The Clippers fell short of their expectations in 2019-20. As president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank said Wednesday, “It’s no secret, we’ve had a difficult month.”
After the moves of the last season, the team didn’t have a ton of flexibility to undertake a massive overhaul. The primary avenue to improve this group will come through internal growth, and that’s where Ty Lue comes in.
The major takeaway from Lue’s introductory press conference as the LA Clippers head coach is that despite being a championship head coach, he and the rest of the Clippers front office don’t view him as a finished product. Lue is a coach who is still learning and growing, and he expects the same from his players.
“Ty’s my kind of guy,” chairman Steve Ballmer said to open the press conference. “He wants to move, move, move, learn new things, absorb big new thoughts, which I think is essential to keep pushing yourself like that, to be better, to grow.”
Lue is a living embodiment of that mindset. In the two years since he was last a head coach, he worked on himself. Lue lost 35 pounds and revamped his diet and workout regimen. After taking a medical leave of absence while he was in Cleveland, Lue is well aware of how important his health is.
He also worked on his coaching. He watched a ton of film and tried to figure out areas where he could be better, like after-timeout plays and rotations. He consulted with other coaches around the league including Brad Stevens, Rick Carlisle, Steve Kerr, and of course Doc Rivers before returning to Rivers’ staff. Being able to work as an assistant again was another step in his development.
Even though Rivers is his mentor, Lue draws inspiration from several longtime head coaches. He cited Gregg Popovich, Phil Jackson, Stan Van Gundy, and Scott Skiles as coaches he has learned from during his time as a player and coach. Lue prides himself on being able to synthesize all those influences to maximize the talent in front of him.
Make no mistake, he has a lot of talent to work with. The Clippers have a high baseline already: they don’t need to take huge strides to become a championship-winning team, but Lue already identified some concrete areas of improvement.
“Just looking at our team, we need to play faster at a better pace,” Lue said. “I think getting easy baskets is one thing, I think sharing the basketball, playing through our best players, and then also making the other players on the team better, moving the basketball, changing sides of the floor with the ball, I think is very important for this team.”
Lue also spoke about leadership within the locker room, something that was noticeably lacking in the on-court product for the Clippers. Ballmer noted that Lue is someone who “holds himself and others accountable”, which was a point of emphasis for the new head coach, and Lue said that he expects his team to collectively hold each other accountable.
“You’re not going to have the best players be natural leaders at all times, it doesn’t happen like that, so I think a lot of leadership has come from me. I think it comes from Kawhi, it comes from PG. I think it comes from Lou and Pat Beverley and it is going to be collective,” Lue said. “I don’t think you can just say leadership of one person and and put that demand on one person that to do that. I think we got to do that as a committee, and they’re great. You know I got to show them different ways of leadership, they’re gonna show me different ways of leadership, I’m gonna learn from Mr. Ballmer and Lawrence as well.
“It’s all collective and I don’t know everything, they don’t know everything, so we want to get better as a group. But the biggest thing I think in leadership is just communication, being able to communicate with one another, myself Kawhi, PG, Lou, Pat, you know Trezz, and the communication will help the leadership going forward.”
One another major talking point from not just Lue, but also Ballmer and Frank, was player development, which fits neatly into the overall theme of growth. The Clippers have young players who are naturally trying to get better at this stage in their careers, but they also have veterans whose games need to improve.
Lue said that he wants his whole catching staff to have a focus on player development, and Frank outlined how he envisions that working for the Clippers.
“Player development is critical, regardless of where you’re at in your team building,” Frank said. “We’re fortunate five of our top eight are 30 years or younger, but a lot of times when people talk about player development, they focus on younger players, which is critical, but also the best teachers and the best coaches get the best out of your best players.
“We’ve talked a lot and we’ve looked internally in terms of how we can get better, we think we can make great gains organizationally in the player development phase. Player development’s kind of like a catch-all phrase. There’s skill development by the coaches, there’s development by the performance and medical staff, there’s mental performance, nutrition. So, it all comes together, but it’s something that Steve’s given us the ability to invest in, both in people and resources. And in conversations with Ty, we’re very, very hopeful of our young guys getting better but also at the same time making sure we have a plan for every single player and making sure we give them enough feedback throughout the process to see the gains they’re making.”
The Clippers made their bet on this team last season, sacrificing a good deal of future flexibility to put this core of players together. They still believe that this is the foundation of a championship team, even if the results of the postseason didn’t bear that out.
They’re choosing to look at the 2019-20 season as a learning experience, a necessary step in the process towards being great, and they’ve dedicated all of their energy this offseason to making the necessary changes based on the lessons they’ve learned. No single action will be more impactful than the decision to hire Lue to coach this group, and they believe he shares their vision of how the Clippers can finally get over the hump.
“I’m still learning, I still want to be better,” Lue said at the end of his presser. “It never stops. Like I said earlier, if you stop learning and stop willing to get better, then you might as well quit.”