LA Clippers Coach Tyronn Lue Not Intimidated by Superstars; Just Ask LeBron James, Kyrie Irving

Tyronn Lue is now in his second stint as an NBA head coach, keeping the Los Angeles Clippers in contention for the top seed in the Western Conference as the 2020–2021 regular season winds down. Lue has a pair of superstars in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, but his experience leading the star-studded Cleveland Cavaliers to the 2016 NBA title should help in his present job.

In 51 seasons, the franchise has never reached the conference finals. Twice under Doc Rivers, the Clippers blew 3-1 series leads in the second round of the playoffs. On the other hand, Lue is one of just 11 coaches in NBA history to lead a team back from a 3-1 deficit to win a playoff series. Lue has won a ring as a coach, so he knows the road through the postseason. Perhaps more importantly, he’s shown the ability to hold star players accountable.

Tyronn Lue transitioned seamlessly from player to coach

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Tyronn Lue played 11 seasons in the NBA, mostly as a backup point guard, and picked up a pair of rings as a role player for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000 and 2001. Lue played for seven teams and averaged 8.5 points and 3.1 assists per game in 554 career appearances. He played in 21 playoff games, with 15 of those coming during the Lakers’ 2001 title run.

Lue’s last game as an NBA player came in May 2009 during the Orlando Magic’s run to the NBA Finals. In October 2009, he joined Rivers’ staff with the Boston Celtics as director of basketball development. Rivers added him to the on-bench staff in 2011. Two years later, Lue went with Rivers to the LA Clippers.

In 2014, the Cavaliers named Lue associate head coach under David Blatt. Lue rose to head coach following Blatt’s firing in January 2016. After a 27–14 finish, Lue piloted the Cavs to a stunning upset of the 73-win Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. The Cavaliers erased a 3–1 deficit to win the franchise’s first championship. Cleveland lost the next two NBA Finals before James left as a free agent.

Lue lasted just six games into the post-LeBron James era with the Cavaliers in 2018. The Cavaliers let Lue go after an 0–6 start. He spent 2019–2020 as an assistant to Doc Rivers for a Clippers squad that finished second in the West before coughing up a 3–1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals.

Lue did not back down when challenged by LeBron James and Kyrie Irving

Tyronn Lue coaching LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2018 NBA Playoffs.
LeBron James and Tyronn Lue of the Cleveland Cavaliers. | Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

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Shortly after being named head coach in Cleveland, Tyronn Lue faced off with the superstar tandem of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN recalled a January 2016 game when the new head coach ordered some changes during a timeout. James and Irving chimed in to contradict those calls.

Lue’s response was firm: “Why don’t you guys play, and I’ll coach the f*cking team.”

It’s no surprise Lue knew how to handle the egos that come with superstar status. Lue declared for the 1998 NBA Draft after his junior year at Nebraska. The Nuggets chose Lue late in the first round and shipped his rights to the Lakers in a trade for Nick Van Exel.

Lue joined a Laker team dominated by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, a superstar duo known to suck much of the oxygen out of the room, particularly before the arrival of coach Phil Jackson in 1999.

Can Tyronn Lue get long-suffering LA Clippers over the hump?

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The LA Clippers are in the mix with the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, and Denver Nuggets as the likely top four seeds in the Western Conference. However, the West includes the defending champion Lakers, the Luka Doncic-led Dallas Mavericks, and the Damian Lillard-powered Portland Trail Blazers. Throw in a rejuvenated Stephen Curry with the Golden State Warriors and the West could be wild come playoff time.

LA lost Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell to the Lakers but added veteran role players in Serge Ibaka and Nicolas Batum. The Clippers picked up Rajon Rondo at the trade deadline. Former All-Star DeMarcus Cousins signed a pair of 10-day contracts before getting a deal the rest of the season.

Winning the West won’t be easy for any of the contenders, but the road to the NBA Finals could well run through the Clippers. Take caution when betting against a guy who squared off with James and Irving and came out on top.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.