Clippers feel freedom under Tyronn Lue: 'I am not a guy who thinks I know everything'

Andrew Greif
·4 min read
Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue high-fives forward Marcus Morris during a break in the action against the Pacers.
Clippers coach Tyronn Lue high-fives forward Marcus Morris as he comes off the court during a game against the Pacers on Sunday at Staples Center. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Clippers forward Marcus Morris was discussing the importance of his coach’s championship experience Sunday night when he caught himself, wondering whether he’d misspoke.

“He’s won one,” Morris said of Tyronn Lue. “Or maybe two. Did he win two?”

Three, in fact, but one was enough to underscore Morris’ point. The Clippers were built to win big, but few actually know what it takes. When Lue talks, the roster has listened.

Being part of two title seasons with the Lakers, and coaching Cleveland to another five years ago, taught Lue much, but not everything. He has told his team as much three months into his Clippers tenure. It is why when Lue talks, he expects players to interject.

“I am not a guy who thinks I know everything,” Lue said. “I just want to get it right instead of thinking I know everything. It’s good to have dialogue with your players, just see what they think and what their thoughts are and when you can talk to them about 'OK, well your thoughts are not right because of this,’ and you can explain it to them, I think it makes it a lot better.

“Having that constant communication with your players, I think, is really good and they always feel a part of it. Not that I am always right. Not that they are always right. We just want to get it right.”

Nearly one month into this season in which so much could go wrong, because of either a pandemic, last season's hangover from blowing a 3-1 playoff series lead or just the night-to-night issues in the NBA, the Clippers most often have been on the right side of the scoreboard. Following Sunday’s 33-point rout of Indiana, the Clippers owned the league’s second-best record and third-best point differential — despite a 51-point loss early on.

Paul George’s career-best start, Nicolas Batum’s resurgence and the NBA's top-shooting roster have factored heavily into that 10-4 start. Not to be overlooked, forward Kawhi Leonard said, is the team’s running dialogue.

“It's just open, you can say what you want,” Morris said Sunday. “Everybody got a lot of respect for each other, listen to the players, and we just going forward, man. And the dialogue between players and coaches has to be strong if you're trying to win a championship.

“… We kind of felt let down last year and the first thing we did before we got together was we let that s--- go. It’s a new season, it’s a new team, and we’re just trying to go out there every day and get better.”

Doing that requires knowing where improvement is needed and from their 51-point loss to Dallas, the largest margin of defeat in franchise history, to losing a 22-point lead in a defeat at Golden State, there has been much to discuss.

“In San Francisco we maybe stayed an hour after the game in the locker room talking with each other,” Batum said. “So there are different ways to bond.”

In his attempt to push the Clippers forward, Lue has not relied solely on the Socratic method. After 10 games he removed ineffectual five-man combinations, and some contributors from the regular rotation, after consulting lineup data. Looking at the numbers led to conversations as he explained his reasoning for the changes.

“The biggest thing is just having dialogue about it, just talking to each other, the coaches and the players, together,” Lue said. “Just talking about what we see, what the numbers say and I think the guys understood it.”

Morris had known Lue long before he became his coach, and that familiarity led the veteran forward to be optimistic that such trust could help repair a locker room where much was often said last season, but not always heard.

As training camp began in December, Morris said that Lue “not really having that ego," along with a willingness to embrace ideas “not just in his own mind” had lifted his confidence. Seven weeks after camp opened, that belief has not been misplaced.

“I feel like our energy is way better this season,” Morris said Sunday. “Think guys are buying in.”

Said George: “It’s a real bond. It’s fun with this team, it’s locked in, we are together. It is one of the best locker rooms I have been around and been in. It is just, hopefully you guys see it, just how well we are meshing.”

There have been growing pains. Early hallmarks included lost leads, enabled by porous second-half defense and cold stretches on offense. Fighting complacency “is about breaking things down and telling them step by step what’s occurring when teams are coming back and making these runs on us,” Lue said. “We have been talking about that over the last week or so.”

By maintaining comfortable second-half leads against Sacramento and Indiana to extend their winning streak to four, the Clippers showed they had listened.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.