The Cleveland Cavaliers were quick with the spin in the wake of firing coach David Blatt — the Cavaliers are 30-11, had done that despite not having Kyrie Irving much of the season, the night before had waxed a top five NBA team (the Clippers), and the Cavaliers had won 11 of their last 13 games. Cleveland wanted to make this seem like LeBron James had nothing to do with this decision.
Riiiiight. There’s a difference between direct consultation and knowing what the team’s franchise player wants (something everyone around the league knew, it was an open secret LeBron and his camp wanted Lue, if it was a secret at all). ESPN’s Brian Windhorst explains well.
Tyronn Lue now has a three-year deal with the Cavaliers — this isn’t him in the role as an interim. This is Lue’s job — he’s been an up-and-coming coach loved by players league-wide, a guy a number of GMs had their eyes on should they make a coaching change. This has potential as a good hire.
But the hire — and the Cavaliers’ chances to beat the Warriors or the Spurs — comes down to these questions:
Can Lue get the Cavaliers to commit fully to his system and play hard at both ends of the court?
Will LeBron start to lead by example on that front?
Because it was clear LeBron did not do that for Blatt.
There remain a lot of questions in Cleveland.
The perfect example is Kevin Love, something GM David Griffin alluded to his his press conference. Love has been a whipping boy nationally in the wake of the Warriors thrashing of the Cavaliers, and certainly he did not have a great game and made some “interesting” defensive decisions. But he also has not been put in positions to succeed on this team — when was the last time you saw Love get a few touches at the elbow with shooters around him and guys cutting for dribble handoffs? That’s where Love’s decision making has torn defenses apart in the past. Love and Blatt seemed at odds about how the All-Star forward should be used.
Will Love stop deferring so much?
Will the Cavaliers, with all those athletes, start to play faster to take advantage of that and Love’s outlet passes? The Cavs are currently bottom five in the league in pace.
Can Lue tweak the pick-and-roll defense then get the players — particularly bigs — to recognize what is happening faster and put in the multiple efforts needed to defend the P&R, particularly the way the Spurs and Warriors run it.
These questions are just the tip of the iceberg. And even if Lue is the guy who can get LeBron, Love, Kyrie Irving, and the rest of the Cavaliers to buy in, then the question is can he do it this season? Probably not, which is why they were smart to give Lue a three-year deal.
Blatt can coach, but he was hired before LeBron committed to return to Cleveland — Blatt was recruited to take over a rebuilding team and develop players and a style. He never got that chance, and LeBron never fully bought in to what Blatt preached. Blatt should (and likely will) get another shot in the NBA, likely first as an assistant — remember Steve Kerr wanted Blatt as his lead assistant in Golden State until Cleveland called Blatt. He’ll get a chance show what he can do; he was thrown into the fire with this job.
Blatt never got full buy-in from LeBron, no matter how he spins it now.
Lue needs to prove he can get that buy-in — then we can start asking if that is going to be enough against Golden State and San Antonio. Because make no mistake, this move was made solely with those two teams in mind. Cleveland is in win-now mode, and those are the teams in its path to a title.