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Tyronn Lue is not afraid to admit what most Cleveland Cavaliers fans have been feeling since July 2.
He’d rather have LeBron James on his side than in Hollywood with the Los Angeles Lakers, with whom he signed as a free agent last month.
“Of course, I would love to have LeBron James, but now that he’s gone it’s going to be a new challenge,” Lue told Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe. “I think me and my coaching staff, we’re up for it. It’s going to be different, a lot of young guys that we can try to teach and mold them how you want them to be.”
How in the world will Lue’s Cavaliers replace the guy regarded by many as the proverbial “best player on the planet?”
“We want to continue to be exciting, continue to be competitive for our fan base. But it’s hard to replace LeBron James,” Lue said. “Don’t say we’re going to replace LeBron. He’s an irreplaceable player. It’s not replacing LeBron James, the best player in the game for so long, and he’s meant so much to the franchise and every franchise he’s played for — Miami, Cleveland, the city of Cleveland, his family, his friends, coaches, players.
“Everybody he’s been around he’s made better and you can’t replace that. So we’ve got to understand that and continue to keep growing and working collectively and be the best we can be.”
Lue realizes more than anyone just how much the Cleveland roster has turned over.
“I think when LeBron came back [from Miami in the summer of 2014] and we traded for Kevin Love, we didn’t have any draft picks — all veteran guys who could play now and understand how to play and how to win and what it took,” he said. “Now, having made the trades we made during the season and acquiring some young talent through the draft, it will be a different challenge for us. I’m already excited about it.”
The Cavaliers have gone from the oldest team in the league into one with a mix of the young and old. Cleveland now has nine guys on its roster with less than five years’ experience in the NBA to go along with five with 10 or more years’ experience in the league.
Lue, who led Cleveland to the 2016 NBA championship after taking over at midseason for the fired David Blatt, admits this will be uncharted waters for him during his time with the Cavaliers.
“I don’t know [how to mix young and old] because we’ve never had that challenge before,” he said. “I think it will be good because we have some good vets and we’ve always been surrounded by good vets.”
Lue is steadfast in his belief the Cavaliers are constructing their new-look roster in a solid manner.
“I know what we will continue to do is continue to build the culture,” he said. “I think since LeBron came back, [owner] Dan Gilbert has surrounded him with great players, great veterans who are good for the culture.
“Our main focus this summer is continuing to keep building these guys up but also continuing to build the culture we had the last four years [four NBA Finals appearances].”
Lue said the playoffs remain a realistic goal for the Cavaliers, despite the loss of James.
“We’re going to have a young team and there’s going to be growing pains, but I think we have enough talent to make the playoffs,” he said. “But not knowing what’s going to happen during the course of the season, the most important thing is to keep building that culture, playing the right way.”
The Cavs coach is embracing the challenge that awaits him, his staff, his players and everyone associated with the Cleveland franchise with James having taken his talents to Hollywood.
“I’ve grown to love it and it’s been fun,” he said. “Now is a different challenge. I’m up for it. I think our coaching staff is up for it. [General manager] Koby Altman is up for it as well. I’m doing well, I feel good, doing the right thing, continuing to eat better, continuing to work out and I feel good.
“And as long as that continues, I’ll be fine.”