CLEVELAND, Ohio — Brad Stevens has been named the league’s best coach in an annual GM survey this fall, overtaking that distinction from the great Gregg Popovich. Tyronn Lue didn’t even get a vote.
If you think it’s a little surprising that the Cavaliers head coach, who helped guide the team through a chaotic regular season and took them back to the NBA Finals, doesn’t typically get the same kind of recognition as his peers, then you’re not alone.
“Every interaction I’ve had with him has been just great,” Stevens said recently. “I think he does a really, really good job. Always puts guys in a great position to have success. I think he’s outstanding.”
Stevens, who has compiled a 221-189 record in five years with the Boston Celtics, said he doesn’t know Lue all that well personally. But in Boston, where Lue used to be an assistant coach under Doc Rivers, there are still plenty of ties to that organization, including some of Lue’s old friends who still speak glowingly of him.
What Stevens can speak about is Lue’s coaching acumen. The two have had plenty of postseason chess matches recently — 12 games total in the conference finals, with Lue winning eight.
“I thought they’ve always done a great job of adjusting on the fly, they’ve always done a good job of using all their pieces to put us in position where we had real issues,” Stevens said.
When asked for specifics, he pointed to Lue’s decision to elevate Tristan Thompson back into the starting lineup for Game 2 last spring after coming off the bench in the series opener. Stevens also identified the devastating Kevin Love-Kyle Korver two-man game that gave Toronto fits in the conference semifinals, something Boston worked hard to take away. There was also Lue’s decision to unleash his switch-heavy defense that Stevens admitted hurt the Celtics at the end of the conference finals.
“I thought it was a lot really good decisions by them and there are 29 really great coaches that I get to steal from all the time and I appreciate that about this league,” Stevens said. “Ty is one of them.”
In about two and a half years as Cavaliers head coach, Lue has amassed an impressive 128-77 mark — good for third best in franchise history. He’s 41-20 in the postseason, often reserving some of his best tactics for the most important months. He played a significant role in Cleveland’s come-from-behind championship against the record-setting Golden State Warriors in 2016 — the city’s first title in 52 years and the Cavaliers’ first as an organization.
Only each time Lue’s coaching resume is brought up, the obvious and unavoidable yeah but phrase gets attached.
Yeah but he had LeBron James so how much credit does Lue really deserve for that title run? Yeah but he had more talent than any other Eastern Conference team so, of course, he piled up wins and repeatedly helped lead the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals. Yeah but his defense in the regular season was trash.
So how good of a coach is Lue?
It’s only one man’s opinion. But the guy who was on the opposite bench, on the losing side of the conference finals two years in a row, seems to hold Lue in high regard.
“Ty did a great job coaching that team,” Stevens said. “I think he’s really good. I think if you ask any of the players there and any of the people that coached against him, they know.”