'Stubborn' LeBron appreciates Tyronn Lue's plan to rest him

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Wednesday, September 28, 2016

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- The challenge for Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue in his first full season at the helm isn't just how to direct LeBron James when he's on the court but also figuring out a way to keep the 14-year veteran off it.

As Cavs training camp opens this week, Lue said maintaining James, 31, for the long haul is a priority.

"I've looked at the schedule," Lue said Wednesday. "Just seeing what makes sense and what's smart when playing four-in-five type of nights. Can't run our guys into the ground. We have to be smart, understand we have to take care of our bodies and take care of our key guys. Make sure that when we get to the playoffs we're ready to go."

The Cavs' schedule actually doesn't include any four-games-in-five-nights scenarios as Lue mentioned, but it features plenty of three-in-four obligations as well as two five-in-seven stretches: one from Dec. 20-26 and another from April 4-10, the latter of which will assuredly include rest dates for James as Cleveland prepares for the postseason.

James played a career-low 35.6 minutes per game last season, upping that workload in the playoffs to 39.1 minutes per game as he made his sixth straight trip to the Finals en route to winning the championship. This came a year after he took a two-week sabbatical in the middle of the regular season to rest his body and came back looking noticeably refreshed.

Considering the way James taking a step back in the regular season the past two years has seemingly allowed him to take two steps forward in the postseason, the four-time MVP was asked whether he has adjusted how he approaches the 82-game grind.

"I try to make myself available for my teammates every night, and I think I've had some pretty good coaches over the last few years, with Erik Spoelstra my last couple years there [in Miami] and now Coach Lue has done a great job of just trying to help me take care of my body," James said, "because I'm very stubborn when it comes to wanting to play."

Perhaps saying more through omission, James skipped over David Blatt -- fired at midseason last year and now guiding a team in Turkey -- as he rattled off his recent coaches.

"[My coaches] also know I've put a lot of miles on my body over the last six years from going to the Finals every single year, so, health and longevity for our team is very important," James continued. He said it's key for the entire staff to keep a close eye on it.

The Cavs' training staff uses biometrics to monitor its players throughout the season, categorizing each player's body as being in the green, yellow or red zone at any given point based on a combination of minutes played, activity on the court, workout, stress, etc. When a player enters the red zone, Lue is advised to sit him out.

So it won't be just James whom Lue will keep on a short leash at times.

"My thing is just making sure guys are healthy, continue to limit LeBron's minutes, and he was at an all-time low last year," Lue said. "Watch Kyrie [Irving's] minutes because we know we're playing for something big. We know when we get to the playoffs it's going to require a lot of minutes, so with those guys and with Kevin [Love], just have to watch guys getting to the red zone.

"I talked about the red zone last year, and our training staff does a great job of making sure they let me know who is getting close to that. For me, in the playoffs, health is more important than anything. As long as we can get to the playoffs healthy, I will be very excited about that."

James went through a personal boot camp last September, practicing three times a day before training camp to try to ready himself. He followed that up by declaring he intended to play all 82 games for the first time in his career. He ended up playing 76 but vowed Wednesday he "could have" played the full slate.

Does he have a game total in mind for this regular season, considering his goal is to reach a seventh straight Finals at the conclusion of it?

"For me it's a mindset, and it's getting my body in 82-game fashion," James said. "Will I play them all? Hopefully, but if not then ... For me, for my mental [state] to say I can go out and play all 82 because my body feels that good. Last year I talked about it and I could've done it. So I just have the same mind frame as I had last year."