When we last saw Larry Drew as a head coach, back in the spring of 2014, he was being steamrolled by the Bucks in favor of Jason Kidd after one miserable 15-win season in Milwaukee. Kidd broke the sacred tenet among coaches — never angle for another guy’s job — but to Drew’s credit, he handled the entire thing with dignity and without public complaint.
Now, Drew is taking the reins (at least temporarily) from his fellow coach, Tyronn Lue, fired by the Cavaliers just six games into the NBA season. According to The Athletic’s Joe Vardon, players are “pissed” at Lue’s departure, but they’d do well to follow the example of Drew back when he was undercut by Kidd — do not complain publicly and comport yourselves with some dignity.
After all, this was not really a Lue problem. It was, and remains, a player problem.
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In fact, within the organization, according to an NBA source, the fear was that the players had tuned out Lue, that after two-plus years of taking his direction with the backing of star player LeBron James, Lue’s orders rang hollow now that James is gone. James raised the team’s level during games and in practices. Without him, these players have sunk like a shoddy soufflé, and Lue is the first casualty.
The fire sale that would be expected after a move like this from a team with the Cavs’ record is still on hold, too. There are assets that would draw at least mild interest on the trade market — Kyle Korver, Tristan Thompson, George Hill — but Cleveland hasn’t bottomed out enough for that. Front-office sources around the league told SN that Cleveland is still holding onto hope that this group can bounce back before any such sale begins.
It’ll be a long way back, though.
This team ranks 29th in defensive efficiency, allowing 118.3 points per 100 possessions. The Cavs have had only one game in which they’ve allowed fewer than 110 points, and they gave up 133 points at home to Atlanta a week ago. Offensively, they’re not much better, scoring 105.7 points per 100 possessions (22nd in efficiency). Three Cavs rotation players — Cedi Osman, Kevin Love and JR Smith — are shooting below 37.5 percent, and a foot injury could keep Love out for a while.
There is an inclination to place blame for the current state of the Cavs on owner Dan Gilbert. There’s always that impulse, and in general, you’re not going to go wrong pointing the finger at the master of the Comic Sans font. After all, this is the Cavs’ seventh coach in Gilbert’s 13-year tenure as owner of the franchise. Stability has not been his strong suit.
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But this is not about Gilbert, nor is it about general manager Koby Altman. They made the decision, even before this offseason, that should James leave, they’d try to remain competitive. They planned to build a roster that could challenge for a playoff spot. They did not want to tank as so many NBA teams have done.
Whether they’d make the postseason could be debated, but there’s no doubt the team should not be this bad. The defense should not be this porous, and the effort level should not be this lax. James is not around to pull these players from their somnolence, but they’re professionals. They should be able to do some self-motivating.
Lue needed to go, and it was because his players had given up on this year before we even got to Halloween.
This is where Drew comes in. He is not a fiery character, but over the course of his career as an assistant coach, he has won praise for diligence and attention to detail, something this group badly needs. Love’s health is critical, but there’s still an opportunity to rescue this season for Cleveland, even as bad as things have been so far. The No. 8 seed in the East is likely to go to a team in the 40-win range, and there’s still time to bounce back toward that.
But that will take some professional pride and effort on the part of these woebegone Cavaliers players. Both have been in short supply so far. If these guys are as truly ticked off as reports suggest, they should be pointing their fingers at themselves.
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