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How Doc Rivers and other legendary coaches influenced Tyronn Lue

By Andrew Greif, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Basketball

LOS ANGELES — Tyronn Lue was six years into his NBA career when his coach with the Orlando Magic told Lue to consider his retirement plan.

A job would be waiting, Doc Rivers told his point guard, should Lue want to join him on the sideline.

Lue's coaches at Raytown High in suburban Kansas City, and at Nebraska, never got the inkling their star desired to one day join their profession. Yet upon Lue's retirement in 2009, he took Rivers up on the offer. Then the Boston Celtics coach, Rivers created a role on his staff, and Lue's coaching education formally began.

When Rivers left for the Clippers in 2013, Lue followed. When, in 2016, Lue became a head coach for the first time following a midseason promotion in Cleveland, he told a reporter that "everything I do is Doc Rivers-driven."

Lue has never shied away from acknowledging that Rivers' guidance is the foundation on which his coaching style was built, but he also made clear Wednesday, during his introduction as the Clippers' new coach, that his style is not a clone of the man he succeeds.

Just as Lue has taken what he has learned from Rivers and added to it throughout his career, his challenge with the Clippers is taking the work his friend and mentor began last season with a title-hungry roster and pushing further by adding his own spin. Rivers' ouster, after seven seasons, followed a second-round postseason exit made "extra painful," team owner Steve Ballmer said, by the 3-1 series lead that preceded the Clippers' collapse.

"Doc has been my mentor since I've been in the league and coaching, and he's given me my first opportunity," Lue said. "So without Doc, I wouldn't be in this position today. It's a tough loss for all of us.

"With that being said, I learned a lot from Doc, but I've also learned a lot from a lot of other coaches around the league because I'm always studying, I'm always trying to get better. I want to be better. So, not just learning from Doc, but I learned from other coaches like (Erik Spoelstra) and Brad Stevens and, watching Nick Nurse last year, thinking outside the box of playing box-and-one and triangle-and-two (defenses) and bringing something new to the NBA. And if you stop learning, if you stop being willing to learn from other people, then you won't be successful. Everything I do is not mine. I take a little bit from each person, each coach, each great coach: (Gregg) Popovich, Phil Jackson, Stan Van Gundy taught me a lot. Scott Skiles taught me a lot. So just being able to take from a lot of different coaches and kind of make it your own, that's what I pride myself on."

Lue already has a head start on how he will make the Clippers his own.

 

After his 2018 firing in Cleveland, Lue visited with the Clippers intermittently at Rivers' request while acting as an informal advisor. At the same time, he said, he was in "constant dialogue" with peers such as Stevens, Dallas' Rick Carlisle and Golden State's Steve Kerr. "Just picking their brains on different things and different situations to get better, and that's what I want to do," he said.

He developed closer relationships within the Clippers last season while serving as an assistant — bonds reflected in the conversations he has had with every player on the roster in the six days since agreeing to become coach. Where other coaching candidates would need to reconstruct what precipitated the team's stunning exit, Lue lived it.

"There was great disappointment," said Lawrence Frank, the team's president of basketball operations. "Look, we pride ourselves on being a tough, gritty, resilient team and for many different reasons, we weren't."

The main criticisms of Rivers' offense was that it lacked structure and relied too heavily on stars' ability to make plays; Lue wants speed and ball movement to dictate the flow.

"Ty sees the game as good or better as anybody you'll ever meet, which I think is awesome," Ballmer said. "Ty is also a guy who I have really come to understand holds himself and others accountable."

With Kawhi Leonard and Paul George under contract one more season, Lue said he embraced the pressure to win immediately. In his first season with Cleveland, the Cavaliers became the first team to rally from a 3-1 series deficit to win the NBA Finals.

"When you talk about pressure, that means you're in a situation to win," Lue said. "That's what I want to do. I want to be one of the greatest coaches. I want to be great."

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