Tuesday night, the Houston Rockets routed the Cleveland Cavaliers on national television. The same thing happened two weeks earlier against the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s no better when the Cavaliers aren’t on a game of the week broadcast: They are 6-9 in their last 15 games, having been outscored in that stretch by 7.2 points per 100 possessions (third worst in the NBA in that time). The Cavaliers are 30-21 on the season, but they made a run through the soft part of the where they won 18-of-19, remove that stretch and they are 12-20 on the season. There are real problems in Cleveland with defense, with effort, and with team play.
Does that put coach Tyronn Lue’s job in danger?
“We are not firing our head coach,” one Cavaliers official told ESPN late Saturday night.
Lue has expressed frustration with the team, describing the Cavaliers to ESPN’s Lisa Salters at halftime of Saturday’s loss as “soft, weak, no physicality, no toughness, no grit.”
Lue wasn’t the only person to say that, Isaiah Thomas and other Cavaliers players called out themselves after this later disaster of a loss.
There will be plenty of Cavs fans who will read this and say, “they should fire Lue, he’s clearly lost the team.” I’m not Lue’s biggest fan as a coach, but the man has guided the Cavaliers to two-straight NBA Finals and won a title as the coach, the players like him. More importantly, fire Lue and then what? There is no coach who Cleveland could bring in mid-season that is going to make a dramatic change mid-season — they don’t have time to put in a new offense or defense, and no coach can make the Cleveland role players suddenly younger and more athletic.
The lack of energy isn’t on Lue alone, it’s mostly on the players. This isn’t some college program where the coach is expected to fire up his team nightly, this is the NBA where the players are expected to be professional and self-motivated. It’s not like Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich, or Brad Stevens make some “rah-rah” speech nightly to fire his players up — they motivate themselves. The players on great teams police themselves. Right now that is lacking in Cleveland.
Whether Lue is back next season as the Cavaliers’ coach is a different question, but there could be a lot of changes in Cleveland for next season.