The Clippers are coming off a tumultuous season in which their players never truly meshed despite the team racking up several wins. Tyronn Lue should feel right at home.
Lue agreed to a five-year deal Thursday to become Los Angeles’ next head coach, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Lue, who previously worked under Doc Rivers as an assistant for the Clippers, will bring Chauncey Billups and Larry Drew to LA to serve on his coaching staff, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
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Even for a guy who has experience with LeBron James-led teams, the expectations will be high. Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has spent lavishly for a chance at rings, not second-round appearances. The front office handed the Thunder roughly a million draft picks (don’t double-check that) in order to land Paul George and guarantee a Kawhi Leonard signing would follow. Both of those star forwards can become free agents and potentially leave Los Angeles in 2021.
That sounds dire, but Lue is as prepared as any candidate could be to handle the pressure of championship-or-bust expectations. It wasn’t all that long ago Lue took the Cavs job after the team fired David Blatt, who had a 30-11 record at the time of his departure in the middle of the 2015-16 season. Other NBA coaches were stunned by Cleveland’s decision and openly voiced their confusion as to how someone coming off a trip to the NBA Finals could have deserved that treatment.
It turns out Lue was exactly what those Cavs needed. As everyone now remembers, Cleveland ultimately ended that season with an epic Game 7 win over Golden State and a championship celebration. Lue showed he was an expert at earning the respect of his players and relating to them while never failing to hold stars like James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love accountable.
But Lue shouldn’t be viewed as simply a manager of personalities. He wisely took advantage of the roster construction around James by running a five-out offense, which turned the Cavs into a scoring machine. Lue and his staff also schemed to slow down a historically great Warriors unit during the 2016 Finals.
“LeBron is as sharp as they come,” Drew told The Undefeated in 2018 when he was Cleveland’s associate head coach. “You’ve got to be pinpoint with your strategy, with what you do, why you do it and what happens if it doesn’t work. All those types of guys, that’s what they expect. Anything less will likely end in failure.”
Lue must take the lessons he learned from his Cavs days and bring them to these Clippers. He will be trusted to bridge the divide between Leonard and George and the role players. Perhaps some of those problems will be solved by management letting Montrezl Harrell walk in free agency and/or trading Lou Williams, but chemistry will be an issue regardless of who shows up for Day 1 of training camp. (For what it’s worth, Clippers players are reportedly happy with the Lue hiring.)
The Clippers did finish second in the West and were one win away from the conference finals, so Lue won’t be starting from scratch in terms of on-court strategy. Still, Los Angeles could use some of Lue’s tweaks to strengthen a defense that got torched by Luka Doncic and Jamal Murray in the playoffs and boost an offense that became stagnant in second halves.
An embarrassing ending forced the Clippers to re-evaluate who should be sitting in that top chair on the bench. Who could take this group to the next level and ensure the Clippers don’t find themselves dealing with more disappontment next year?
It turns out the right person for the job was sitting on that bench all along.
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