One has to wonder what Tyronn Lue is thinking.
Is the Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach paying close attention to the perception of his being a finalist for the 76ers' coaching vacancy? If so, is Lue close to withdrawing his name from consideration, or does he still think there’s a legitimate chance that he’ll coach a squad he’s confident in bringing out its best?
Lue is scheduled to interview for the job on Tuesday, according to multiple sources. One has to wonder if he thinks his meeting could just be a formality and/or insurance in case former Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, whose job it is to lose, doesn’t accept the job.
Back on Aug. 25, the day after Brett Brown was fired, Lue was the prime candidate. He and the Sixers had mutual interest. The thought was that his recruitment for the job would pick up once the Clippers were eliminated from the playoffs.
And why not?
Lue welcomes the opportunity to coach All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, who haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. He isn’t concerned that Embiid’s close relationship with ownership would have an impact on his authority. Nor is he bothered by Embiid and Simmons being empowered to think they have a hand in the coaching hire.
As a Los Angeles Lakers player, Lue won NBA titles in 2000 and 2001 while playing with Hall of Famers and Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, who like Simmons and Embiid didn’t always get along. As a coach, Lue won the 2016 NBA title with the Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James, one of the best to play basketball, was the headliner of that squad.
In addition to being the only candidate with a championship pedigree, he knows a thing or two about dealing with all-time greats.
Yet, as silly as it seems, people are pinpointing his coaching of James as a reason not to hire him.
Lue’s solid playcalling has been overlooked because of the luxury of having coached the four-time MVP who possesses an extremely high basketball IQ. Some want you to believe that Lue’s coaching title is just the result of guiding a team led by James.
If it’s that easy, how come David Blatt was unable to do it as the Cavs coach during the 2015 NBA Finals, losing to Golden State Warriors in six games?
And how come no one second-guessed Steve Kerr’s three NBA titles on Golden State teams loaded with future Hall of Famers? Instead, the rhetoric is that Kerr got the best out of his players.
People have said the same thing about D’Antoni with James Harden.
Harden was a four-time All-Star, coming off a 29-point-per-game campaign when D’Antoni gave up his Sixers associate head coaching position to coach the Rockets following the 2015-16 season.
The ball-dominant guard went on win the 2018 MVP award and just earned his third consecutive league scoring title.
Yet, no one credited Lue for the way he managed James during their 2017-18 season, their final campaign together.
James' 27.5 scoring average that season was his highest total since averaging 29.7 during the 2009-10 season. The 17-year veteran also averaged a then-career-best 9.1 assists while posting the second-best three-point shooting (36.7%) season of his career. That campaign also marked the only time James played in all 82 regular-season games.
The most eye-opening thing about this summer’s coaching searches is how Lue and other Black coaches rarely get credit for Xs and Os or getting the best out of players.
While some will argue with that assessment, they can’t argue the longstanding diversity issues in the NBA’s coaching and front-office ranks. There are only five Black head coaches in a league where 81.8% of the players are Black, according to interbasket.net. Meanwhile, Sixers general manager Elton Brand is just one of seven Black front-office executives with different degrees of decision-making power.
Those small numbers are reasons why a lot people in the league are focused on recent coaching vacancies.
The New York Knicks, the Brooklyn Nets, and Chicago Bulls all had qualified Black coaching candidates, but filled their vacancies with white coaches. In addition to the Sixers, the Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder, New Orleans Pelicans and Rockets all have vacancies. Chicago filled its vacancy with Billy Donovan, the Knicks hired Tom Thibodeau, and the Nets welcomed first-time coach Steve Nash. All three men are white.
The Sixers might receive some criticism for hiring D’Antoni, who is also white, instead of Lue, a Black man, during a time when the NBA is promoting Black Lives Matter.
But it’s hard to criticize the Sixers for not hiring a qualified Black coach when, in fact, Brand, the person publicly in charge of leading the decision, is another Black male.
Yet, as first noted Wednesday, this coaching search has been eye-opening for several league sources.
The sources have said it’s hard to tell who’s in charge because of ownership’s earlier-than-expected involvement. Sources have been saying for weeks that the job is D’Antoni’s to turn down. They say he’s the guy the ownership group wants. One source even said the 69-year-old would have to bomb his interview with the Sixers owners not to be offered the job.
The problem is that Brand is supposed to have a huge input on the hire. The ownership group is only supposed to approve or deny Brand’s suggestion.
But sources have said that D’Antoni met with ownership during the first round of interviews. The Sixers deny that ownership has had any involvement. However, sources have also said that Brand has met with D’Antoni and former candidate Donovan, who withdrew from consideration Monday to accept the Bulls job.
Now, word is leaking out that Brand is pushing hard for the Sixers to hire D’Antoni and that Embiid gave his blessing.
According to multiple sources, Embiid is happy that he’ll face the basket instead of posting up in D’Antoni’s proposed five-out system. D’Antoni’s plan is to move Tobias Harris back to power forward. The Sixers will also make trades if he’s hired, according to reports. The expectation is that he’ll have a say in picking players for his freewheeling style of play.
But what about Lue?
Source have said his progress has been different. So far, his candidacy has consisted of just discussions with Brand, according to sources. The GM did not meet with him in person like other candidates in the first round of interviews. Nor has Lue heard from anyone in the ownership group.