Shifting the culture in the Cavs organization

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Dante Centofanti

Jan. 22, 2016, was a very confusing and interesting day in the National Basketball Association. The defending Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers, who had the best record in the conference, fired head coach David Blatt.

Many questions were asked throughout the league and primarily the digital barbershop of America; otherwise known as NBA Twitter. The reason for his termination according to then-GM David Griffin was “a lack of fit with our personnel and our vision.”

Then enters assistant Tyronn Lue. You may remember him from Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals and the iconic image of hall of Famer Allen Iverson stepping over him after stealing his ankles and selling them on eBay. He would take over head coaching duties from Blatt, and the rest is history — life-changing history if you’re a lifelong Cleveland sports fan.

He led the Cavs back to the NBA Finals, and you know what happened after that.

Lue would be forever linked to giving Cavs fans and basketball junkies in Northeast Ohio happiness that will take them through the rest of their lives.

But after two full seasons of influencing the Cavs to the NBA Finals, Lue’s time in Cleveland has come to on end. He was fired shortly after a 119-107 loss to the Indiana Pacers Saturday night at Quicken Loans Arena. Lue was 128-83 as head coach and was the fourth coach in the history of the NBA to be fired after a Finals appearance.

I said earlier he “influenced” the Cavaliers. That was the case. Every time you would tune into the Cavs, especially in 2017-2018, he had the look of someone who has a locomotive running through his house every morning.

We all laughed at the memes of him during Cavs timeouts and the one time he didn’t realize Brooklyn Nets power forward Trevor Booker was in the team’s huddle during a timeout.

But the fact is he never was a forceful leader for the Cavaliers as a head coach. Like then-GM David Griffin, I agree he gelled personality-wise and mentally with his team. Lue retired from the league as a player near the end of the 2000s and was a young, freshed-face assistant turned head coach.

For God’s sakes, LeBron played against him in the playoffs as a player and assistant. Lue never had any say in how the organization went. I truly believe his players played hard for him and loved and respected him. The fact is, though, when it comes to having control of the locker room and personalities like J.R. Smith and Isaiah Thomas, he just could not get it to all mesh on the court.

Great coaches in the NBA know how to do that, and the bottom line is Lue was overwhelmed. I think Lue deserves to be an assistant in the NBA, and I think he will get a fresh start in the future as a head coach.

I will never forget the way he truly led this team to a Finals Championship win, and the city of Cleveland and I will always be grateful for that.

But the Cleveland Cavaliers have to look themselves in the mirror right now and try to find an organizational identity. In “Rocky Balboa,” there is an iconic scene were Rocky’s son Robert complains to him that he always has to be in his shadow. The Cleveland Cavaliers are like that now.

LeBron James is not walking through that door anytime soon, and Kyrie Irving is not either. Dan Gilbert needs to fix the identity of this franchise and he took a step forward this past weekend.

To quote Drake, on his personal favorite track of mine, “Tuscan Leather”: “On a mission tryna to shift the culture.” That is what Gilbert needs to do immediately.

Dante Centofanti is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].