No matter if it ends in a win or loss, the majority of the pressure in Cleveland had always been on LeBron James, Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love.
Yet heading into this upcoming season, there will be a lot asked of Cavs coach Tyronn Lue.
On January 22, 2016, the Cavaliers fired their former head coach, David Blatt, in favor of the player-friendly Tyronn Lue. At the time, Cleveland was 30-11, but those who covered the team closely knew that there was something wrong with the chemistry of this team.
In came Lue, shaking up the playing style of the team, while holding every single player accountable. Offensively, Cleveland began to use Irving in his natural role, while increasing the pace and three-point shooting numbers. It led to the Cavaliers ending the championship drought in Cleveland and another NBA Finals’ trip this past season.
But the focus shifted this offseason. Irving’s in Boston and Cleveland has a bevy of veteran, athletic pieces from Jae Crowder, Jeff Green, Derrick Rose to Dwyane Wade. Koby Altman and the front office did their job, adding talent and depth to replenish the roster. The players have shown up healthy, fit and focused to training camp.
It’s on Lue to push the right buttons this season. While coaching in the NBA isn’t as prevalent as the NFL, head coaches still need to set the right lineups, rotations, substitutions and make critical decisions during the game.
That’s what Lue will be faced with this season as he tries to lead the Cavaliers back to the promised land. He’s already made two pivotal decisions early, starting Dwyane Wade in favor of J.R. Smith and moving Jae Crowder into the starting lineup for Tristan Thompson.
Lue’s response to a Finals’ defeat has led to a starting lineup of Rose-Wade-James-Crowder-Love. The Cavs’ head coach did mention that Rose will be substituted out early in order to spend more minutes running the second unit.
While Lue was somewhat pigeonholed into starting Rose at the beginning of the season with the injury to Isaiah Thomas, the move to start Wade and Crowder could be genius or backfire quickly.
A starting backcourt of Rose and Wade lacks consistent three-point shooting and on-ball defense. Having Love at center instead of Thompson allows Crowder to start and defend wings, but it also takes away an elite rebounder and rim protector.
It’s also going to be fascinating to see how Lue manages the rotations behind the starters. On the bench, he still has Smith, Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson, Jeff Green, Channing Frye and Cedi Osman.
Lue will most likely bring in Smith and Thompson off the bench first, while sprinkling in minutes Green and Shumpert. The staggering of these lineups to provide spacing, defense and playmaking at all times will be critical. The biggest knock on LeBron-less lineups last season was the lack of playmaking on the floor.
Cleveland has the most depth since James’ return in 2014 and it’s now on Lue to push all the right buttons to lead them back to a championship. He’s going to have find the right lineups and rotations early in the season, while managing the large egos in the locker room as well. It seems he’s already deferring to the veterans in the locker room, rather than making the right basketball decision. But he’s a championship coach and deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Lue also hangs his hat on the defensive end, but Cleveland slipped on that side of the floor in the regular season and were exposed in the NBA Finals. The Cavs’ head coach will need to pull the right strings from the start to help this team defensively.
While many pin the pressure on James, Love or Thomas, the heavy lifting will come from the sidelines this season. It’ll be on Lue to steer the Cavaliers back to a championship by pulling all the right strings.