The Phoenix Suns currently have a 2-0 lead over the Los Angeles Clippers following a chaotic Game 2 Tuesday night. On the morning of Game 2, Max Kellerman went on First Take and proclaimed Lue the best coach in the NBA right now, citing the Cleveland Cavaliers' comeback in the 2016 NBA Finals.
I have no idea if this is true or if most people agree or disagree with Kellerman's assesment, I just know Lue's successes as a head coach mostly come down to the players and teams he's inherited. He might be a tremendous motivator, but the amount of coaching he's had to do in the traditional sense (teaching, instructing, etc.) has to be minimal. One might go so far as to call this the Luke Walton Corollary after the ultimate example of a coach getting too much credit for a team's success. Let's examine this theory.
We'll begin with Lue's resume. His head coaching career started when he took over the 2015-16 Cavaliers from David Blatt at midseason. At that point the defending Eastern Conference champions were 30-11. Lue proceeded to go 27-14, which you could note is actually a worse record. He then proceeded to win two more playoff games than Blatt did the previous postseason and the Cavaliers won the NBA title.
Lue and the Cavs then ran it back the next two seasons winning the Eastern Conference two more times before LeBron James left for Los Angeles. The following season the Cavaliers started 0-6 and Lue was fired.
Lue then joined the Clippers coaching staff. The 2019-20 Clippers went 49-23, which was the second best record in the conference, and lost in the second round in the Disney Bubble. Lue then took over for Doc Rivers. The Clippers, with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, watched their winning percentage drop from .681 last year to .653 this year and finished fourth in the Western Conference. They have fallen behind 0-2 in the first and second and now third rounds this postseason.
Perhaps the series-winning adjustments are on the way, but so is the Suns' Hall of Fame point guard.
Another candidate for this theory is Steve Kerr, who took over the Golden State Warriors as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were entering their primes. They'd been in the playoffs the two seasons before Kerr arrived. Under Kerr they went to five straight NBA Finals and won three titles. Then players started getting hurt and they have missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons.
When Kerr missed the first 42 games of 2015-16 season and Luke Walton filled in for him on the bench, the Warriors started the year 38-4 on their way to 73 wins. Walton was the hottest coaching candidate in recent memory.
He parlayed that into the prestigious Los Angeles Lakers job and helped the team improve from 17 wins to 26 wins in the first post-Kobe Lakers season. The next season with rookies Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso and Josh Hart they won 36 games. Then with 55 games from LeBron James in 2018-19, Walton had his best record as a coach, 37-45. He got fired, the Lakers traded for Anthony Davis and hired Frank Vogel and won the title. Meanwhile, Walton has gone 62-81 in two seasons in Sacramento.
The most successful person to ever do this was Luke Walton's own coach, Phil Jackson. He took over the Eastern Conference finalist Chicago Bulls in 1989. They went back to the ECF and then won three straight championships and six of the next eight with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. After The Last Dance season, he took a year off and waited for another perfect job which he found in Los Angeles.
When Jackson took over the Lakers job they were coming off a 31-19 season. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal had been together a few years. Shaq was in his prime and Kobe was still ascending. They had won 61 games and been to the conference finals two years before Jackson arrived. He showed up and they won three straight championships. Then he stuck around through Kobe Bryant's prime and retired after the 2011 postseason, never to coach again.
And long before Jackson there was Bill Russell, who took over the defending NBA Champion Boston Celtics, went 60-21 and then won back-to-back titles on teams full of Hall of Famers put together by Red Aurbauch. Russell retired in 1969, but returned to coach the Seattle SuperSonics in 1973. In four seasons he went 162-166 and won one playoff series. His final coaching stop was a 17-win season with the Sacrmanto Kings.
So how the hell can you even tell when a coach is actually good? LeBron James has played in 10 NBA Finals under five different coaches. He won titles with three of those coaches. Steve Kerr has looked pretty average without Klay Thompson. Michael Jordan won six titles with Phil Jackson. Phil Jackson never even tried to win a title without Jordan or Kobe. Bill Russell the coach never won anything without Bill Russell the player.
Now it's Ty Lue on the backs of LeBron and Kawhi Leonard and sometimes Paul George that has people wondering aloud if he's truly the best coach. It's the kind of question you ask when Luke Walton starts a season 24-0 as an interim coach. Back then there were a lot of articles about how Walton wouldn't get credit for the wins. As it stands, he's the only coach here who didn't, which seems fitting.