“Man, it’s tough,” Lue said to a couple of reporters who were following up on what the Cavs coach meant when he lamented his team’s offensive performance. “F---.”
The expression wasn’t an excuse, nor was it a cry for help, as much as it was an honest admission that the realities of the NBA schedule make it hard to implement ideals. It’s the same type of thing you could image a politician muttering under his breath while walking the halls of Congress after seeing a bill being swallowed up in red tape.
Lue came into power in Cleveland hoping to fix a litany of issues he felt were plaguing the Cavs: a shortened rotation, a slow pace of play, an isolation-heavy offensive attack, etc.
What he has found out, now more than two weeks on the job, is that change takes time. And time is one thing that’s hard to come by in the unforgiving NBA schedule.
That deep rotation Lue wanted to use? He quickly found that trying to play 10 guys would be unrealistic. Even committing to nine is tough, if not for an injury or two to pop up to make it a necessity -- as was the case Saturday with Kevin Love (left quad) and Matthew Dellavedova (left hamstring) both out.
That quickened pace he keeps banging the drum for? Cleveland has actually slowed down ever so slightly under Lue as opposed to David Blatt, using .1 fewer possessions per game coming into Saturday.
And the desire to rid his group of its iso tendencies? Consecutive losses to Charlotte and Boston this week, not to mention an overtime scare in Indiana, showed that old habits die hard.
“A lot of times when teams score, we kind of walk the ball up the court and then we don’t really flow into anything,” Lue said after the Pelicans game. “... I don’t think we’re in great shape. Also, we can’t really flow. I tried to call ‘Slice’ a few times tonight, we couldn’t run it right. Tried to call ‘Punch,’ we couldn’t run it right. What’s happening after makes is we’re just flowing into random. We’re just playing random basketball. We hold the ball, the ball sticks, because we’re in random because we don’t know what we want to run because we don’t have anything to flow into. That’s going to come with more practice.
“We’ve only had two practices since I’ve taken over, so we just got to get better -- a lot better.”
Lue’s first 15 days in charge, including Saturday, saw the Cavs play nine games. Between off days and traveling, the other six days allowed little opportunity for him to teach plays like Slice and Punch to where the players would feel comfortable enough to execute them on the fly if he called them out.
“It’s still a process,” LeBron James admitted. “He wants us to play with tempo, but when we don’t have it, he wants us to execute. Get to our secondary [option], and get to our [tertiary]. Get the ball moving from side to side into something that we need to break a habit of, not playing on the strong side as much. [If] we don’t have anything, just get it moving and just try to execute on the other side as well. We’ve been playing every other day, we haven’t had much time to practice, but, you know, it’s going to get [there]. With every film session and every game, and [as] we’re able to watch film and things of that nature, it’s going to help us.”
James made the task sound manageable by saying, “it’s not like we scrapped everything,” since Lue took over, but added that both Lue and new defensive coordinator Mike Longabardi haven’t been given the requisite teaching time.
“It’s certain things that Coach Lue wants to run that we haven’t ran in the past and certain things that Coach Longo wants us to do on the defensive end that we haven’t done in the past, and so we’re going to have to be a little patient with that,” James said. “But as far as what we need to do to get better, and also playing with more sense of urgency for as close to 48 minutes as possible, that should never have to change.”
The next 10 days of Lue’s coaching tenure won’t provide the occasion he is looking for to get his guys up to speed. The Cavs have Sunday off, coming off back-to-back games. They host Sacramento on Monday, will practice on Tuesday, then host the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday before the next six days get taken up by the All-Star break.
“We just got to continue to just keep building,” Lue said. “Shootarounds: Use as practice a little bit to try to enhance our offensive flow. It’s not good right now, our offensive flow. It’s not good. Especially on makes, we push it up, we get into random and then we start holding the ball. We just got to continue to preach and continue to harp on flowing into an offensive set and then running stuff out of that. Right now, it’s been difficult for us.”