Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence to address the health problems that have kept him from finishing three games this season, the team announced in a statement on Monday.
“After many conversations with our doctors and [Cavaliers general manger] Koby Altman and much thought given to what is best for the team and my health, I need to step back from coaching for the time being and focus on trying to establish a stronger and healthier foundation from which to coach for the rest of the season,” Lue, 40, said in a statement. He did not specify any timeline for his return.
Addressing the media on Monday morning, Cavaliers superstar LeBron James said, “I think it’s probably well overdue, understanding what he’s been going through throughout this season. Obviously, health is the most important with everything in life, so I’m not surprised by it at all.”
LeBron James talks about Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue taking a temporary leave of absence from the team to deal with an illness. pic.twitter.com/GBoAinRmtz
— clevelanddotcom (@clevelanddotcom) March 19, 2018
“I knew he was struggling, but he was never not himself,” James added from shootaround on Monday. “He was just dealing with it the best way he could, but he was never not himself when he was around. Obviously, once you leave the gym and things of that nature, when he goes home, we don’t know, but he was the same every single day, even though he was going through what he was going through.”
Previously silent on the issue that led him to leave the bench on multiple occasions this season, including at halftime of Cleveland’s victory against the Bulls in Chicago on Saturday, Lue described “chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year.”
“We know how difficult these circumstances are for Coach Lue and we support him totally in this focused approach to addressing his health issues,” Altman said in Monday’s press release.
Lue is optimistic he will return before the end of the season. The Cavs (40-29) are currently in third place in the Eastern Conference, a half-game up on the Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers.
“While I have tried to work through it, the last thing I want is for it to affect the team,” added Lue. “I am going to use this time to focus on a prescribed routine and medication, which has previously been difficult to start in the midst of a season. My goal is to come out of it a stronger and healthier version of myself so I can continue to lead this team to the championship we are all working towards.”
According to NBA.com’s David Aldridge, Lue will attempt to return as early as next week:
Tyronn Lue will be on a one-week plan to address his health issues, per source. The current plan is to return to the bench next week.
— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) March 19, 2018
Lue is not the first NBA coach to take a leave of absence this season. Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford required one that lasted a month earlier in the year, disclosing a lengthy battle with severe headaches and sleep deprivation. Clifford, 56, also had two stents put in his heart in November 2013.
Cavaliers assistant Larry Drew, who spent three years as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks from 2010-13 and held the same role for the Milwaukee Bucks the following year, has stepped in for Lue on all three occasions he missed time this season for previously undisclosed illnesses — at halftime of Saturday’s game in Chicago, during a Feb. 6 loss to the Orlando Magic and before a Dec. 21 win over the Bulls.
Drew has a considerable task in front of him. The Cavs are still in the process of incorporating newcomers George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson into the rotation after shaking up the roster in early February. They’re also dealing with injuries to Hood, Nance, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and Cedi Osman. Everyone is expected to return by the end of March.
Cleveland is 9-7 since Altman traded half the roster at the Feb. 8 deadline, and they have struggled to find an identity since dealing Kyrie Irving this past summer. Defensively, the Cavaliers have been dreadful, ranking 28th in defensive rating, ahead of only the Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns.
“I don’t know if it’s impacting the team,” Drew said of Lue’s health concerns on Saturday. “I think particularly at this stage of the season — this is the last day of a 13-day road trip — certainly some elements are going to come up. As a head, you wear a lot of hats. You have a lot of responsibilities, and sometimes these things come up and they’re unavoidable, and you just have to deal with it. But we know as a staff, if he’s not feeling up to par, we have to step up, and that’s just what we did.”
Lue took over as head coach after David Blatt’s firing midway through the 2015-16 season and steered the Cavaliers to the franchise’s first championship, upsetting the 73-win Golden State State Warriors in seven games. Questions about Cleveland’s lackluster performance this season have not escaped Lue.
Asked how Lue’s absence will affect the team, James said Monday, “We’re going to find out, but obviously it’s tough — it’s like losing one of your best players. [He’s] a guy who’s pretty much the captain of our ship and has run the thing for the last three years, but everyone has to step up, and we have coaches in place who are ready for that challenge and we have to do our job as players as well. But, like I said, his health is most important, and I look forward to when he comes back.”
The next 13 regular-season games are crucial for the Cavs, and not just from a chemistry standpoint. Just one loss separates them from losing a home playoff seed in the first round, and James is fast approaching a free agency decision at season’s end. The timing of Lue’s leave may not be ideal for Cleveland, but he has the organization’s full support, and everyone wants what’s best for the coach.
The Cavaliers host the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night.
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