CLEVELAND — Larry Drew guided the Cavaliers through a stormy season sprinkled with injuries, losing streaks and NBA lottery dreams.
The 61-year-old coach juggled a revolving roster, pushed his young team while keeping things fun and focused and had a hand in rookie guard Collin Sexton’s startling development.
Drew earned widespread respect from players and peers.
However, he might not get another season.
On Sunday, Drew said he has had no conversations with Cleveland’s front office about his future, and there’s a strong sense around the team that he will coach his final game tonight, when the Cavaliers conclude their season against the Charlotte Hornets, who need to beat Cleveland and Orlando for any chance at the postseason.
The Cavaliers’ hopes — and their four-year streak in the Finals — ended in July, the moment LeBron James chose Los Angeles for his next act.
But while Drew is likely nearing a finish with the Cavs, the appreciation for him remains.
“He did a fantastic job, especially with all the injuries we had, and I wouldn’t say turmoil, but it was tough there at the start,” said star forward Kevin Love, limited to 22 games because of toe surgery and other injuries. “At the very beginning when he took over, he had us playing extremely hard and I think that carried throughout.
“Our attention to detail, our practices, our shootarounds, everything was really dialed in and very professional so I’ve always had LD’s back, always thought very highly of him. I think whether he is here or not next year, he’s going to have a big impact whether it’s on our team or with a different organization.
“He’s 40 years in and he’s still got a lot to give.”
Before Sunday’s loss to San Antonio, the Cavaliers’ ninth in a row, dropping them to 19-62, Drew said he has had no discussions about his future with the team and “we’ve decided to wait until the season is completely over before we discuss that.”
The Cavaliers, who went 6-35 on the road this season, will finish with one of the league’s three worst records along with Phoenix and New York and have a 14 percent chance of winning next month’s lottery, where the winning team will have a chance to select Duke’s Zion Williamson.
Drew inherited a mess in October when the Cavaliers fired Tyronn Lue, the only coach in the past 54 years to lead a Cleveland team to a championship, after a 0-6 start. Amid the upheaval, Drew made it clear he wanted security and rebuffed the “acting” coach tag, saying he wanted some guarantees.
An awkward, nine-day standoff ensued, with the Cavaliers renegotiating Drew’s contract, giving him a raise with a team option for next season. If the Cavs decide to go in another direction, Drew will receive a buyout payment.
Once the contract issue was resolved, Drew went to work and has not slowed. It is not reflected in their record, but the Cavaliers have been mostly competitive despite playing much of the season without Love or Tristan Thompson or J.R. Smith, three key members from the club’s 2016 title team.
Sexton worked through a rough start to blossom, and Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson have all improved.
It has been challenging, but Drew’s steadying presence has eased the pain.
“The one thing I try to share with all of our players is sometimes we go through things and those things shape us into being who we are today,” Drew said before Sunday’s game. “You have to take the bitter with the sweet. You have to take the good with the bad. Not always going to be the way you want it, but you have to learn how to deal with tough times, how to deal with rough times, how to deal with adversity.
“Those are the things that make you a stronger person. Our guys have done a phenomenal job of maintaining a level of professionalism and going out every night and playing hard. We’re not going to play well every night, but we can play hard every night. Our guys have done that. I applaud them for how they’ve been able to handle it.”
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