Tyronn Lue didn’t make it through the season’s first month without LeBron James.
The Cleveland Cavaliers fired their coach on Sunday and named assistant Larry Drew interim head coach. The Cavaliers are off to a 0-6 start without James, who left Cleveland this summer for the second time in his career and signed with the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent.
Lue guided the Cavaliers to an NBA title in 2016 – Cleveland’s first pro sports championship since 1964 – and helped the team to four straight Finals.
“We thank him for the many ways he has contributed to our success, wish him the best and he will always be remembered for leading a very special Cavs team back against the odds to win the title in 2016,” general manager Koby Altman said in a statement. “This is a different team equation, though, and one that we felt needed a different voice and approach that required this change.”
Assistant coach Damon Jones also was fired. A former Cavaliers player, Jones had been promoted during the offseason.
Lue issued a statement in which he thanked team owner Dan Gilbert, former general manager David Griffin and Altman.
“My time here in Cleveland was truly special,” Lue added. “I am very grateful for the dedication, sacrifice and support of all the players on our team, the tremendous coaches I’ve worked with and of course, our incredible fans.”
Players appeared to be caught off-guard by Lue’s dismissal. According to Joe Vardon of The Athletic, the players are reportedly not pleased with the decision by Cavaliers GM Koby Altman:
Altman called Lue into his office Sunday morning and fired him, and the team’s players were informed immediately thereafter. A source told The Athletic the players are “pissed.” Lue’s a player’s coach who is partial to veterans, and his partiality toward them may have played a role in his dismissal.
According to Vardon, Lue and Atlman have disagreed on playing time and direction of the team since training camp. Lue reportedly preferred to play veterans over the team’s younger players.
Here are more details from Vardon on the dynamic between Lue and Altman.
For instance, the front office wanted rookie Collin Sexton to start, but Lue won over, arguing the 19-year-old was better served to start the season as a reserve and learn the ropes in the NBA. Cedi Osman, a second-year player, was handed a starting role at the outset of camp.
After two losses to open the season, Altman and Lue informed three veterans — JR Smith, Kyle Korver, and Channing Frye — that the organization was “going young.” The Cavs then went out and were destroyed at home by the Atlanta Hawks, and after that game Lue decided to take control of his rotation and reinstall Korver and Smith.
All-Star Kevin Love, who has missed the past two games with a sore left foot, posted a message to Lue on Instagram.
“You helped me see the big picture,” Love wrote. “Life changing experiences and teaching points. Nothing but love and admiration. Know we will work towards something greater together again. THANK YOU.”
Love also posted a photo of him and Lue hugging on the court at Oracle Arena after the Cavaliers rallied from a 3-1 deficit and won Game 7 of the 2016 Finals over Golden State.
James also expressed gratitude toward his former coach on Twitter .
“T Lue thanks for the memories and more importantly our partnership bringing a (championship) to that deserved city/fan base,” James said. “U know how to find me.”
The 41-year-old Lue has three years left on a five-year, $35 million contract he signed after Cleveland won the title. He went 128-83 in three-plus seasons as coach.
Drew filled in when Lue stepped aside for 10 games last season while dealing with chest pains, insomnia and anxiety. He came to Cleveland as an assistant in 2014 after serving as head coach for the Milwaukee Bucks (2013-2014) and Atlanta Hawks (2010-2013).
Wojnarowski later reiterated that Drew is reluctant to accept that role without an “agreement of some kind” beyond this season.
The Cavaliers were hoping to remain competitive without James, but they’ve been overmatched. They dropped their sixth straight game on Saturday night to Indiana and are off to their worst start since losing their first seven games in the 1995-96 season.
Cleveland has trailed by at least 16 points in all six losses and the club has yet to lead in the second half. The Cavs have also been plagued by poor defense and communication issues, and has looked disorganized at times.
The Cavaliers host Atlanta on Tuesday night. Led by rookie Trae Young’s 35 points, the Hawks clobbered the Cavs by 22 points in Cleveland’s home opener last week.
The Athletic first reported Lue’s firing.