His rise to prominence, or shall we say, modest recognition has certainly been interesting. Tyronn Lue
was once known in Lakerland as the short guy who spelled his first name funny. For the record, it's pronounced Tur-ron.
His profile increased when, in preparation for the NBA Finals against Philadelphia, Lue became Allen Iverson
. Well, not really. Lue was designated by Lakers coach Phil Jackson to play the part of Iverson in practice, so the Lakers could work on various defensive schemes. He already had the cornrows and was able to secure an arm sleeve. He's the right size (6-0) and even has a shooter's mentality. Most forget Lue averaged nearly 24 points during his final collegiate season at Nebraska. It was his quickness and scoring ability, ala Iverson, that led to him being drafted in the first round of the 1998 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets.
Lue quickly went from playing the part of Iverson, to playing Iverson in Game 1 on Wednesday. With Derek Fisher
having an off night, Jackson inserted Lue into the game, hoping to throw a different look at the league MVP, who was well on his way to a 48-point evening. And much to everyone's surprise, Lue matched up well with Iverson, stemming his offensive tide by making him work harder to get open. The Lakers eventually came up short, but not before Lue had made a correctly pronounced name for himself.
"When I get the opportunity to play, I just want to come in and make the most of it," Lue said, after playing 22 minutes in Game 1. "Whether it's five minutes or 20 minutes."
It's a realistic approach for a player who's appeared in only 61 regular season games and four playoff games during his three-year tenure in Los Angeles. Lue was acquired by the Lakers through a draft-day deal with Denver in 1998. The fact that Denver liked him enough to draft him in the first round, and that Jerry West thought enough to make him part of a trade signaled that he was a player with potential. It's debatable whether it will ever truly surface with the Lakers. But for the moment, Lue can expect to see crowds at his locker, awaiting theories on how to guard the league's most prolific offensive player.
"I try to keep the ball out of his hands," Lue said. "I guess you could say I frustrated him because he didn't get as many touches in the second half. I was trying to deny the ball from him as much as possible."
Fisher drew the initial assignment on Iverson, then it was Kobe Bryant
who took a crack. Both watched their offensive output suffer as they tried to stay with Iverson. Midway through the third quarter, Jackson turned to Lue and suddenly, Iverson didn't get as many open looks.
"Lue did a good job on him for about 14, 15 consecutive minutes in the second half, and I don't know what Allen scored, probably four points during that period of time, but he was the most effective," Jackson said. "But you have to realize that he [Iverson] runs hot and cold, and we're not going to think that Ty is the Allen Iverson stopper so to speak."
Jackson maintained that the Lakers would continue to defend Iverson by committee, though it's likely Lue will be a part of that rotation. For the Lakers to be successful, Fisher and Bryant will have to do a better job, with Lue in the bullpen ready to change the pace.
"Whoever is guarding Allen is going to have to expend lots of energy," said Fisher. "Obviously, it takes a lot of energy to slow him down, but it's not about keeping a certain guy from coming out and scoring a certain number of points. It's about doing enough things in enough areas to win and we didn't do that [in Game 1].
As for Lue's future with the Lakers, it would be a fair assumption to say that it is now. He's in the final year of his three-year rookie contract and there's no guarantee the Lakers will re-sign him after the season.
"I can't really say what's going to happen after the season because it's going to be a long process," said Lue. "Hopefully, I get the chance to sign back and be able to play again next year in the league."
More nights like Game 1 will help.
Rob Reheuser is a member of the NBA Editorial Staff.