Many Questions But Few Answers For Tyronn Lue and the Cavs

It ended last night pretty much as it began, with the Cavs and their fans having to digest a new reality. The Cavs are not what we thought they were, not yet. Herein starts their makeover. It is no different than any other makeover performed out of desperation. Something ugly has to be cut out. The transformation attacks the surface but it takes a while to reach the nerves and bone. And so for the Cavs, it all looked very different and it all looked very much the same.

It’s been a whirlwind of a week that began with anticipation when the Warriors came into the Q, not a revenge game per se, but a way to establish the Cavs equality, that they were on the same level as the NBA champions. The last time the Warriors were in this building, they were crowned as champions. It was a bitter, bitter ending in June. But that disaster, notwithstanding, what happened on Monday night to the Cavs, followed by another numbing performance where they did just enough against an atrocious Nets team, put it all into play how the week ended. A volcanic bombshell the Cavs players still have to get over.

Cavs Offense Points FG % 3-Point % Assists
vs. Warriors 98 48.1% 36.8% 22
vs. Bulls 83 37.2% 16.7% 17
2015-16 101.1 (19th) 44.9% (10th) 35.5% (12th) 21.9 (13th)

It sounds so easy: a new coach. But for four months the Cavs have been connected- loosely, if you believe what you read- by one voice and now a new voice has taken over and he wants to change things drastically. There is going to be some shock to the system- the vegetarian is suddenly eating meat. It is going to take time for Tyronn Lue to make good on his promise. Can he? That’s the million dollar question without an answer.

He wants the Cavs to play faster. The Cavs are late coming to this party. The transformational shift in the game is speed and ball movement. Lue cannot attack one without the other. The Cavs don’t move the ball from side to side, they don’t- as Mike D’Antoni preaches- shoot it or move it. They don’t move themselves. Speeding the tempo up with Kyrie and LeBron is a no brainer but being effective at a fast pace is a more complex proposition.

Per Player Tracking, LeBron James is the third most frequent isolation player behind James Harden and Carmelo Anthony. 20.6% of his plays are iso’s. But he is only finishing at a sub-par rate of 39.8%

What makes the Warriors a special team is that four of their five starters are ball handlers who drive in the paint, not to finish for themselves in a selfish type of game but to pass to shooters. The Cavs have drivers too in LeBron and Kyrie and J.R. but they drive for themselves, to help themselves. If Lue is intent on adapting to the new NBA style then he has to incorporate unselfishness in the schemes. We not me.

Kobe Bryant believes in Lue. Lue was his teammate on two championship teams. He witnessed Kobe-Shaq drama up close and he also was up close and center on Kobe and Shaq leaving locker room pettiness in the background, their drive and ambition to win overcoming everything else. Players didn’t whine about playing time under Phil Jackson. They didn’t sulk and pout when Jackson skewered them in the media for their in-game mistakes. The championship was the most important thing. If you were playing well you played. If you didn’t you sat it out. The Lakers championship teams Tyronn Lue was a part of answered a question that this Cavs team have not been close to answering. Do their pieces fit? Are they connected?

“Lue knows what to do. We’ve played together for a while. He’s obviously played under great mentorship and great coaching. He knows what to do. He knows spread them out, move the ball. He understands sequences versus plays. I’m sure he’ll get those guys changing sides of the floor and running automatics and all those things.” (Kobe Bryant)

Last night, there was a little more Kevin Love but the paradox all G.M.’s know to be true is that great players do not fit together. It just might not be the scheming of Kevin Love that is the problem. His game may not be compatible with James and Irving, two dominant ball handlers and drivers.

Love played with Ricky Rubio, a non-shooting 8 assist, ball mover. The Cavs don’t have ball movers so Love and his game is impotent. Whiskers on a dog don’t make it a cat. Perhaps, Love can never be a fit with this team.

Lue shocked the assembled media last night when he said the Cavs were not in shape. He made it clear that he intends to put his stamp on this team, whether it works or not, whether he has the personnel to run it or not. Training camp is where you get in shape so doing it at the halfway mark is going to be one more experimentation.

Can he get the ball out of James and Irving’s hands? And can he find a way to fix James jump shooting? He professes he will be accountable and stand up to players and let them know when they make mistakes, in essence, he will coach them. But, it is easier said than done with the most gifted of all athletes in James.

The Cavs were built to beat the Bulls, to be better at being the Bulls than the Bulls were which meant a lot of up front players with little offensive game but toughness and physicality. Lue wants a throwaway of the script. He wants to build his team like the Warriors, pace and speed and floor spacers. Where then does that leave $82 million Tristan Thompson who is not that kind of player? Or Timofey Mozgov? The league has gone small. The Cavs went big and paid handsomely for it. Those high priced one-dimensional players are stuck in no-man’s land..

This all sounds like ridiculous hand wringing for a 30 win team but 60 win teams have lost in the first round of the playoffs. Last night the Cavs looked like their coach had been fired, they looked numb and played that way. The Bulls defense is outstanding and the Cavs have no matchup for Pau Gasol, still.

Tyronn Lue is going to have his moments, his mistakes. All NBA rookies do. Can the Cavs overcome them? Or has the line between the Cavs and the Bulls, a team they have yet to beat this season, gotten a lot smaller. Remaining on the schedule, the Cavs have 21 games at home, 18 on the road. They play the Spurs on Saturday followed by a road game in Indy.

Time is what the Cavs need and time is the one thing that is running out.


photo via llananba