(Reuters) - New Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue has a vision of how he wants his team to play, the problem is the Cavaliers do not seem to have the legs for it.
An assistant to David Blatt, who was fired on Friday, Lue signed a multi-year extension to take over as head coach and began his tenure with a 96-83 loss to the Bulls on Saturday.
The Eastern Conference-leading Cavaliers (30-12) are heavy favorites to represent the conference again in this year’s NBA Finals but there has been growing criticism over their form against the top teams in the West.
Cleveland have lost to both San Antonio and defending champions Golden State this month, with the Warriors handing them a crushing 132-98 defeat.
LeBron James, a four-time NBA Most Valuable Player, is the face of the Cavs franchise and widely viewed as a key factor in any coaching decisions made by the team, but he says he was “just as surprised” as his team mates when Blatt was fired.
Lue is determined to compete with the best in the West and wants James and Kyrie Irving to lead the charge.
First comes fitness, however.
“We’re not in good enough shape to play the style we want to play,” Lue told reporters after Saturday’s loss to Chicago.
“We pushed it early. I think we got tired. (Some of our guys) came out early. That puts us in a tough position.
“I think we play the second slowest in the league as far as pace. The vision I have for this team is we have to utilize Kyrie and LeBron’s one-on-one ability in the open floor.
“We haven’t been accustomed to playing that way, it’s something new. I have to do a better job of getting guys in shape.”
The promotion of Lue, who appears to have a strong bond with the players, represents a change in team culture for the Cavaliers and he is pushing a ‘team first’ policy.
The Cavaliers now come onto the court for pre-game warm-up’s as a full unit during home games, as opposed to players emerging individually. “What we needed was a connectedness to each other that we weren’t playing with,” Cavs general manager David Griffin said on Saturday.
“From a chemistry standpoint we were lacking a few things. We had a lack of connected spirit that was problematic for us.”
Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Rutherford