As NBA coaching carousel turns, Tyronn Lue is said to be seeking security with Clippers
As the NBA descended upon Chicago this week for the league’s scouting combine, five teams arrived without a head coach.
The Clippers are not among that group, which includes Milwaukee, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Toronto and Detroit, because what was said on the final day of the Clippers’ first-round exit in April remains true now. Coach Tyronn Lue said he expects to return for a fourth season. And Lawrence Frank, the team’s president of basketball operations, heaped praise on Lue while saying firmly that Lue would return.
"Of course he's back," Frank said April 27. "Ty is a terrific coach, and we're excited to have him as our coach."
Yet the Clippers now find themselves in an unsettled situation, as described by people within the league not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Teams with vacancies, including Milwaukee but particularly Phoenix, are said to covet Lue’s acumen and championship credentials. For those same reasons, of course, so do the Clippers, who have little incentive to allow any suitors — let alone within their division, in the case of Phoenix — permission to speak with him as a candidate.
Behind the scenes, the Clippers have made clear their pleasure that Lue is their coach. Yet, although Lue has two years remaining on his five-year contract, the last season in 2024-25 is not guaranteed, said a person with knowledge of the terms.
That, combined with the job security of even accomplished NBA coaches seemingly growing even shakier in recent weeks — Mike Budenholzer and Monty Williams are out of jobs in Milwaukee and Phoenix, respectively, only two years after meeting in the NBA Finals — are factors as to why discussions of Lue seeking more security have begun to filter throughout the league’s scouting summit.
Bleacher Report reported Wednesday that security could come in the form of either an extension or a new deal. It also reported that Lue’s representatives had begun discussions with the Clippers, but league sources would not confirm that any such discussions had taken place.
The Clippers promoted Lue in 2020 over candidates including future Lakers coach Darvin Ham and future Sacramento coach Mike Brown, believing Lue was the best fit to guide a two-superstar team with title ambitions, and they still feel that way. Though this most recent season produced frustration over injuries and a first-round playoff exit, Lue has built a strong rapport with team owner Steve Ballmer; the pair even traveled together last summer to Lue’s hometown of Mexico, Mo.
Lue owns a 261-186 record as a head coach, including parts of four seasons with Cleveland. Lue is 133-103 in the regular season with the Clippers and 11-13 in the playoffs. He guided the franchise on its deepest postseason run, to the conference finals, in 2021.
It will not be the only key decision on the franchise’s future Ballmer must make this summer. Lue’s five-year contract lined up with those of the team’s starring but oft-injured duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, both of whom are entering the final guaranteed seasons of their contracts. Both hold player options in 2024-25. What makes this summer a potential signal of the team’s long-term belief in the current iteration of the roster is that Leonard and George are eligible to sign extensions that can reach up to four years and $220 million apiece.
Before tearing his meniscus during the postseason, Leonard had regained the form of an All-NBA forward, which was encouraging after his return from a torn knee ligament that sidelined him all of the 2021-22 season. And George, before he sprained his right knee, earned his eighth All-Star selection.
Would the players ask for the full value, and would the team extend it? In 2021, Leonard said he re-signed on a longer-term deal worth more money over shorter options because he wanted financial security coming off of a knee injury. This summer, he is also dealing with his meniscus injury. Whether Leonard opts for surgery or not, Frank predicted that Leonard would be ready to start the season in October.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.