The Cleveland Cavaliers gave Tyronn Lue a huge vote of confidence by giving him a five-year contract extension, although whatever his influence was on the team winning the NBA championship, the presence of LeBron James, and maintaining his ability, or slowing down the decline, means more than anything.
Lue, who replaced David Blatt in the middle of last season after serving as his assistant, signed a five-year, $35 million extension. He was one of the highest paid assistants in the NBA, working on a four-year, $6.5 million deal before his promotion. The Cavaliers underwhelmed with him at the helm, going 27-14, still finishing first in the East conference. In the playoffs, the Cavaliers lost just two games while winning three series in the East, before the finals, with a 1-3 deficit against the Golden State Warriors turned into a 4-3 series win and the first ever championship for the franchise.
What was Lue’s part in all of this? Depends on who you ask. But whatever it is he was doing, it worked. Whether it was knowing when to confront James, which many feel was a problem Blatt never dealt with, or giving him specific missions, offensively and defensively, to focus on during the Finals, the Cavaliers put themselves back in the series and never looked back. Draymond Green suspended? Stephen Curry choking? Klay Thompson embarrassing himself? It all adds up to the legend of the 2016 finals.
This takes us back to Erik Spoelstra and the Heat, and in a more Macro kind of view, just how influential LeBron James is. He turned the Heat into finalists and champions, while the Cavaliers sunk to new lows without him, never able to bounce back. Until he came back. Since then? Two finals, one title. The Heat? One year of missing the playoffs, one year of making it, losing in the conference semifinals. There’s no vacuum in the NBA. Points are replaced. Numbers aren’t players. LeBron James is one of a kind, and his ability helped establish Spoelstra as a respected coach in the NBA. That might be the case for Lue, but the real challenge for him, and the team he’s working for, begins the day after James leaves, retires, or simply isn’t as good as before.