With the superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George stepping down from their respective contracts after this season and the Clippers already in the first round without most of their draft picks for the foreseeable future, the team is very much in winning mode. Win everything as in. Now please.
The urgency is even more urgent next season than the one that recently ended at the NBA bubble near Orlando, where the Clippers erupted in the Western Conference semifinals under former coach Doc Rivers. This team, with Leonard and George joining a talented veterans group, was a popular favorite to win the title just to take a 3-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets and not even get a highly anticipated showdown with the Los Angeles Reaching Lakers.
At least, however, it was only the first year of the Leonard-George partnership, as the latter did not convincingly insist on it shortly after his team’s shocking fall.
“We didn’t meet that expectation,” said George. “But internally, I think we always felt that this is not a ‘championship or bankruptcy’ year for us.”
That assessment came as news for anyone who thought “championship or bust” was exactly what was at stake for these Clippers, but in any case George will have a hard time downplaying the importance of the 2020-21 season. He and Leonard could certainly choose to stay on the team for another year, not to mention many more, but the rest of the squad will be in flux and other teams will be empowered to become favorites for the title.
The only thing that is clear about the Clippers’ prospects for most of the coming decade is that their best and possibly only chance of winning the franchise’s first Larry O’Brien trophy will arrive in 2021. Oh, and the team’s new leader will want to address reported tensions in the locker room.
So this is the pressure cooker Lue steps into. More specifically, he’s only slipping over a spot or two on the Clippers bench because he served as an assistant to Rivers last season, who was fired last month.
As such, Lue had a front-row seat for the dysfunction, which seemed to play a big part in keeping the Clippers from delivering on their sizable promise. By the same token, the team’s front office got an expanded look at how he was able to build relationships with the players after coming from Cleveland last year, and the Clippers are counting on the 43-year-old former point guard for these interpersonal skills to pave the way to a title.
“Ty was where we want to be. He’s a championship head coach with an exceptional sense of the game and the people who play it, ”said Lawrence Frank, the president of the Clippers for basketball, in a statement Tuesday. “He’s one of the great minds in our league and can convey his vision to others because he connects with everyone he meets. We did a thorough search and spoke to fantastic candidates. We found that the best choice for our team was already in our building. As Head Coach, Ty will put a unique stamp on the organization and take us to new heights. “
“The parts we need are there – dedicated ownership, smart management and elite talent on and off the pitch in the NBA’s best market,” said Lue. He added, “We still have to work to become Masters, but we have the motivation, tools and support to get there. I look forward to getting started. “
Lue, who won two championships as a player with the Los Angeles Lakers, began his coaching shortly after his retirement in 2009. When the Cavaliers sacked David Blatt in the middle of the 2015-2016 season, Lue took on a team with strong performing personalities in LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, and he helped lead the Cavs to their first championship in a surprise 73-win Golden State Warriors.
Lue returned to the NBA finals with Cleveland in 2017 and 2018, only to quickly fall to the Warriors both times, and he was fired after Cleveland – which started over without James or Irving – went 6-0, around 2018 / 19 season to start. At that point, the Clippers noted Tuesday, aspects of the legacy Lue had left with the Cavaliers included: a) the fourth NBA head coach since 1980 to win a championship in his first season; b) the third NBA head coach who has led his team to finals in each of his first three seasons; and c) the 14th person in league history to win a title as head coach and player.
After the Clippers parted ways with Rivers, Lue quickly became the frontrunner for the job, and it was widely reported that he effectively completed it last week. The team waited until Tuesday to make it official, but there is no time to waste in getting their new coach into their position and laying the foundation for future success.
This season it’s championship or bust, and the Clippers can only hope they get a strong case from Deja Lue.