Tyronn Lue Talks Cavs Exit, LeBron James Relationship, Lakers HC Interview, More

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2020

Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue yells instructions to players in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018, in Cleveland. The Hawks won 133-111. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Tony Dejak/Associated Press

Los Angeles Clippers assistant and former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue discussed several subjects—including his departure from Cleveland, relationship with LeBron James and head coaching interview with the Los Angeles Lakers—during an interview with Joe Vardon of The Athletic on Tuesday.

Despite leading the Cavs to three straight NBA Finals and their first championship in franchise history in 2016, Lue was fired after an 0-6 start last season. When asked if he wishes he was still the Cavaliers' head coach, Lue responded:

"Yeah, I do. What I tried to build there, I think the culture I tried to set ... I thought we could do it together. Koby [Altman] being a young GM, me being a young coach, having young players. I won a championship there, so you have a chance and an opportunity to do something different, and you should have that leeway to be able to go through a couple challenging years. To win a championship and go to the Finals should buy you a little time, you would think."

Lue took over for the fired David Blatt during the 2015-16 season, and the change paid dividends for the Cavs, as they went on to beat the Golden State Warriors in the Finals after losing to them the previous year.

Cleveland fell to Golden State in each of the next two Finals, but with Lue's record of 128-83 and three NBA Finals appearances in three seasons, conventional wisdom suggested he would be given a chance to lead the Cavaliers' rebuild following LeBron's decision to sign with the Lakers.

LeBron's departure essentially spelled the end of the Cavs' time as championship contenders and led to Lue's firing, which he addressed with Vardon:

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"When LeBron left. For me, it was like, it's over. The team we put together, when Kyrie [Irving] left it was tough, and then you had 'Bron, so you always have a chance to win and compete for a championship. And then when LeBron left, it was like, OK, we have a chance to be a decent team. But to compete for a championship and get to the finals—being realistic that's not going to happen. You kinda come to a realization that it's over. Where do we go from here? Our run, it's over. It was hard to deal with."

Lue had a chance to reunite with LeBron during the offseason, but the coach and the Lakers could not come to terms.

Lue told Vardon that he cut off negotiations because he didn't like the contract being offered nor the "demands" the front office was making. Lue declined to get into specifics, however.

With Lue out of the running, the Lakers hired Frank Vogel.

Lue and James made for a good combination in Cleveland, and Lue believes the fact that they were friends before working together played a role:

"Before coach and player, we had a friendship. I know how to talk to 'Bron, I know how to handle it when it comes to LeBron. He trusts me, he believes in me. You can kind of see that from my time in Cleveland. The first thing I had to do was sit down with him, one on one, talk about the things I wanted to do. My vision. What we needed to do to fix this team and get our spirits right. He said, 'Man, T. Lue, I'm on board. Whatever you need to do, whatever you need from me, you got it.'"

Lue and LeBron likely would have worked well together in L.A., but Lakers fans aren't complaining about the Vogel hire, as they own the Western Conference's best record at 33-7.

While Lue isn't a head coach, he is part of the coaching staff for a supremely talented Clippers team that is fifth in the West at 27-13.

The Clippers are better than their record indicates, but they are taking a cautious approach to the health of superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Because of that, they may accept a lower seed in the interest of being at full strength when the playoffs roll around.

It seems like a decent bet that the Lakers and Clippers will meet at some point on the road to the NBA Finals, and it may cause either LeBron or Lue to wonder what could have been, depending on who comes out on the losing side.