Ty Lue is quite a divisive figure among NBA circles. He helped lead LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to the greatest comeback in basketball history when they erased a 3-1 deficit to take down a 73-win Golden State Warriors team in 2016 NBA Finals. But he and the Cavaliers were unable to overcome the combined might of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green in the subsequent seasons, losing two straight NBA Finals.
Then LeBron split and Kyrie Irving got traded. Lue was left with a bunch of unhappy, overpaid veterans and Collin Sexton. Lue was fired after losing the first six games to start the 2018 season and joined the Los Angeles Clippers staff under Doc Rivers prior to this season. Now, he'll get another shot at a head coaching gig as the Philadelphia 76ers are reportedly close to a deal with Lue as he continues to coach down in the bubble.
Lue is divisive because it's hard to tell if he's a good coach or not. Under standard circumstances, it's usually pretty difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to NBA coaches because so much of what they do goes on behind the scenes. Unless a coach is very good or very bad at one particular aspect of coaching that has a clear impact on the game (Brad Stevens' out-of-timeout playcalling genius or Mike Budenholzer's puzzling refusal to play his best player a lot come to mind as two examples), even those in media aren't left with much to determine the quality of a coach. It ultimately comes down to results. Lue got results, but because LeBron needed to do everything and more for those Cavs teams, the head coach is usually pretty far down the list when it's time for credit to be dished out.
But he didn't get a chance to prove he can make something out of nothing, as all good coaches can do. Lue got canned after six games in his only season without LeBron. They were beaten rather badly in those games, sure, but unless you're the Toronto Raptors, losing a player of that caliber usually takes some time to adjust to and results in a lot of bad basketball. The Cavaliers weren't interested, for whatever reason, in letting Lue ride out that initial wave of adjustment.
Now he has the challenge of his short coaching life on his hands. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are very good but not transcendent players who need a good X's and O's playcaller to design an offense best suited to offset their weaknesses. Brett Brown tried and failed to do that, although the front office did him no favors in that regard. The locker room atmosphere will also need some massaging from reports that have emerged since Brown's departure, but Lue is a former player with a championship pedigree and if anything knows how to manage big personalities.
This is Lue's opportunity. This Sixers team is one disappointing season away from seriously considering blowing up The Process. Even with the talent they have on the roster, it's still a redemption project of sorts. The expectations remain high, but it will be a new experience for Lue with little room to breathe. The pressure will be on. If he can step up, he'll solidify his name as one of the better coaches in the league and silence his critics who attribute all of his success to LeBron. If he doesn't, well... He'll follow Brown sooner rather than later.
Lue also might finally stop hearing about Allen Iverson stepping over him from Philly fans if he can bring the team together. If anything, that should be a good motivator.