Tyronn Lue’s Success Good For Future Rookie Head Coaches

Jan 23, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; New Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue speaks to the media prior to the Cavaliers
Jan 23, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; New Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue speaks to the media prior to the Cavaliers /

Rookie head coach Tyronn Lue led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a NBA Championship. That’s good news for future rookie NBA head coaches.

Tyronn Lue was a key part in leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to the franchise’s first NBA Championship, and Cleveland’s first major championship since 1964. But how he became head coach was not typical compared to most major head coaching positions.

Previous coach David Blatt led the Cavs to the NBA Finals in his rookie (NBA) head coaching gig, but ultimately lost to the Golden State Warriors without Kevin Love and with Kyrie Irving suffering an injury in Game 1. After leading the Cavs to a 30-11 start and sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings, general manager David Griffin decided to fire Blatt on Jan. 22, 2016 and hire Lue, who was the top assistant at the time, according to Cleveland.com‘s Chris Haynes.

To be clear, Lue wasn’t hired with an interim tag, he was given the reigns of the East-leading Cavaliers.

Lue, 39, actually led the Cavs to a worse record (27-14) in his 41 games than Blatt did in his 41 games during the 2015-16 regular season. The playoffs ended up being a different story, as Lue’s Cavs costed through the Eastern Conference playoffs and found themselves upon a rematch against the Warriors.

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This time, everybody was healthy entering the series. This time the Cavs were on a mission. However, the Warriors were having none of it and jumped out to what seemed to be an insurmountable 3-1 series lead.

Cleveland proved to be resilient, and Lue certainly had his hand in their mindset while facing elimination. LeBron James took over while facing elimination, averaging 36.3 points, 11.6 rebounds, 9.6 assists, 3.0 steals and 3.0 blocks per game in those three contests. He also delivered the defining moment of Game 7 with the block heard round the world.

Alas, the Cavs were celebrating a championship and Lue was a major factor in leading them through the playoffs. But this isn’t the first time a rookie head coach won the NBA Championship.

In fact, Warriors coach Steve Kerr did so when they beat the Cavs in 2015. He wasn’t the first rookie coach to accomplish the feat either. One would have to go back to 1982 to find out that Pat Riley was a rookie head coach that would lead his team to win the NBA Finals. That’s a legendary coach that both Kerr and Lue will have to live up to great expectations.

Winning the NBA Finals is so tough to do that many head coaches will never accomplish the goal that every team has. In fact, each team has a 1-in-30 (3.3 percent) chance in winning it all each year. That doesn’t mean there aren’t successful rookie head coaches in the NBA.

Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan led his team to a 55-27 season and the Western Conference’s third seed. He also led them past the San Antonio Spurs, who held the NBA’s second best record during the 2015-16 season. They then pushed the Warriors to the brink by taking a 3-1 lead on them in the Western Conference Finals, only to suffer a heartbreaking collapse.

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Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg didn’t have the same fortunes as Donovan, Kerr and Lue did to begin their coaching careers. The Bulls finished with a winning record of 42-40, but it wasn’t good enough to make the Playoffs.

Jeff Hornacek led the Phoenix Suns to a 48-34 record in the 2013-14 NBA season, but it wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs in a tough Western Conference.

Not all of it is about coaching so much as about the situation the coach enters. For example, former Butler head coach took over as the Boston Celtics head coach, but only led them to a 25-57 record in his first season, which is surprising for a coach of his stature. However, he has led the franchise to two straight playoff appearances in the Eastern Conference.

Ultimately, the situation has to be right for the rookie head coach to step into. Luke Walton and Kenny Atkinson will try their hand at being a rookie head coach with the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets, respectively.

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Lue was fortunate to be an Associate Head Coach for the Cavs and have the blessing of the best player in basketball, LeBron. Now he is the latest rookie head coach to win the NBA Championship. His success is certainly good for future head coaches that are looking to win during their rookie season.