When the Cleveland Cavaliers decided to make a head coaching change on January 22, Tyronn Lue was just as shocked as everyone else when general manager David Griffin called him to tell him the news and ask if he would take over for the dismissed David Blatt.
Background on what happened that day was noted by Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com, who said that Lue’s initial remark was probably the same as what many fans said at the time.
“This is f—– up, Griff.”
Noting that the team had a record of 30-11 at the time, Lue actually insisted that Griffin reconsider, though by the time of the call, it was a moot point. Evenutally, Lue’s response was equally blunt:
“Yeah, I can f—ing lead this team.”
Despite that emphatic confidence, Lue was initially thunderstruck by the challenge in front of him.
“I was like, ‘what the f—.’ That was my initial thought,” Lue said. “I didn’t see it coming. I couldn’t believe it. But, you’re prepared because you’ve done the coaching interviews and you have your philosophies. But to fire the head coach and you take over the next day with no practice or anything and you have the Chicago Bulls coming in. It was overwhelming.”
Still, Lue’s already-tight connection with both LeBron James paid dividends over the course of the regular season and into the postseason.
“I knew what he was capable of,” James said. “I’ve had a long history with Coach Lue. I just always believed he was ready for the moment if the moment presented itself. I was just hoping we didn’t lose him to another team. That was my thing, because I knew he was next in line (for a head job). I was just hoping we didn’t lose him to somebody else and obviously he’s shown how valuable he is.”
Coming less than a month before the All-Star break, the stunning move allowed the team enough time to regroup and actually become the team that had been talked about since the return of James and the trade for Kevin Love.
Another veteran player who has high praise for the job Lue has done is James Jones, who has seen little action, but remains a revered member of the squad.
“Just look at him. Look at how we respond to him,” Jones said. “You can tell a lot about a person by the way people respond to them. On this team, guys are laying it on the line. I don’t know if you notice in games, but our guys are reaching levels physically that they haven’t reached in two years. He connects with us and he’s done a great job of helping us connect the dots and see the plan, the vision and how every step is necessary.”
Though he gave the go-ahead to make the coaching change, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert gives Griffin the credit for making the tough decision in the first place.
“I just think it was a great decision that was made,” Gilbert said. “You never know what would happen any other way, but I think (Lue is) fantastic. It’s rare that a guy knows the game and has people skills. You get both with him, like offense and defense almost. He’s a special guy. Lue, he’s so into the game, he’s so focused and he’s so smart. He’s always thinking ahead. My hats are off to him.”
Asked to compare the difference between this year and last season, Gilbert senses a greater sense of confidence.
“I think it is different,” Gilbert said. “It’s hard to explain really, but I think it’s a different feeling. The team feels more mature, like they’re expected to be here. LeBron just has a certain calmness about him, a certain leadership that I think permeates throughout the whole team.”