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When the Cleveland Cavaliers announced the firing of head coach Tyronn Lue on Sunday, the team’s statement said, “Larry Drew has been named interim head coach.” Except, when Drew faced the media for the first time in what was supposed to be his new role on Monday, he denied accepting the job.
Drew instead described himself as “the voice” of the team or “a substitute teacher” in charge of a roster without a coach, all of which was a message to Cleveland’s front office that he is not interested in the interim title. In essence, if they want Drew to fill Lue’s job, his contract needs to reflect that.
“I’m not the interim coach,” Drew told reporters at Monday’s practice. “I’m the voice right now. I’m sure you guys are aware that there are some talks that are going on. I don’t know if any type of agreement or settlement will be made. I am prepared either way. I’ll continue to do my job, but right now there has not been any type of agreement. …
“We’ve been in contact with the organization about some type of restructuring of my contract. No agreement has been made, no settlement has been made, no decision has been made. As far as I know, yesterday I was getting all these texts about being named interim, and I’m saying that has not happened, but talks went on all day yesterday, they went on this morning, and no type of settlement or agreement has been made, and I don’t know if one will be made to be perfectly honest.”
Drew’s entire conversation with the media was posted on the team’s official website above this caption: “Cavaliers Interim Head Coach Larry Drew spoke with the media following Monday’s practice.”
You knew the Cavaliers were a dysfunctional franchise, but firing the coach who led the organization to its only NBA championship, only to name a guy who hasn’t even accepted the job yet as his replacement — and then sending him out in front of the media to openly discuss the awkward negotiations between the two sides during an actual practice? That’s a whole new level of chaos.
Why is Larry Drew playing hardball with this job?
It’s not difficult to understand Drew’s perspective. After 18 years as an assistant, he received his first head coaching job with the Hawks in 2010, leading them to three straight playoff appearances, before being fired in favor of Mike Budenholzer. Drew served as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks the following season, before Jason Kidd successfully lobbied behind his back to take his job in 2014.
It’s hard to land an NBA head coaching job, and while it may seem worthwhile to some to accept that role, even if it is in the short-term, the near-impossible task of assuming the reins from the person who hired you as an assistant begs to differ — to say nothing of the token nature of the interim tag.
Drew wants to be Cleveland’s coach ‘long-term’
Drew did clarify that he would like to be a part of Cleveland’s rebuild for the “long-term,” so long as it comes with “a little bit more security,” and the Cavs have yet to match his level of commitment. In the meantime, he will run practice, lead film sessions and coach Tuesday’s game against Atlanta “until we find out what happens.” Drew said he has not set a deadline as to when a commitment must be made.
“If things don’t work out with me,” he told reporters, “I hope things can be resolved sooner than later.”
It’s stunning to see how quickly the Cavs have devolved from a title team in 2016 to a franchise in full teardown mode two years later, even considering LeBron James left in free agency. The trade that sent Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics proved an absolute death knell for the franchise’s prospects of competing without James, yielding nothing of value, save for the potential promise of rookie point guard Collin Sexton. That Drew might be willing to steer the franchise in this state should be welcome news to the Cavaliers. Any coach tasked with cleaning up this mess deserves to be paid handsomely, and good luck finding a more qualified candidate willing to walk through Cleveland’s revolving door.
Cavaliers GM Koby Altman isn’t fully endorsing Drew
Also speaking with the media on Monday was Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman, whose comments were not exactly a ringing endorsement of Drew beyond this short-term commitment.
“We just didn’t think coach Lue was the right fit for this group, so we wanted to go in a different direction,” Altman said from practice, expressing frustration with the team’s performance and Lue’s inability to mesh the team’s veteran players with young talent. “We wanted a different approach and a different voice. Right now, Larry Drew is going to be the voice for now for this team, but right now it was my job to right the ship and push us in the right direction, so we had to make the decision.”
Asked why Drew was a better fit than Lue now, Altman added, “That’s going to unfold, but I do know how I feel about Larry. We’re very, very fortunate to have him in the program, because he’s been in the NBA for such a long time and he’s accomplished a lot. He’s been in a myriad of situations as a head coach and an assistant, winning programs, losing programs, he’s done a lot of different things for us and in this league, so we’re relying on him and his experience right now to push this thing forward.”
Pressed on whether or not Drew was indeed the team’s interim coach, Altman said, “Right now, we’re working through it with him and his representation. It’s definitely an option that we’re looking at, in terms of him being here for the rest of the year, but we’re working through it.” In other words, Altman made the decision to fire Lue without any succession plan in place, either in the short- or long-term.
Altman then took a question about whether or not the Cavaliers could make the playoffs. He wasn’t willing to make that commitment, either, suggesting he needs to see the team play its best basketball.
Of course, it’s a whole lot more difficult to play your best basketball without anyone in charge.
Who is in charge in Cleveland has long been a question under owner Dan Gilbert. This decade alone, the Cavs have featured four general managers and five coaches, included one with two tours of duty. And even when the Cavs seemed to have a structure in place, people figured LeBron was in charge.
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