Sound the alarms.
Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman fired head coach Tyronn Lue on Sunday after the Cavaliers’ 0-6 start, much to the surprise of everyone. Although there’s no LeBron James (and has been no Kevin Love, for the past two games) for the team to rely on, the expectation from the front office was obviously that the team wouldn’t be winless nearly two weeks into the season.
But was it the right move?
After all, Lue had compiled a win-loss record of 128-83 in the regular season and coached the Cavs team that won its first championship in franchise history. A player’s coach who was hired when the team fired David Blatt, Lue earned the trust of veterans like LeBron, Kevin Love and J.R. Smith.
Then again, when you have LeBron on your team, one of the most intelligent playmakers the NBA has ever witnessed, the win-loss record looks a little less like a byproduct of coaching genius than the luck of having one of the best players in NBA history on your team. Further, although he earned the trust of his veteran players, Lue didn’t earn the trust of people who saw the team’s disheveled defense and simplistic offense.
So, this season — the team’s first without LeBron since 2013-14 — was seen as a test for Lue. Altman and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert placed what they feel is a playoff-contending team at Lue’s feet and allowed him to mold the team into whatever he wanted it to be.
Fair enough, the Cavs aren’t a top-tier team in the ways they’ve been in years past. That much was to be expected. However, after a promising preseason where they defeated the Boston Celtics — seen as the best team in the East — in back-to-back games, Cleveland has looked like it could finish with the worst record in the league.
The Cavs rank 24th in points per game (105.7), 22nd in offensive rating (107.1), 23rd in opponents points per game (118.5), 30th in defensive rating (120.1), 28th in 3-point attempts (22.7), 27th in 3-point percentage (31.6) and 30th in blocks per game (1.5). They’ve been bad in nearly every way and have reverted back to an early 2000s style of play that sees them shooting an overabundance of mid-range shots while teams bomb away from distance.
The defense has improved over recent games, to be fair. However, Cleveland has never consistently played with the right amount of defensive intensity, especially under a coach considered to be one of the better defensive minds in the league.
Maybe the Cavs didn’t put enough around Lue to win at the highest level without LeBron, but whether or not they did, the team isn’t playing anything like what they’re capable of. That much is certain.
After Lue’s firing, the question likely on everybody’s minds is who will replace him. In the interim, that title will go to Larry Drew, who coached the Cavs while Lue was out with health issues last season. Cleveland went 8-1 with Drew in nine games during that stretch and, frankly, looked like a better team.
If Drew, who has compiled a win-loss record 143-169 in four seasons (excluding last season) as a head coach, can’t get the job done, then Cleveland could turn to one of the better assistant coaches around the league, like Boston Celtics assistant coach Jay Larranaga. If the Cavs find themselves pivoting and deciding to go for a full-on rebuild, they could look into the college coaching ranks and try to pry a coach like Villanova’s Jay Wright away from the NCAA.
Lue didn’t live up to expectations in Cleveland, but the team still has quite a few talented pieces. It will be interesting to see where the Cavs go from here, especially after firing a coach who had endeared himself to most of, if not all, the players in the locker room.