trying to mix young talent into the rotation.
Fedor writes that the organization was also unhappy with the team’s lack of competitiveness through the first six losses. Here’s more on his report:
“According to a source, the Cavs had grown frustrated with the overall lack of competitiveness, believing the roster is more talented than it has displayed. In all six losses, the Cavs have trailed by at least 16 points. They have yet to lead in the second half of a game. Four of the six losses have been by double figures.
“‘We have radically underachieved and it was unacceptable,’ the source said.
“The Cavs rank 29th in defensive rating for the second straight year despite a change in personnel. Lue, who first made his mark as a defensive assistant, implemented an unproductive switch-everything concept to open the season before shifting the last few games. Those continued defensive struggles didn’t help with the evaluation.”
Why Didn’t the Cavs Fire Lue in the Summer?
Given how quickly Cleveland let Lue go, many wonder why they didn’t just cut ties with him during the summer. The simplest answer is that it would be hard to fire a coach who just led them to a third straight NBA Finals appearance.
Much of this has to do with LeBron, who’s often in the conversation for greatest NBA player ever. Nevertheless, Lue was the one making in-game decisions during the last three Finals runs.
The Cavs already raised enough eyebrows after firing Blatt when his team was in first place in the Eastern Conference. It would’ve been even more insane to dump Lue after losing to the Warriors – one of the greatest teams of all time – in the championship.
Will Cleveland Be Any Better Under Larry Drew?
One solace is that the team has a solid replacement in Larry Drew. When Lue sat out games due to health reasons last season, Drew guided the club to a 9-1 record.
The team doesn’t immediately have a replacement in mind. Therefore, Drew has a chance to win over the organization as interim coach. He also has head coaching experience, going 143-169 with the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks.
Of course, Drew has a tough road ahead of him when considering the mess that the Cavs are in right now. Love isn’t panning out as a number one option, while veterans like Kyle Korver, Channing Frye, Smith, Thompson, and Hill are all past their prime.
Sexton has potential. But again, he’s nowhere near the type of player who can lead a team at this point. With Lue gone, he may get more plays called for him.
David Nwaba, who’s been a spark off the bench at times, also hasn’t gotten much playing time or looks. Nwaba is an interesting player who can definitely step into a larger role at some point the season. Cleveland outscored the Indiana Pacers by 13 points when Nwaba was on the floor in a recent game.
Larry Nance Jr., who played with Nwaba on the Los Angeles Lakers, would really like to see his friend get more of a chance.
“I didn’t have to tell him to stay ready or anything like that, because he’s always one of the first ones there and one of the last ones to leave, always lifting and doing extra cardio and stuff,” said Nance. “I would love to see him more. We need his energy.”
It seems Cleveland has given up on the idea of winning immediately after LeBron leaving. That said, Drew will likely devote more time to helping Sexton and Nwaba develop in what’s looking like a lost season.