Tyronn Lue’s firing six games into the 2018-19 season was a turning point for the Cavs that year. It marked a change in strategy from trying to compete for a playoff spot to a full-on rebuild. To the veterans on that team, it wasn’t a move that sat well.
“We were in-between,” Channing Frye said on a recent episode of Road Trippin’ that also featured Richard Jefferson, J.R. Smith and Allie Clifton. “We had seven or eight guys that were like ‘let’s go make the playoffs,’ but then you can’t... I was one of those guys where they were like ‘Channing, we want you to come in here, maybe get some minutes and compete.’ But then, when that whole situation went down and they were like ‘It might be better for us to go in this direction.’ I was like ‘damn, at least give us a chance. We’re not chop liver.”
“I think for us, guys who were on that championship team, I think it was almost at the time... Hindsight is 20/20,” Frye added. “I felt like it was almost kind of a slap in the face for us because we were like ‘listen, we are the underdogs, no one thinks we can do anything, but here we go. We can. We will. Even if we are eighth or ninth, we are still good without LeBron.’”
“You can’t go from winning a championship with a great team and having the freedom and leeway you do to having to do ‘this, this, this’. It just don’t work like that, at least for me anyway,” Smith added.
Frye also said that Lue’s firing took “wind out of everybody’s sailes” because the veterans on the team didn’t see it as the right way to develop young players. At the time, that meant then-rookie Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic.
“For me, I think it took a lot of wind out of everybody’s sails because I think there is a way to develop your young guys to be winners,” Frye said. “I’ll say this about [Gregg Popovich]: He’s had guys no one has heard of that are making impacts — dramatic impacts — because they are being brought up in a sense of ‘hey, this is your role, you have to earn this above guys who have already done it.”
That season marked a real turning point for the Cavs. When LeBron James left for the Lakers, the team signaled to its players that it wanted to compete for the playoffs. But Kevin Love ended up being hurt at the beginning of the year, Lue was fired, veterans were jettisoned and the Cavs have been one of the worst teams in the league since.
It’s also very fair for the veterans to feel this way about Lue’s exit and how that season played out, especially if the front office signaled that it wanted to competed to players. Even if it was ultimately the right move for the franchise — which is still to be determined — pivot wasn’t clean.