The silence was deafening for quite some time. Whispers about a potential partnership between the 76ers and the championship-winning head coach have circulated for months. Brett Brown’s job was in jeopardy in May, 2019. The context of how they lost, a ball defying gravity from the under-side of the rim to pop up and bounce in as the buzzer sounded in game 7, and some lobbying from Joel Embiid and Elton Brand gave Brown one more life. As the team experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows throughout the course of this season, the whispers of Tyronn Lue pacing the sidelines next season grew louder and louder.
Now, a marriage with Lue seems inevitable. The one team that I thought could object to the marriage would be the Brooklyn Nets. But, league sources told The Painted Lines back in early August that the Nets were engaging with Steve Nash about steering their ship. Yesterday, that engagement became a marriage.
A ‘LeBron Guy’
But, with the hire seemingly impending, Sixers fans have made it known that they are less than thrilled by the idea of a “LeBron guy” coaching the team. While they may ultimately be proven justified–time will tell if he is the right man for the job–it would be for the wrong reasons.
Ty Lue’s connection with LeBron James should not discount his ability to adequately coach a team. Those who begin any conversation against Lue with that simply didn’t watch the Cavaliers under his leadership. Sure, the connection to Klutch Sports is real, and that relationship would likely play a factor in his hiring, at least to some extent. However, it is irresponsible to roll one’s eyes at the former point guard on the basis of the people he associates with.
So, here is a cost-benefit analysis of the potential hire of Tyronn Lue.
Ben Simmons’ power within the franchise undoubtedly set the stage for Lue to be named head coach. Ben Simmons is a client of Klutch Sports. Klutch Sports represents Ty Lue. Klutch would like to have its clients in the spotlight, from coast to coast. Doing so would maximize the agency’s market capitalization. So, Lue backing up Doc Rivers on the less-glamorous Los Angeles team is not ideal. As Ben Simmons shipped out to Los Angeles to work with other (Klutch) athletes in his off-seasons, the relationship with Lue grew.
The obvious concern of hiring Lue would be that he is already too close with Simmons, and that could feasibly make it harder for him to hold Simmons accountable if he continues to pass up jump shots. If that happens, bad habits will persist, and there’s a likely chance that Simmons will never reach his full potential.
The obvious implication of Lue’s relationship with Simmons is that Embiid gets the short end of the stick. Looking at what Lue ran with LeBron in Cleveland, Simmons’ court vision and passing prowess could be a focal point of the half-court offense. In fact, if Simmons were to continue to ignore jump shooting, Lue would have very little choice but to utilize him as a passer out of the post.
In order to create space, Embiid will inevitably have to be used outside of the paint. The ‘crown jewel’ watched the franchise discard his favorite teammates in favor of a $109 million insurance policy last summer. He has already publicly indicated that he felt neglected by all of the decisions made. Hiring a coach that already has a relationship with Simmons could result in a conflict of interest, and Embiid may feel more neglected.
Of course, there are real reasons to believe that Ty Lue could grow the two stars and improve the team. Lue cultivated a reputation as a ‘LeBron whisperer’ during his time with the Cavaliers. There are even publicized stories of him disregarding LeBron’s status and holding him accountable. That body of work is even more evident in the context of the Cavaliers’ run in 2016.
Lue Got The Cavs To Buy In
The team trailed 3-1 in the Finals to arguably the greatest team of all time. Rather than pack it in, the Cavaliers, albeit led by an unbelievable series by James, won the title. It is naive to chalk up the unlikely comeback to a god-like performance by James.
The truth is that they needed James to perform, but they needed buy-in from the rest of the players on the roster. That buy-in was born from Lue’s governance of the team. Players respected him, and he held them accountable. James was undoubtedly legendary, but he didn’t do it by himself. If Lue was not intimidated by LeBron James and was able to maintain accountability on a championship-caliber team, his directives will stay in Simmons’ head. Seeing as Embiid, Richardson, and Butler all spoke of accountability issues under Brown, Lue’s ability to build a culture of accountability is a major benefit to both Ben Simmons and the franchise.
Criticism Fuels Embiid
Speaking of accountability, Joel Embiid has said that he likes criticism. His play supports that sentiment. If you recall, on a cold Thursday night in December, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal ridiculed Embiid’s immaturity and effort prior to a nationally-televised affair in Boston.
‘The Process’ responded with 38 points and 13 rebounds, and the Sixers earned one of their twelve road wins on the season. It was their only road win against a team above .500 all season (technically, their regular season finale against the Rockets was a road game, but that was in the Orlando bubble). Ty Lue’s reputation as someone who will criticize stars should play well for Embiid. It should have the effect of growing a more consistently engaged star.
A significant reason for the Sixers’ failure to meet expectations under Brown was that the team lacked structure in its offense and did not make in-game adjustments on defense. Lue would come in with an offensive system, not the laissez faire philosophies that Brown imparted. With more offensive structure, the turnover issue should shrink, and the team will likely find itself blowing fewer leads.
Lue comes in and is clearly more of a friend than a coach to Simmons. Embiid feels further scorned and requests a trade. The request is eventually granted, and the Sixers are down to just one star. Maybe the pieces returned in the Embiid trade fit Simmons better, maybe they don’t. Either way, Simmons doesn’t take his friend/coach seriously, and he still refuses to shoot the ball. So, the Sixers are a less-talented team that is built around a star who has a fatal flaw and has complete autonomy, and they no longer have the league’s most dominant big man. There are more questions about who they can rely on than there were before.
Lue comes in and plays a significant role in the team hitting on late draft picks, helps the front office identify reasonable trade targets, and finds mutually beneficial roles for the team’s new additions. He lays down the law with Simmons from day one, and continues to push Embiid’s conditioning. With (hopefully) a better-fitting roster, and players who feel as though they have defined roles and have to listen to the head coach, the team’s offense finally begins to make sense and follows a structure.
Simmons begins attempting the occasional open jumper. Lue finds a role for Embiid that both makes sense and satisfies his lost enjoyment for the game. The big man stops dropping on pick-and-rolls and the Sixers begin to put pressure on the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll. Suddenly the team plays as if it belongs on the same court as the league’s best programs.
While the Sixers are giving the impression that they are still speed dating, it certainly seems as though they’ve found their match.