The Los Angeles Clippers are hiring Tyronn Lue as their new head coach, according to two people with knowledge of the deal.
The Clippers on Wednesday were finalizing a five-year contract with Lue to install him as the successor to Doc Rivers, according to the people, who were not authorized to discuss the deal publicly. Lue was en route to Los Angeles, one of the people said, after spending the past three days in Houston interviewing for the Rockets’ coaching vacancy.
Lue spent the past season as the top assistant on Rivers’s staff after negotiations for him to become the Los Angeles Lakers’ head coach collapsed in May 2019.
The Lakers and Lue were closing in on a three-year deal worth about $20 million when Lue walked away from the negotiations, dismayed both by the relatively short term that the Lakers had offered and their insistence on choosing the assistant coaches for Lue’s staff.
Lue thought that, after winning a championship in Cleveland in 2016, he should have received a longer deal and the latitude to choose his own staff. The Lakers turned to Frank Vogel after the negotiations with Lue dissolved and, under Vogel, the team won its first championship since 2010.
With the Clippers, Lue will become the league’s eighth active coach with at least one championship ring, joining Dallas’s Rick Carlisle, Golden State’s Steve Kerr, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, Toronto’s Nick Nurse, Vogel and Rivers, who was recently hired by the Philadelphia 76ers.
Rivers is one of the league’s most respected coaches — and leaders — but lost his job with the Clippers last month after their second-round playoff collapse against the Denver Nuggets. That was the third time in Rivers’s coaching career that his team had lost a best-of-seven playoff series after taking a lead of three games to one. It happened twice with the Clippers.
Steve Ballmer, the Clippers’ free-spending and title-hungry owner, decided that a new voice was needed despite Rivers’s stature, according to a person familiar with the Clippers’ thinking who was not authorized to discuss it publicly. In Lue, Ballmer has secured a replacement who is accustomed to coaching with the burden of expectations: Lue replaced the ousted David Blatt in Cleveland when the Cavaliers were leading the Eastern Conference with a record of 30-11 in January 2016.
Lue and the Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, then won the first major championship in Cleveland in 52 years with a comeback from a three-games-to-one deficit against the Golden State Warriors, who had a league-record 73 wins in the regular season.
The Clippers have never reached the conference finals as a franchise, and their two stars, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, are under contract for only one more guaranteed season before both can return to free agency.
The arrivals of Leonard and George in July 2019 seemingly made the latest incarnation of the Clippers the franchise’s most viable title threat, but they could not build on the early promise of victories over the Lakers in marquee television games on opening night and on Christmas Day.
Lue will be tasked with establishing the chemistry that Rivers couldn’t produce and with helping George bounce back from the considerable criticism he received for a number of subpar playoff performances.
Lue, 43, won two championships as a lightly used reserve guard with the Lakers in 2000 and 2001 and posted a 128-77 record in two and a half seasons as James’s coach with the Cavaliers. After James joined the Lakers through free agency in July, Cleveland started the 2018-19 season with an 0-6 record and dismissed Lue.