Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press
When Tyronn Liu agreed to become the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, as Adrian Voynarowski of ESPN first reported, his biggest challenge was instantly managing the superstar at Kauhi Leonard.
While most coaches can only dream of being able to work with a player like Leonard, he is only the second-largest talent under Lou, who is now in second place.
Spend two and a half seasons (four calculations of his head coach̵7;s duties) with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2014 to 18 prepared Liu not only for the superstar of the team, which is ready to compete in the championship immediately, but also to push this player in any necessary way.
After coaching James and spending time with some of the best players and coaches the NBA has ever seen, perhaps no one is suitable to lead Leonard and Clippers.
As it was in Cleveland, he comes to the new job well prepared.
Liu and David Blatt were two finalists as the Cavaliers’ head coach in 2014, before James decided to return. CEO David Griffin liked Lue and wanted him to win the job. Coffee Governor Dan Gilbert preferred Blatt and his overseas experience. It is obvious that the last word was given to the person responsible for issuing checks.
Liu agreed to join Blatt, despite losing at work, and Cavs made him the highest paid league assistant at the time. When Blatt was fired in January 2016, Liu didn’t even want the job, and she was forced to take it in part because of the advice he sought from Doc Rivers, the man he now replaces in Los Angeles.
Lou spent a year and a half meeting James, gaining respect from him and those in the locker room nearby. Similarly, he spent his last season as Rivers’ assistant at the Clippers, already establishing relationships with current players.
Perhaps the most important thing a head coach can do is get a star player to buy their own system, a strategy that allows everyone else to stand in line.
Although James never respected Blatt or Mike Brown to him in Cleveland, Liu was different.
There was a timeout when James usually talked to Blatt, only this time Lou told James in front of his teammates Cavs: “Close [expletive] above. I got it. “
Phelan M. Ebenhak / Associated Press
Liu said that the first thing he did when he became head coach of the Cavaliers was to sit down with James one on one and explain his vision and what they needed to do together to fix the team.
Liu relayed James’ response to Athletic’s Joe Wardon: “Husband, T. Liu, I’m on board. Whatever you didn’t need to do, whatever you didn’t need from me, you got it.”
Now he needs to have the same conversation with Leonard.
Obviously, James and Leonard are very different players and people. Although James repeatedly demonstrates his passion during games and timeouts (for better or worse), Leonard prefers to follow suit and skip screams and shouts.
Of course, neither is right or wrong as long as the message arrives.
Liu is actually more like Leonard in character. He is quite calm on the sidelines, a great observer who rarely takes technical fouls. His even demeanor should go well with Leonard, who received a completely different coach from Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs.
Liu must also choose places to push and push Leonard, not allowing his superstar to become too comfortable or believe he is doing enough.
Even at their biggest moment together, Game 7 in the 2016 NBA Finals, Liu still challenged James to the team. Near the first half, James was on his way to a triple-double and was brilliant, leading Cleveland to a 3-3 match against the Golden State Warriors after the start of the 3-1 series. However, this was not enough for Liu.
He criticized James for his passivity, carelessness with the ball and allowing Draymond Green to hit five three-pointers in the first half.
“Bron was crazy, he got mad at me, and then we broke into the locker room, and I told him the same thing in front of all the guys,” Liu Le Jenkins told Sports Illustrated. “He went mad again, he got angry again.”
The moment may have been awkward, but it worked.
James finished the game with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, and he turned the ball over only once in the second half, holding Green to 1 of 3 from depth after he went 5 of 5 in the first half.
Although most coaches would not dare upset their superstar with the NBA Finals 7, Liu knew all the buttons to press. In the end, he got the result he wanted.
Liu’s experience in the NBA also goes far beyond James.
As a player for 11 seasons and now in tenth place as a coach, his list of contacts in the NBA is legendary.
Tony Deyak / Associated Press
As a draw for the Los Angeles Lakers, he saw Phil Jackson run the ego arcs of Shaquille O’Neill and Kobe Bryant, an experience that ended in the 2001 championship. He co-starred with Michael Jordan of the Washington Wizards, Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki on the Dallas Mayverics, and Dwight Howard on the 2008-09 Orlando Magic last season.
The list of players that Lue controlled as a coach is no less impressive.
In addition to James, Liu directed Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in Cleveland, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce as an assistant under Rivers with the Boston Celtics and Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in the Clippers.
Maybe that’s why Liu never blinked when she coached James.
It takes a one-on-one conversation with Leonard, as well as making him redeem and believe that Liu can bring the Clippers to the championship just as he did with another superstar, a small forward in the franchise who has never won a title before.
He needs to build this relationship now so that when things get as difficult as they will, Leonard has a solid base of trust to learn from, knowing that Liu only wants what’s best for the team.
James believed in Lou’s vision, and it ended with three trips to the finals and the ring. Clippers has the talent to do a similar run, but only if Leonard does the same.