- - Monday, October 29, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Six games. That’s how long it took before Dan Gilbert’s franchise reverted to its 2010 form, when the Cleveland Cavaliers last resembled a horse’s rear end.

The fault back then was on the owner, who wrote a juvenile letter after LeBron James‘ “Decision” to leave for Miami. Gilbert trashed him for exercising free agency rights, describing the move with terms like “cowardly betrayal” … “shameful display of selfishness” … “shocking act of disloyalty” … and “heartless and callous action.”

He sounded like a jilted lover when he went all caps, Comic Sans, to “PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE.”

We knew that guarantee was worthless, like Cavs tickets without James.

James eventually returned, conquered and left again. And the franchise looks just as classless, again, for firing Tyronn Lue only six games into the season. This time the blame isn’t Gilbert’s alone, as general manager Koby Altman conceivably pushed for the decision. But the owner had to sign off.

He should’ve refused.

“This was a very difficult decision,” Altman said in a statement. “It is especially so considering Coach Lue’s time with us over the last four years, including four straight trips to the NBA Finals.”

Let that sink in. Lye coached Cleveland to three consecutive NBA Finals, but was fired less than two weeks into the following season.

“It’s always sad when you see a fellow coach get the ax like that this early in the season,” Golden State’s Steve Kerr said via ESPN.

Surely some egregious act precipitated such a drastic move. Was he making out with Gilbert’s wife? Did he ensnare Altman in a Ponzi scheme? Is he on a secret videotape that shows him committing some heinous crime?

Maybe. But it appears his offense was disagreeing with Altman on the team’s post-James direction. Lue reportedly wanted to continue playing veterans like J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver. Altman reportedly preferred to remove those two from the rotation in favor of younger players.

Altman thanked Lue for the Cavs’ recent run, including the unpreceded Finals rally from a 3-1 series deficit to beat Golden State for the 2016 title. “This is a different team equation, though,” Altman said, “and one that we felt needed a different voice and approach that required this change.”

If that’s the case, they should’ve figured it out last summer before the season began. Or given Lue until the All-Star break to see if they could work through their differences. But cutting him loose after only six games is a slap in the face and stain on the organization.

Unlike the Cavs in making the decision, Lue was pure class in accepting it.

“I am very grateful for the dedication, sacrifice, and support of all the players on our team, the tremendous coaches I worked with and of course, our incredible fans,” Lue said in a statement to The Undefeated. “Lastly, deep thanks to Dan Gilbert, David Griffin and Koby Altman for the opportunity over the last three years and I only wish the organization success moving forward.”

Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers isn’t alone in admiring Lue’s restraint. “He handled it with just amazing class, you know, thanked everybody,” Rivers said via ESPN. “He’s better than me.”

He’s better off without the job, too.

Coaching James-led teams was a thankless task, but at least there was tremendous upside. Coaching what’s left of the Cavs was thankless as well, with nowhere to go but down. This way, he can retreat to the comfort of a TV studio and still collect the $15 million Cleveland owes him.

Interim coach Larry Drew very well could be a better fit for the new-and-impaired Cavs. He led the Atlanta Hawks to three consecutive postseason appearances from 2011 to 2013, and none of those teams had an all-time transcendent player like James. Lue’s tolerance for losing with youngsters opposed to losing with veterans might be too low, perhaps understandably so considering the highs he enjoyed with Smith, Korver and other championship remnants.

No one can argue that the Cavs were doing well when Lue was fired. They had yet to win. They had yet to hold a second-half lead. Their defense was the league’s second-worst and 22 teams ranked higher in offense. Everyone expected a drop-off with James in Los Angeles, but not this bad.

Doesn’t matter. Lue deserved more than six games on principle alone. But the Cavs didn’t deserve him.

Cleveland will get its just desserts, like the four-season wilderness when James took his talents to South Beach.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer franchise.

Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.


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