Approximately 44 hours after the 2018-19 season ended with a disappointing 19-63 record, the Cavaliers and coach Larry Drew parted ways.
The organization and Drew, who took over when Tyronn Lue was fired after a 0-6 start, “mutually agreed” early Thursday evening that the 61-year-old would not return next season.
That means Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman will begin the search for the team’s fifth head coach since 2013.
Among potential candidates are Denver assistants Wes Unseld Jr. and Jordi Fernandez, Portland assistants David Vanterpool and Nate Tibbetts and Utah assistant Alex Jensen. Jensen, Tibbetts and Fernandez have previous ties to the Cavs and/or their G League affiliate, the Canton Charge.
“We have great respect and admiration for Larry and the job that he did as the head coach of the Cavaliers for nearly the entire 2018-19 campaign,” Altman said in a press release issued by the team. “He brought professionalism, class and steady leadership both this past season and (the) prior four years.
“Larry and I had a productive discussion about this past season, the future of the franchise and the search process that we will shortly launch regarding the head coaching role. Larry respectfully declined to participate in the search process and will not be returning to coach the Cavaliers. All of us in Cleveland wish Larry nothing but the best going forward.”
Drew, whose title was associate head coach under Lue, took over a team that had hoped to contend for an Eastern Conference playoff spot but lost All-Star power forward Kevin Love — he ended up missing 50 straight games — to a foot/toe injury just four games into the season.
It was one of a number of injuries to hit the team, which quickly went into rebuilding mode after Lue was fired and ended the season on a 10-game losing streak.
Drew thanked Gilbert, Altman and the fans in the press release sent out by the organization before adding, “I am very proud of what we accomplished over the last several years together and will always cherish our championship (in 2016). I also want to commend our players this season for the bond that they established, the way they approached their jobs and the hard work and growth they had every day. I am very proud of them and wish them the best.”
Altman, who will hold an end-of-season press conference at 11 a.m. today at Cleveland Clinic Courts in Independence, will now begin the search for a new head coach, with Gilbert also expected to be heavily involved.
Though four-time league MVP LeBron James departed for the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, the job could be enticing for several reasons.
Gilbert is willing to spend money, the Cavs have a decent core in Love, Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson and the team will pick anywhere from No. 1 to No. 7 in the NBA Draft, pending results of the May 14 lottery. A drawing to determine whether the Cavs will enter the lottery as the second- or third-worst team — they tied Phoenix for the second-worst record — will be held today.
The drawbacks when it comes to coaching the Cavs include Gilbert’s history of impatience and the fact free agents have historically been reluctant to come to Cleveland unless they are vastly overpaid.
Gilbert previously attempted to make a splash out of the college coaching ranks, unsuccessfully trying to lure Tom Izzo from Michigan State in 2010 before hiring Byron Scott.
In 2014, Gilbert and then-GM David Griffin hired David Blatt, who lasted a season and a half before being fired and replaced by Lue.
Lue coached the Cavs for the last half of the 2015-16 season, which ended with Cleveland coming back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Golden State Warriors for the only championship in the organization’s 49-year history.
The Cavs, who also reached The Finals in 2007 under Mike Brown and 2015 under Blatt, made them again in 2017 and 2018 under Lue, but things quickly fell apart this season without James, who has been a humongous part of all five Finals appearances in team history.
The Cavs used a league-high 32 lineups this season and didn’t come close to rushing anyone back from injury. They also frequently rested veterans like Love and Tristan Thompson but player morale remained high and youngsters like Sexton, Osman, Clarkson and Nance continued to improve.
“I think my staff did a good job,” Drew said Tuesday prior to his team’s final regular-season game, a 124-97 home loss to Charlotte. “I’m really proud of the way my guys handled this entire situation and certainly of the way I handled it.”
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