Cleveland Cavaliers Coach Ty Lue Riding on "Don't Question Success"

If one shot had fallen differently last spring would Ty Lue be regarded the same way he is now?

Ty Lue has had praise thrown at him from all angles since before he became a head coach. Doc Rivers loved him, JVG loved him, LeBron loved him, and Kobe tried to fight him in practice and I think being challenged to a fight by Kobe is a pretty high honor.

Coach Lue was respected enough that when David Blatt took over as head coach, Lue was the highest paid assistant coach in the NBA despite the fact that he'd only been at it for about five years and being just 38 years old. 

As we all know, David Blatt was fired as head coach last January and Ty Lue was promoted. His regular season record was a tad worse than Blatt's over the course of the season. Many of the complaints about Blatt (playing his stars for too long, defense wasn't tough enough, etc.) lingered until the playoffs. In the playoffs, Cleveland took off, winning their first 10 games and ultimately the title. Lue became a champion coach in his first season, LeBron lifted the monkey off the city's back, and everybody was happy because the Warriors lost. 

Fast forward to January of 2017. If Kyrie's shot missed, would Ty Lue be getting crushed by the media right now?

My vote: Yes. And rightfully so.

Reason #1

While I have publicly said that LeBron's minutes aren't actually a concern, even I'm starting to get suspicious. We're seeing a trend going the wrong direction. LeBron averaged 36.4 minutes over the team's first 20 games (he sat out one of them). In the 19 games before Monday's tilt with the Warriors, he averaged 37.9 minutes (sat out twice). It's as if coach Lue has no conviction in his plans or faith in his team.

For example, there have been multiple games where LBJ has played almost the entire second half. The theory looks like, "I'll start LeBron in the fourth, put this game out of reach, and then rest him for the final five minutes." In reality, James ends up playing the whole fourth quarter because the motley crew around him has not gelled the same way they did last season. Dunleavy was shaky, JR has been injured, and there's no Delly to play spark plug.

The result is that 14-year veteran LeBron James is playing about 25 seconds fewer than the league's leader in minutes played. 

Last point on this: LeBron played almost 42 minutes for the win against Sacramento on Friday. The score was never closer than eight points in the fourth quarter. At that point, you're just running the risk of guys getting hurt.

Reason #2

This defense is still bad. Or they're bad again. Or they're lazy again. I don't know what it is, but they are a mess. Here are some facts about the past two weeks.

The Cavaliers had a 21-point lead with 22 seconds left in the third quarter against (worst team in the NBA) Brooklyn, then later led by 16 with 7:35 to go. Brooklyn cut it to a 7-point lead in the final minutes before turning it over to seal their fate. The Cavs allowed 69 second half points to the team with the worst record in the NBA.

Two nights later the Cavs led the Suns (fourth-worst team in the NBA) by 20 just before halftime. Phoenix tied the game before the end of the third and Cleveland eked out a four-point win. The Cavs allowed 63 points in the second half. 

Two nights after that, the Cavs lose to the Jazz 100-92, but this one was largely the offense's fault. 100 points allowed should win the game but Irving, Love, Shump, Frye, Jefferson, and Korver combined to shoot 12-50 on the game for a cool 24%. It was awful. While the offense was the culprit, things like these still happened.

The Cavs leave Joe Ingles —a talented three-point shooter — wide open and catch a break when he misses. The result is four Cavalier players in the paint. None of them get the rebound.

As bad as that looked, the Cavaliers are not actually among the worst in the league. Prior to Monday, they were squeaking up the list in defensive rating, but has Cleveland tied with the 76ers and the Heat in that metric. The three teams are in positions 12, 13 and 14. Of course, after the Warriors game, that will change.

Reason #3

The rotations are still strange. Many players talk about how it's important to know who's playing what role. It's important enough that the 2K video games measure how happy a player is with his role. Part of this is injury related. Part of this is because the Cavs just traded Dunleavy for Korver. And part of this is because Ty Lue is not committing to any particular backups.

In the past six games (before Monday) Richard Jefferson played 28, 15, 19, 10, 13 and 20 minutes. That's a lot of variety for the guy who's basically the seventh man. 

Reason #4

I don't believe that Tyronn Lue can motivate his guys. The motivation comes from the players themselves or from LeBron as the leader. The reason I don't believe that Coach Lue can motivate his guys is because the whole world talks about how they don't care about the regular season. Steve Kerr's guys care about the regular season. Gregg Popovich's guys care about the regular season. Hell, Mike D'Antoni's guys care about the regular season. 

You can see it in the 14 turnovers a game and you can see it in the sudden spate of anti-team basketball. The Cavs are in the bottom third when it comes to assists and it has seemingly gotten worse over the winter. Over this current road trip, Cleveland has had one game of 20+ assists while tallying three of 15 or fewer (probably four considering this is being written at halftime of the Warriors game in which the Cavs have four assists). It's ugly. 

This isn't all to say that Tyronn Lue is a bad coach or that he doesn't deserve the credit that he got for steering the Cavs to the title last year. Managing the egos on this team is a tall task and he's done a pretty good job of it. But have you ever seen a shot of him on the sideline and thought "he looks confident?"

While firing David Blatt was an insane move, the fact remains that he was poked and prodded anytime something went remotely wrong whereas Ty Lue is living almost free of questions. Somewhere in between these two might be nice.

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