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CLEVELAND — Tyronn Lue may not be on the sidelines for the foreseeable future, but his fingerprints will continue to be all over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In stepping aside from coaching as he deals with health concerns, Lue handed over the reins to assistant head coach Larry Drew. But anyone who watches the team (and not its bench) as it handles matters while the head coach is away may not notice much of a difference.
“We’d love to have Ty here and healthy,” Kyle Korver told Bleacher Report of the recent coaching change. “Coach Drew has done this for a long time. He coached me in Atlanta. I know he’s fully capable. We’re still running the same type of things. LD has been Ty’s top assistant for a reason. They really think a lot alike. They coach very similarly. We’re going to miss Ty, but what we’re doing is going to be very similar.”
After fighting health issues for much of the 2017-18 season, Lue—with the help of the team’s medical staff and front office—could no longer coach. Chest pains, spitting up blood and insomnia were just a handful of the symptoms that the 40-year-old had been dealing with behind the scenes. According to multiple sources close to the situation, there had been deliberation about stepping aside earlier this season, but Lue did not want to appear to be bailing on his team while it careened through a post-Christmas stretch that was littered with losses.
As Lue focuses on medication, exercise and altering his diet over the next week, per ESPN, the 59-year-old Drew will take over, bringing with him several seasons as an NBA head coach and a familiarity with this current Cavaliers team, having served as a top assistant since the middle of the 2015-16 season.
While Lue sent a 1:30 a.m. text to let Drew know that the Cavs were “his show,” it appears Cleveland will deviate little from the scheme laid out by the man who won an NBA championship in 2017.
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The Cavaliers still have LeBron James, a player who recorded his third triple-double in four games during a Monday night win over the Milwaukee Bucks. They have Kevin Love back, a player who greeted his team with an 18-point game in his first start since breaking his hand in early February. They have a host of three-point shooters to complement their drive-and-kick style of play. And they still have a head coach who prides himself on in-depth film studies and defense (an area this team needs to improve in).
“[Ty] wants me to go out there and just kind of do what I do,” Drew said. “We will still do the things that he’s implemented, that part of it I won’t change. We will tweak some things, add some things, but for the most part, we will do what we have been doing.”
Drew will still work with Lue between games and will defer to him on any substantial rotation and playing time-based decisions. Starting Love was a no-brainer. As Rodney Hood nurses his back injury, relying on Kyle Korver at starting shooting guard continues to be the next-best option. Things get much stickier, however, when Hood, Larry Nance Jr. and Tristan Thompson return. The former has yet to gain much of a foothold since being acquired, yet has already sent J.R. Smith to the bench while the latter two could potentially see their minutes decline due to the emergence of rookie center Ante Zizic.
As players begin to make their way back from injuries over the coming days, Drew will have to make some decisions, but won’t be making them on his own.
“This is something we as a staff are going to have to make decisions on,” Drew said. “I’ll talk to Ty. He’s got the final say-so. Whatever he wants, then that’s where we are going to go.”
James compared not having Lue on the sidelines to losing a teammate.
“It’s like losing one of your best players, obviously,” James said during Monday’s shootaround. “It’s a guy that’s pretty much the captain of our ship and has done anything for us for the last three years. Everyone has to step up. We have coaches in place ready for that challenge, and we have to do our job as players as well.”
“Its weird,” Love said following Monday night’s game. “But as LeBron mentioned, health is most important and we’d love to see him back when it really counts and we’re making our push. This team, more than anything, knows that health, regardless of the situation, is most important.”
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With 12 games remaining in the regular season, the Cavaliers have plenty of questions left unanswered. Injuries and illnesses are just the tip of their iceberg, and they’ve have had no shortage of dramatic chapters this season.
The trade of their All-Star point guard to Boston, a fiery, finger-pointing team meeting, a 10-person, midseason rebuild, and now the absence of a head coach who has been tasked with attempting to keep the entire book together are but a sampling of the headlines that have surrounded the reigning Eastern Conference champions.
The NBA has a stacked recent history of head coaches being forced off of the sidelines due to health issues, most notably Golden State’s Steve Kerr, who gave way to Luke Walton during the Warriors’ 73-win season. While the Cavs only managed to win 40 games heading into Lue’s announcement on Monday, that he and Drew are being widely categorized as similar may be a blessing in disguise for a team in dire need of some stability.