The Cavs were hoping to overachieve this season, wanting to stay competitive following LeBron James' departure. Instead, they lost their sixth straight game against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night. It's the first time the franchise has started a season at 0-6 since the 1995-96 season.
In all six losses, the Cavs have trailed by at least 16 points. They have yet to lead in the second half of a game. Four of the six losses have been by double figures. Kevin Love, the team's leading scorer, has missed the last two games and has been dealing with soreness in his left foot since early October.
Lue, 41, went 128-83 over three years as Cavs head coach, taking over for David Blatt on Jan. 22, 2016. A few months after being promoted to head coach, Lue helped guide the team to an NBA championship. He also oversaw three consecutive Finals trips.
"My time here in Cleveland was truly special," Lue said in a statement released Sunday afternoon. "I am very grateful for the dedication, sacrifice and support of all the players on our team, the tremendous coaches I've worked with and of course, our incredible fans. Lastly, deep thanks to Dan Gilbert, David Griffin and Koby Altman for the opportunity over the last three years and I only wish the organization success moving forward."
Larry Drew, a former head coach who briefly filled in for Lue last season, was asked to take over — the meeting with him took place nearly an hour after letting Lue go — and is "the voice of the team for now." Drew went 9-1 with the Cavs last season.
According to a league source, General manager Koby Altman also fired assistant Damon Jones.
The players were informed of the front office's decision shortly after, and weren't happy about it.
Altman released the following statement Sunday afternoon: “This was a very difficult decision. It is especially so, considering Coach Lue’s time with us over the last four years, including four straight trips to the NBA Finals. We have respect and great admiration for Ty, not only as a coach, but a person.
“We thank him for the many ways he has contributed to our success, wish him the best and he will always be remembered for leading a very special Cavs team back against the odds to win the title in 2016. This is a different team equation, though, and one that we felt needed a different voice and approach that required this change.”
JR Smith sent out a post on social media expressing his gratitude for Lue.
"Thank you," Smith wrote with a picture from the championship parade. "From three straight finals and a chip to this. Always love."
Smith, one of the holdovers from that title team, had a face-palm emoji in his caption.
Love also posted his thoughts on Twitter.
"You helped me see the big picture," Love wrote. "Life changing experiences and teaching points. Nothing but love and admiration. Know we will work towards something greater together again. THANK YOU."
So, too, did Tristan Thompson.
"Thank you for always believing in me and being the great leader that you are," Thompson wrote. "Three straight finals appearances in your first three years as a head coach is something special."
According to a source, the Cavs had been frustrated with the overall lack of competitiveness, believing the roster is more talented than it has displayed. Lue's rotations, including a lack of playing time for some of the youngsters in favor of veterans like Smith and George Hill, has also been a point of contention. That loyalty may have contributed to Lue's ouster.
That natural push-pull was evident the last few games. While both Lue and members of the front office were against tanking, Altman and others wanted Lue to strike a better balance — with rookie Collin Sexton, Sam Dekker and David Nwaba, who had a breakout performance when finally given a chance against Indiana on Saturday night.
The Cavs rank 29th in defensive rating for the second straight year despite a change in personnel. Lue, who first made his mark as a defensive assistant, implemented an unproductive switch-everything concept to open the season before shifting the last few games.
Cleveland will host Atlanta on Tuesday and Denver Thursday night before heading to Charlotte and Orlando for a two-game road trip.