Tyronn Lue sat on the first floor of the Clippers’ practice facility Wednesday for his introductory news conference as the team’s new coach. Because it was 2020, he looked not into a crowd of cameras but a screen.
His boss, Lawrence Frank, president of basketball operations, joined the videoconference from his office, one floor higher. His boss, owner Steve Ballmer, popped into the call from his house in the state of Washington.
Separated physically, the Clippers’ leadership spent the next half hour explaining why they feel united in their approach to mine success in 2021 from the disappointment of 2020. Losing in the second round of the postseason, despite holding a 3-1 series lead over the Denver Nuggets, led to the ouster of Doc Rivers — Lue’s mentor and close friend — as coach after seven seasons.
“We had to get the best of the best, and the best of the best is Ty Lue,” Ballmer said.
Here are 10 noteworthy moments from Lue’s introduction:
1. Lue has never shied away from crediting Rivers as the biggest influence for why he entered coaching, and he called Rivers’ dismissal “tough.” But he also described the ways in which he is not a Rivers clone on the sideline, emphasizing that his style has been influenced by Gregg Popovich, Phil Jackson, Stan Van Gundy and Scott Skiles, among others.
Tactically, where Rivers’ offenses often relied on individual playmakers more than set plays, Lue is expected to run a more controlled offense that will hinge on speed and moving the ball.
“I learned a lot from Doc, but I've also learned a lot from a lot of other coaches around the league because I'm always studying, I'm always trying to get better,” Lue said. “I want to be better. So, not just learning from Doc, but I learned from other coaches like [Erik Spoelstra] and Brad Stevens and watching Nick Nurse last year, thinking outside the box of playing box-and-one and triangle-and-two [defenses] and bringing something new to the NBA. And if you stop learning, if you stop being willing to learn from other people then you won't be successful.”
2. The Clippers used a small core of about six people to evaluate their candidates. Why did Lue click so well with those people? He has long histories with nearly each of them.
Jerry West, the Hall of Fame player and executive who serves as the Clippers’ consultant, drafted Lue with the Lakers in 1998. Frank and Lue worked together in Boston under Rivers during the 2010-11 season. Mark Hughes, an assistant general manager, was an assistant coach to Rivers in Orlando in 2003, when Lue played for the Magic. And Trent Redden, another assistant general manager, was a high-ranking Cleveland front-office executive when Lue coached the Cavaliers to the 2016 championship.
3. Accountability has been a buzzword circling the team since the offseason arrived. Ballmer emphasized it during his opening statement, saying Lue has a track record of holding players accountable — something former Cavaliers players have also echoed. Ballmer was among several within the team who felt Rivers was not stringent enough at ensuring players and coaches were held responsible for their errors, and that contributed to what was perceived by some as unequal treatment.
“Ty is also a guy who I have really come to understand holds himself and others accountable, which is part of being good in the sports business,” Ballmer said.
4. In their first public comments since the season ended, Ballmer and Frank relayed their frustration with the fashion in which the Clippers were bounced from the playoffs.
“I don't think we played our best basketball most of the time, frankly, when we were in the bubble and, and certainly the way we ended our season, that really disappointed me,” Ballmer said. “You can say that was extra painful if you will, to be … up 3-1 and then, and then have Denver come back on us, but at the end of the day we did not meet the goals we set out for ourselves.”
Said Frank: “We pride ourselves on being a tough, gritty, resilient team and for many different reasons we weren’t. I think that’s something that we all have to look in the mirror that we didn’t respond to Denver’s constant jabs to us.”
5. Multiple players alluded to the lack of chemistry following their Game 7 loss to Denver. Asked how he evaluated such sentiments, Lue echoed players’ previous explanations in saying he believed a lack of time together, because of injuries and absences, was the root cause of their issues. He mentioned the deaths of loved ones close to Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley that led each to leave the NBA’s Orlando, Fla., bubble.
“I think when we talk about chemistry and continuity, it's not moreso off the court and guys aren't liking each other,” he said. “When we talk about chemistry it's moreso, PG came in, he had shoulder surgery so he was out, he missed the whole training camp. He missed the first 11 games of the season. Kawhi came in, so he couldn't participate in the whole training camp. Then we lost Pat Beverley, in and out of the lineup a few times. And then once we got to the bubble, you know, it was tough because we had some bad things happen: Trez’s grandmother, Pat Beverley's best friend, Lou had a funeral.
“So, with those things being said it was hard to build continuity and chemistry throughout the course of the season, because we didn't have a lot of practice time, we didn't have our starting unit or our whole team for a large part of the season so we talked about chemistry and continuity is moreso on the basketball court of just being familiar with guys.”
6. In 11 seasons as a player, Lue was teammates with some of the NBA’s most in-your-face superstars of their respective eras in Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Michael Jordan. In contrast, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are quieter, and not just around media but their teammates. How they take the reins of locker-room leadership after an up-and-down first season together was something Lue was asked Wednesday. Lue said he believes leadership doesn’t have to fit the Jordan-Bryant mold to be effective.
“You are not going to have the best players be the natural leaders at all times,” Lue said. “It doesn’t happen like that. I think a lot of leadership has to come from me, has to come from Kawhi, PG, Lou [Williams] and Pat Beverley. It’s going to be collective. I don’t think you can just say leadership from one person and put that demand on one person to do that. I think we have to do that as a committee. They’re great. I got to show them different ways of leadership and they got to show me different ways of leadership.”
7. Lue will structure his coaching staff to include both offensive and defensive coordinators. That is similar to the way he organized his assistants in Cleveland, where Mike Longabardi, currently a Washington Wizards assistant, ran his defense.
8. In 2018, Lue’s last full season in Cleveland, he took a medical leave of absence from the Cavaliers after experiencing chest pains and occasionally coughing up blood. He told ESPN at the time that the symptoms were caused by anxiety that he combatted in part through medication and a changed diet. Lue said Wednesday that he felt rejuvenated now, nearly two years after he was last a head coach. Physically, he lost nearly 35 pounds. Mentally, he used the time to study the league and other coaches to learn “how I can be better,” saying he was in “constant dialogue” with Boston’s Brad Stevens, Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, Golden State’s Steve Kerr and Rivers, of course.
9. Changes within the team to address 2020’s shortcoming won’t end with the coaching change. Ballmer said player development and roster management also must constantly improve. Because of its 2019 trade with Oklahoma City for Paul George, and its February trade with New York for Marcus Morris Sr., the Clippers don’t own a first-round draft pick outright until 2027.
“Everyone knows our situation with picks, we’re just going to have to do better and better with all aspects of player development,” Ballmer said. “We need to do better, we’re going to really need to be on our game when it comes time to our roster. Given that we don’t have a lot of picks going forward, how we sort of work in margins and really find and develop talent and how we use our exceptions and our veteran minimums, there’s a lot of work and I would say we made big moves, bold moves, under Lawrence’s leadership but we’re going to have to continue to grind it every area of roster development.”
10. Since Lue agreed to become the coach on Oct. 15, he has spoken to every player.
“Everyone reached out to say congratulations,” he said. “I've talked to a lot of guys on the team so far, so we're ready to get started. We're excited. We're anxious. Not knowing when [the season] is going to happen is tough. But we're in great spirits and ready to get this thing going, and just kind of go on from there.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.