BBVA Compass Bright Futures: Rookie Tales

Bright Futures: Rookie Tales ... with Tyronn Lue

Cavs Championship-Winning Coach Reflects on His Freshman Season in Tinseltown
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/GettyImages
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

BBVA Compass is partnering with the Wine & Gold throughout the 2016-2017 season to bring Cavs fans closer to the game. Each month, one of your Cavaliers will be featured, offering an in-depth look into their own rookie season and how their experiences have helped to create their own Bright Future.

While winning a world title was a once-in-a-lifetime celebration for most Clevelanders last June, it was ring No. 3 for the head coach who got them there.

Of course, Tyronn Lue was part of the Shaq-Kobe L.A. Lakers three-peat back in the early aughts – winning the world title in 1999-2000 and 2000-01 before signing as a free agent the following summer. But before Phil Jackson arrived in his sophomore season, the previous year was not all sunshine in LakerLand.

After winning the NIT Tourney as a junior with Nebraska, where he led the Huskers in assists in each of his three seasons, Lue was selected with the 23rd overall pick by the Denver Nuggets (acquired in a weird three-way deal that eventually involved James Posey) and – along with Tony Battie – immediately dealt to the Lakers in exchange for Nick Van Exel.

Ty Lue was part of a rookie class that included Sam Jacobson and Ruben Patterson – and their freshman season was shortened to just 50 games due to the NBA lockout. When the season did finally begin, Lakers coach Del Harris got the ax 12 games in, opening the door for Kurt Rambis – who guided L.A. to a 24-13 finish. They dropped the Rockets in First Round before being swept by the Spurs in the Conference Semis.

As the Cavaliers just wrapped up a trip to Tinseltown – and the scene of Tyronn Lue’s first two titles – this weekend, today’s installment of Bright Futures: Rookie Tales focuses on the Cavaliers head coach and his first foray into the NBA …

What are your initial memories from your rookie season?

Tyronn Lue: Well, Shaq and Kobe was really blown out of proportion a lot more than what it really was. But for me, it was like a dream come true. Get drafted and play for the Lakers?! Come on, man! You couldn’t have dreamt a better story.

My rookie year, just learning, being around all the guys I was around. When I came in, that’s when veterans were important – guys like Robert Horry, Glen Rice, A.C. Green, Ron Harper (my second year), Brian Shaw, Rick Fox.

We had a lot of veterans and they taught the right way to do things on and off the floor. How to dress, what restaurants to go to.

So, for me, it was a blessing.

Embracing where you started from keeps you humble, true to your authentic self and grounded during life’s inevitable storms.

Nick Van Exel was a fan favorite in L.A. Was there any pressure replacing him and did you have a plan when you arrived?

Lue: Well, it wasn’t like I was coming in there to save the team. So to lose a big part like Nick Van Exel, I didn’t think that all fell on me.

I was a rookie. We had Kobe and Shaq. We had Glen Rice – and Eddie Jones before he got traded for Glen Rice. They already had a great team. So, it was never like, ‘We traded for him, so he’s got to come in here and save the day.’

So, I didn’t even think about it like that. I just thought about it like, ‘I have an opportunity to play with a great team.’

At that time, they had been swept or close to it every year in the Playoffs, so they weren’t really supposed to be Champions. Not until Phil got there in my second year. That really changed things and it really took off.

You came in with a draft class of Sam Jacobson and Ruben Patterson. What was the Ruben Patterson experience like as a rookie?

Lue: I think (Patterson) might have got in trouble in school. He was supposed to go higher. I think he went with the first pick of the Second Round.

We played in Chicago in the pre-Draft camp and he dominated. He was the best player there. But I just think his Draft stock fell because of baggage off the floor.

But he was a monster, man! Defender, athletic, run the floor, post – he could do a lot of things. The Lakers, when they got a chance to draft him, they got a steal.

Is there any pressure that goes with being a kid from a small town suddenly living under the bright lights of L.A.? Was it important to Remember Your Roots to keep you grounded?

Lue: I didn’t look at it as pressure. It was like a dream come true for me. It was finally a chance to make a living, make it to the NBA, take care of my family. That’s all I was really worried about.

I never had a drink or a smoke in my life, so I wasn’t really a big party guy. I never smoke or drank before anyway.

It was crazy going from Mexico, Missouri to L.A., but I didn’t see it like that. I just looked at it like a new opportunity. A chance to live, to be a grown-up, be a man.

Failing means you’re trying. So keep trying. And also keep learning. Because the more you learn from your failures, the closer you come to your successes.

You went through a coaching change a dozen games into your NBA career. How did you "Find Success in Failure" through that situation, turning a negative into a positive?

Lue: When I first came in, it was the lockout season, so we only played 50 games.

The first 35, I didn’t even play. I was on IR the whole time. And then, when Kurt took over, and that’s when I got my chance to start playing – those last 15 games and then the playoffs.

So actually, the coaching change helped me. As much as I like Del Harris – he was great, I loved him. But there wasn’t a lot of opportunity there, being a rookie on a team that’s looking to win a Championship.

You had Derek Harper there. Brian Shaw came in and played the backup point. There wasn’t a lot of time for me. So it gave me a little time to grow and learn.

Was there a particular veteran that gave you some tough love as a rookie?

Lue: Well, there wasn’t much tough love because I always did the right thing. I was never talking stuff or being boisterous. I just always did the right thing, so they respected me. And I came in every day and worked hard. Even though I wasn’t playing, I came in early and left late. Playing 3-on-3.

So I was doing all the right things.

And was there a vet who took you under his wing?

Lue: Well, as far as someone who took me under his wing and someone that I’m still close to til this day is Brian Shaw. That’s one of my best friends.

He’s a guy who took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. It was really good for me.

Shaq and Kobe ….?

Lue: They were great.

Kobe was only a couple years older than me. So it wasn’t like he was a big-time vet.

Shaq … Shaq did some crazy stuff. But he wasn’t hard on guys. Sometimes he’d do some pranks and some crazy stuff, but for the most part he was a great guy.

He took care of all the rookies and it was a lockout season so the first time I ever met Shaq, he invited me over to his house, we had dinner. He gave me, like, $15,000 in cash like, ‘Here you go. I know you don’t have any money yet.’

He was great, man. He bought Mark Madsen a truck. He just does all the right things.

Any rookie initiations on that year’s squad?

Lue: Donuts every day. Had to deliver a newspaper to Shaq’s room every day on the road.

And we had to unpack the bags off the plane! So it’d be 15 degrees and we’d help the equipment guys carry the gear off the plane and on to the truck.

Rookies definitely don’t do that anymore. They got it easy now.

Everyone deserves a brighter future with the chance to fulfill their dreams, to feel safe and secure, and to act on life's limitless opportunities. Guided by compassion, honesty and optimism, our purpose is to bring this brighter future to life. One person. One family. One company. One community at a time. Learn More About BBVA Compass Principles Here