Tha Sports Junkies 101

Extending Tyronn Lue – LeBron Gets What He Wants

Lue Photo by Eric Drost via Flickr


Much has been made over the years about LeBron James and how much he controls the organization for which he plays. He is painted as the puppet master behind the scenes, making decisions for the Cleveland Cavaliers ranging from coaches to personnel.

Upon arriving in Cleveland, LeBron did what he needed to do to orchestrate the Kevin Love deal. Andrew Wiggins was conspicuously left out of LeBron’s letter published in Sports Illustrated addressing his hometown and teammates. Love arrived shortly thereafter, as did some of LeBron’s buddies from Miami in the form of Mike Miller and James Jones.

There was one major stumbling block upon James’ return to the Cavs: David Blatt. Blatt was hired by David Griffin prior to the James signing to spearhead a rebuilding effort with a young core of Wiggins and Kyrie Irving. The Cavs brass did not anticipate LeBron’s return following the 2014 season. Blatt was to lead the young duo in hopes of making a postseason run within the next few seasons. Plans drastically changed the moment Cleveland knew that one of the top five players in league history was coming home.

Blatt came to the NBA from Maccabi Tel Aviv as a decorated coach from overseas. When challenged by media, Blatt was always quick to remind his critics how successful he was coaching Maccabi, having been a champion several times over.

What ensued in the debut season of Blatt was laughable at times. Blatt would do just about anything to pander to James, almost giving the impression that James was his boss. He capitulated to James’ every whim. He was undermined at every turn. Whether it was James pushing Blatt back to the bench on the road in Phoenix, or in the playoffs at Chicago, LeBron clearly had zero respect for Blatt; “He drew up a play…I scratched it,” James said of the game winning play in the waning seconds of the matchup in Chicago.

James could not make it any clearer that he perceived Blatt as a joke. While publicly addressing Blatt and not referring to him as “Coach”, he sung the praises of Tyronn Lue. He spoke of how the players loved him and that Lue had the locker room’s ear.

Sure, Blatt had his flaws. He was not in tune with simple things like timeout counts. At times he appeared unaware which five guys were on the floor. To me, the lights were just too bright for Blatt. The pressure was too much, coaching LeBron was too great a task. He was in over his head from day one. He came in with a false bravado, assuming the things he did with Maccabi Tel Aviv were parallel with running an NBA squad.

Here’s the thing though, they’re not.

So, after a failed Finals appearance, which by my account was due to injury more than a lack of leadership on the bench, David Griffin pulled the plug on the David Blatt experience. The Cavs were 30-11 and in first place in the East at the time of the firing. Lue stepped in on an “Interim” basis, but everyone knew that Lue would be here to stay following season’s end, barring any major meltdowns.

Lue finished the second half of the season 27-14, a record slightly under Blatt’s clip during the first half. The Cavs tore through the East like a hot knife through butter. Just like that, they were back in the Finals.

We all know what happened from there.

3-1 hole for Cleveland.

All time historic comeback.

Title drought over.

How much did the championship have to do with Lue? Did he pull the strings, press the right buttons, make in-game adjustments that led to the comeback?

One thing is certain, the players love Lue. They play hard for Lue. He galvanizes the squad. He has the stones to stand up to LeBron. This is one thing he felt comfortable doing that Blatt could never do. To be an elite, championship level coach, you have to be able to coach your best player just as hard as you do the 15th guy on the squad.

Lue has mastered the Rubik’s cube that is LeBron James.

The trappings of success have warranted Lue inking a lucrative five-year, $35 million deal to stay at the helm in Cleveland. The $7 million annual salary is miles ahead of anything he made during his playing days.

What happens if the comeback for the ages is never made by the Cavs?

What if the Warriors would have finished the job and not fallen victim to an all-time “choke job?”

What if the league’s dirtiest player, Draymond Green, never tries to crotch punch the best player in the league?

If the Cavs lose, they almost certainly still retain Lue. But does it cost them $35 million?

Thanks to Kyrie Irving’s clutch 3, and some of the best basketball anyone has ever seen from LeBron James, we will never know.