Column: If Lakers hire Tyronn Lue as coach, just hand LeBron James the keys
In making this monumental choice, the Lakers had no choice. There were several candidates but zero options. The announcement has not yet been made, but the matter was decided nearly a year ago.
In a perfect world, Tyronn Lue is not the next Lakers coach. But the Lakers don’t live in a perfect world, they live in a LeBron James world, and so any moment now the inevitable reunion should be complete.
Lue is expected to be named as the new Lakers bench boss, rejoining the player he coached to an NBA championship in Cleveland. If hearing this makes you cringe, surely you saw it coming. While Lue might not be the Lakers’ best answer, right now he is the only answer.
From the moment the Lakers signed LeBron last summer, they agreed to be ruled by his philosophies, his strategies, his wants, his needs. At this point, don’t they pretty much have to let him pick the coach?
Like it or not, the only way the Lakers can immediately survive this nightmare of a LeBron occupation is to lean into it. LeBron could be around for at least a couple more seasons, so they have to gulp, placate, and hope for the best.
With Lue, the Lakers are not only giving LeBron a coach, they’re throwing him a bone. Lue is the LeBron Whisperer. He is the opposite of Luke Walton, and not just because LeBron actually likes him. Lue can stand up to The King, stare down The King, even sit The King, because together, for one brief moment, they were NBA kings.
Lue might not be the greatest coach, but he will be a useful coach. For a LeBron team in full crisis in the encroaching twilight of his career, Lue can be the only coach.
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With Lue, the LeBron Lakers at least will have a chance at thriving the next three years in relative peace. They should survive the internal bumps. They will be better able to handle the LeBron madness. Even when things go bad, the work environment should remain stable, meaning there won’t a certain No. 23 whispering about firing him.
With any other coach, one thing goes wrong, and everything goes to hell, because LeBron won’t do a thing to stop it.
By hiring Lue, the Lakers are playing defense, but that’s what they need right now. They need to defend their decision to sign James. They need to defend their intentions to build the team around him. They need to defend the rim from the fast break of his daily headlines and simmering controversies.
If they had gone on the offense and brought in an outsider without James’ approval, they might as well trade him now, and while that might one day be an option, slow your roll, we’re not there yet.
Here’s guessing the Lakers will try to sell it that they are hiring Lue partially because of his Lakers ties. That is complete balderdash. He appeared in 61 games in three seasons here and, even though he was part of two NBA title teams, he averaged just nine minutes a game in those playoff runs.
His Lakers highlight actually occurred when he was on his back, in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals, when Philadelphia’s Allen Iverson disrespectfully stepped over and stared at him after making a game-clinching jumper against him. Lue had five steals in that game, but the only thing anyone will remember is that Iverson step.
So, no, Lue is not being hired because of his time with the Lakers any more than he is being hired for his brief stint as a Clippers assistant.
Lue is being hired because of five months with LeBron, in 2016, when he moved down the bench to replace the LeBron-fired David Blatt to become the Cleveland Cavaliers’ head coach on Jan. 22. He proceeded to coach the Cavaliers to their first NBA title in the spring with a stirring comeback from a three-games-to-one deficit in the Finals against the Golden State Warriors.
The next two seasons, he smartly coached them back into the Finals where they were beaten soundly each time by the Warriors. He was particularly strong in the playoffs, even outdueling Boston bench genius Brad Stevens in consecutive Eastern Conference finals.
Then last fall, after LeBron left for the Lakers, his Cavaliers were winless in six games when he was fired.
So Lue never has had any coaching success without LeBron. And LeBron experienced the greatest moment of his career — bringing a title to his hometown — with Lue. So here we are, and here they are, together again.
Is he a better choice than the Lakers’ other candidate, Monty Williams, the Philadelphia assistant who just joined the Phoenix Suns? For this team, at this moment, yes.
Is he the best possible choice out of all the other coaching possibilities the Lakers refused to entertain in what may be the most narrow giant coaching search in NBA history? Of course not.
The biggest question is, can he salvage the remainder of the LeBron era in Los Angeles? That’s an unknown, and involves more than just his whiteboard scribblings. Lue certainly can coach LeBron, but this team needs more than LeBron. The question is whether Lue’s presence will help them attract a top free agent they so desperately need this summer.
Right now, they appear out of the running for the top guys, and there’s no immediate indication that Lue can change that, but you never know. Maybe he can convince the league’s elite that with him on the bench, LeBron will become interested and invested again. Maybe he can sell someone that with this championship duo in charge, the Lakers can become a force again.
Or maybe recruits now look at the Lakers as having now gone so far down the LeBron rabbit hole, they’re beyond hope. Maybe anyone who once wanted to come to the Los Angeles Lakers will bristle at the idea of playing for the LeBron Lakers, and make no mistake, that’s who they are.
Of course, chances are it doesn’t matter who is coaching the Lakers; if dudes don’t want to play with LeBron, they’re not coming anyway, so maybe Lue’s effect in that area will be insignificant.
No matter what happens, the Tyronn Lue era will begin not with answers, but with another question, one that sadly epitomizes a coaching search in which nobody searched, a question from the Lakers to The King himself.
So, what else do you need?
Get more of Bill Plaschke’s work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke
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