LAS VEGAS — Tyronn Lue’s cellphone buzzed for hours last Sunday evening, after LeBron James announced that he would be leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to join his third NBA team, the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Cavs coach had just wrapped up a family reunion in Vegas, saying goodbye to more than 30 relatives he flew in by cashing in years’ worth of credit card points, and found out that another person close to him, James, would be leaving him as well.
Among the names that popped up on Lue’s caller I.D. was Luke Walton, the Lakers’ head coach.
Lue and Walton, former Lakers players though never teammates, share a common bond through Brian Shaw, Walton’s associate head coach and Lue’s teammate on the 2000 and 2001 L.A. championship teams. Lue and Shaw remain close friends.
Lue — the fifth head coach of James’ 15-year career — picked up the phone to talk to Walton, who is set to become James’ sixth head coach, following Paul Silas and Mike Brown in his first stint in Cleveland, Erik Spoelstra in Miami and David Blatt and Lue in the second stint in Cleveland.
“He told me, ‘I have my pen and paper out already. Let’s hear it,'” Lue told ESPN of his initial talk with Walton.
The pair spoke briefly and agreed to meet in Las Vegas during the NBA Summer League. The dinner plans involving Lue, Walton and Shaw were earlier reported by the Los Angeles Times. After juggling schedules, the trio settled on breakfast Monday.
“My thing, I just want to let him know, the s— that people say and you read, Bron’s not like that,” Lue said. “Like, they make it seem like he’s hard on the coach, he’s hard on [the organization]. He’s nothing like that. That’s the most important thing I want to convey with him: that he’s not like that.
“My biggest thing is the zoo comes from just the outside media. It’s really not coming from within because everybody he deals with — Maverick [Carter], Randy [Mims], all those guys — are professional. So it won’t be no problem from any of those guys, and Bron carries himself the right way. So the biggest part is just having to deal with the media scrutiny. But he’s not like that. I don’t want people thinking Bron’s an a–h— or Bron’s this and that because he’s not.”
Walton has also reached out to Spoelstra to pick his brain about coaching James, sources told ESPN.
It’s the same thing that Lue did in 2016, when he was elevated to the Cavs’ head coach after Blatt’s dismissal, and their mutual experience coaching James in the pressure cooker created a natural bond.
“I think talking to Spo helped me because I didn’t know what to expect because, I mean, Bron was my friend before I coached him,” Lue said. “But my transition happened so fast. Luke, he’s going to have a whole summer with him and really putting things in order and do things the way he wants to. Mine, it was on the fly. I get the job, and the next day I’m coaching him in a game. I didn’t have a chance to really see what worked, me and him sitting down and talking about things.
“Spo was helpful with the things that Bron likes, the things he’s good at, whatever. Just getting the knowledge from a championship coach who had dealt with him for four years, I got to see what his strengths were, what he liked, what he didn’t like, how he used him in certain situations and stuff like that. It was pretty important for me.”
Walton has also chatted with two of his closest friends, who happen to be two of James’ former Cavs teammates — Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye — about their experience, and he came away thoroughly impressed by what they had to say, league sources told ESPN.
Lue said James has high expectations for everyone around him but will allow for trial and error.
“He’s going to do everything as far as team-wise,” Lue said. “He’ll try anything once, but if it don’t work, it’s something that y’all might need to discuss and convince him otherwise.”
While James’ final season in Cleveland took its toll on Lue — health complications compounded by anxiety caused him to take an extended leave of absence — he plans to tell Walton to embrace the chance to coach one of the all-time greats as he passes the baton.
“Everybody LeBron has been around, he’s helped and made better,” Lue said. “From his family, to his friends, organizations — Miami’s organization, Cleveland’s organization — the city of Cleveland, the city of Miami, coaching staffs, players. Just think about it. Everybody he’s been around for his 15 years, he’s made better. … He’s been a big part of who I am.”