After a relatively quick process, the LA Clippers selected Tyronn Lue to be their next head coach.
Introducing Head Coach T-Lue.- LA Clippers (@LAClippers) October 20, 2020
Lue, who was a member of the Clippers coaching last season, is now expected to take the team to the next level after a postseason that ended in disappointment. Working in LA's favour is the fact that this isn't exactly unfamiliar territory for Lue.
On Jan. 22, 2016, Lue, who at the time was the associate head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, became the midseason replacement for then-head coach David Blatt, who was fired 41 games into his second season as head coach.
Lue made subtle changes that ultimately resulted in the Cavaliers making a dominant run to the NBA Finals before winning the 2016 title in historic fashion. With the Clippers looking to compete for an NBA title in the upcoming season, we look back at what changed when Lue took over in Cleveland for an idea of what to expect with him at the helm in Los Angeles.
Not different, just better
In Cleveland, Lue took over for a team that was atop the Eastern Conference with a 30-11 record.
As such, Lue didn't exactly feel that major changes to Blatt's approach were necessary. One day after being hired, Lue was asked what he planned on doing differently as head coach, to which he replied: "I wouldn't use the term differently because David did a great job. I'd say better."
|Before hiring Lue||30-11||101.4||37.2||82.9||45.2||10.1||28.2||35.9||45.0||22.0|
|After hiring Lue||27-14||107.3||39.9||85.1||46.9||11.3||31.0||36.6||44.1||23.3|
More often than not, there is more to it than the raw numbers suggest but still, a few things do stand out namely the Cavs' scoring.
Cleveland went from having the league's 16th-best scoring offence in 41 games with Blatt to the league's sixth-best scoring offence in 41 games with Lue. Interestingly enough, it wasn't merely a product of pace, which only increased from 93.65 to 94.00 after Lue's hiring.
Two major things occurred: Kyrie Irving got healthy and the offence moved more efficiently.
Now, in assuming the helm over a Clippers team that finished second in the Western Conference, Lue will likely adopt a similar "similar, but better" approach this upcoming season. He was a part of last year's staff, after all.
It wasn't until LA stumbled in its final three losses of the West Semis that its flaws appeared to be more glaring than they had ever been. The team was up-and-down at some points but that's the nature of a basketball season in normal circumstances, and even much more so in a season like the one that just wrapped.
During the regular season, the Clippers boasted the league's second-best offensive rating at 113.3 and the fifth-best defensive rating in the league at 106.9. In its final three losses to the Denver Nuggets, LA's offensive rating was 103.2 and its defensive rating jumped to 114.2.
LA was a team with promise that lost its identity at the worst possible time, a sign that it wasn't the X's and O's as much as it was a team that couldn't get on the same page.
With a different approach, Lue could fix that problem, and it begins up top.
A leader of stars
In a 2016 report from CBS Sports' Ken Berger, a person that Berger described as being familiar with the team's internal dynamic said that "we were winning. But we were a fractured team," when speaking of the Cavs standing prior to Blatt's hiring.
This sounds familiar.
Following the Clippers collapse in the 2020 postseason, reports began to surface of numerous disconnects among the team, including an in-game argument between Paul George and Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell, as reported by Yahoo's Chris Haynes.
That LA wasn't on the same page became more evident as its circumstances on the court became more adverse, as evidenced by stories such as the one above. The fact of the matter is that with the amount of star power present in the Clippers locker room comes big personalities that may or may be compatible.
In bringing unity to a fractured team that featured three stars in LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, Lue has proven to be capable of working with - and around - stars, something he'll need to do once again as he leads Kawhi Leonard and George.
As Berger continued in his report, one of the biggest swings in momentum came when Lue wasn't afraid to check LeBron in a huddle, restoring order and dispelling the notion that James was the one that ran the team and, ultimately, restoring a level of trust with the other 12 players in the locker room that weren't considered the stars.
While Kawhi might not be the most vocal player and George has a unique personality of his own, Lue's ability to take command - and hold his team's attention - could help him unify this Clippers team in a manner similar to the way he did so with the Cavs.
From that perspective, the situations are much more similar than they may appear on the surface.
In LA, Lue is a familiar face. Not only did he spend last season as a member of Doc Rivers' staff but he was also a member of Rivers' inaugural staff in LA when he was acquired as the team's coach in 2013.
That there won't be a period in which Lue will need to familiarize himself with the returning members of the Clippers roster saves plenty of time in the process that typically comes with a new coaching hire.
With him, Lue has added Chauncey Billups, who served as the Clippers' analyst this past season, to the coaching staff. Though he wasn't on the sideline this past season as a coach, it does mean there is an established connection between Billups and the players that he interacted with from behind the mic last season.
As former championship players, Lue and Billups also have another element of understanding the dynamic of communicating and leading with big-named players. There's no doubt that Lue learned plenty while playing alongside Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal under Phil Jackson.
The dynamic is much different but some of the same approaches could be applied.
In familiar territory, Lue has the perfect opportunity to bring about much-needed subtle change.
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