The LA Clippers officially agreed to terms Tuesday with Tyronn Lue to make him their lead assistant coach next season. Whether that’s an associate head coach or not is unclear, but Lue returns to Doc Rivers’ bench after five seasons away, giving the Clippers arguably the most qualified assistant coach in the league.
The Clippers already signed the top free agent player on the market this summer, and now have snagged the top free agent coach, despite not even being in the market for a head coach. From a purely basketball perspective, this is another coup for the Clippers, the cherry atop their offseason sundae.
There are plenty of good reasons for the Clippers to have hired Ty Lue for the 2019-20 season.
- Lue is a title-winning head coach. Only six such coaches are active in the NBA.
- He understands how to coach superstars and has successfully navigated the challenge of leading a team with championship-or-bust expectations.
- He was an exceptionally creative offensive coach when with Cleveland. The Cavaliers were a top-five in each of his four full seasons in Cleveland (one and a half seasons came as an associate head coach).
- Lue is familiar with Doc Rivers. He worked as an assistant under Rivers for two years in Boston and one year in Los Angeles. Clearly, the two continue to maintain a strong relationship since Lue came on to consult for the Clippers last season after being fired by the Cavaliers. Rivers also went to bat for Lue the day he lost his job (emphasis mine):
I think it’s awful. I think what it shows you is you go to the Finals, win it, go to the Finals three years in a row and then come back and get fired, it makes no sense. It’s an ugly part of our game. We talked for a long time, he’s really disappointed, but he has a lot to be proud of. He did a heck of a job in extreme circumstances, and I probably am no prouder of anybody that’s played for me and been a coach under me than Ty Lue. So it makes you so angry when you see stuff like that, but there’s nothing you can do about it and I thought he handled it the right way. He’s better than me, he handled it with just amazing class, thanked everybody.
The beauty of hiring Lue, however, is that the move also really sticks it to the Lakers.
As Robert Flom pointed out last week, Lue was widely expected to be the head coach of the Lakers for this upcoming season. The two parties had gone through the interview process, Lue is a former Laker who won two titles with the team, and he even had a Lakers-themed birthday cake. But the Lakers front office cheaped out by offering Lue a three-year deal when he wanted five and then tried to force Jason Kidd on his staff, which Lue was loath to do.
Now that Lue’s hiring is confirmed, that makes two free agents that the Lakers and Clippers competed for this offseason who both ended up with the Clippers. Kawhi Leonard signing is sweeter and obviously more impactful in terms of winning basketball games, but Lue is infinitely funnier considering the Lakers were all but planning his introductory press conference and he later joined the Clippers in a lesser role.
(As a side note, I have a lot of faith in coaches who are receiving severance and still choose to find another job. It makes me feel like they really want to work when they could just be cashing checks.)
The only thing that would really make this the most delightful story of the offseason is if Steve Ballmer and the Clippers leaked the terms of Lue’s contract, which unfortunately generally isn’t done for assistant coaches. If Lue is making more money or on a longer deal than the Lakers offered, then the Clippers win the PR battle by providing more for their coaching staff. And even if Lue is making less money, the Clippers still win because they convinced him to come at a discount, showing what a tire fire Lue was trying to avoid with the Lakers.
By no means do I think that the Clippers were concerned with how the Lakers would react to them signing Ty Lue. They saw an opportunity to improve their coaching staff and went for it. And like everything else the Clippers front office has attempted recently, they succeeded. That’s the main takeaway from bringing in Lue to a stacked organization.
But in a season that hopefully delivers a healthy dose of drama between both L.A. teams, Lue’s history with the Lakers is a nice note to file away for later use. For better or worse, the stories of these teams keep intertwining, and it should be fascinating to see that play out over the course of this year.