INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue, stepping back onto the sideline Thursday for the first time after a nine-game leave of absence to address health issues, said LeBron James assured him all would be well while he was away.
"It was the best thing for me," Lue said at shootaround ahead of the Cavs' game against the Washington Wizards. "Having LeBron's validation, just being like, 'I got it. Take some time off, get yourself ready for the playoffs. I'll take care of the team. I'll make sure everything is good.' And he's playing at a high level, so he's a man of his word."
As well as James played, the Cavs followed suit, going 8-1 since chest pains, a lack of sleep and other complications forced Lue to address his health on March 19.
"He's our championship head coach, so he knows everything about our team," James said Thursday. "He knows how to get the best out of our players, even though we've got a lot of new guys. But just his command, having him back out there, it's going to be good for us."
A change in medication, hiring a new personal chef and a commitment to diet and exercise has Lue feeling prepared to lead Cleveland on what he hopes will be a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals.
The Cavs (48-30) have to get through the four remaining games of the regular-season schedule first.
"I kind of wish I could skip these four games and go right to the playoffs because that excites me," Lue said.
Lue said after "piercing" chest pains kept him in the locker room for the start of the third quarter of a road game against the Chicago Bulls on March 17, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman -- already aware that Lue had been dealing with those symptoms for nearly a year and a half -- stepped in.
"It's been going on for a long period of time," Lue said. "After the Chicago game when I had to leave at halftime, Koby and Dan and those guys said, 'That's enough. You have to get yourself healthy and get ready for the long haul.' So I really appreciate that."
Lue said he feels much better, but the transition hasn't been easy. He still misses some of his favorite treats.
"No Shirley Temples. No orange juice with Sprite," Lue said. "I haven't had soda in almost three weeks. Just I guess the diet has probably been the toughest thing, just trying to eat better, eat cleaner. I got a new chef and she's been great and so that's probably the hardest thing, just trying to eat better and exercising. I should be doing that anyway because I've been a professional athlete my whole life, so it's just good to get back to doing that also."
Beyond his body, Lue got his mind right with help from talks with Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, whose complications stemming from back surgery have caused him to spend time away from his team in the past few seasons.
"All the love and support was very humbling because a lot of coaches from around the league called and [texted]," Lue said. "... And Steve Kerr, who I have talked to a lot during the process, was very good to me. ... He's been great. I really appreciate that."
What was Kerr's message?
"Just to take my time and it's about your health first," Lue said. "We get so wrapped up in the game of basketball, I think we kind of forget about everything else. This was the first time in 20 years where I really just had a chance to focus on me and get myself right and he reminded of that. We get so wrapped up in the game that we forget about real life and it was the best advice I got, so thank Steve for that."
Lue said the Cavs doctors targeted Thursday's game against the Wizards, followed by Friday's road game against the Philadelphia 76ers, as a good trial-by-fire return. There are rigors to coaching Lue cannot avoid, so it's better to experience them now before the postseason begins.
"It was important to come back tonight and just kind of see if I can try to keep up the same routine that I've been having," Lue said. "We know the games will be late and it will be a little bit more difficult, but just with travel and being asleep on the road, and I've got to take my medication because sometimes I can be groggy in the first two or three hours when I wake up. I just got to get in a routine and [see] how that's going to feel."
Lue also expressed his appreciation for associate head coach Larry Drew for managing the team in his stead.
"I thought our coaches did a fantastic job," Lue said. "Larry Drew was unbelievable, stepped into a situation like this and performing the way he did. And he doesn't have a head-coaching job in this league? It's kind of crazy to me. But he did a tremendous job; our coaches did a great job of just stepping up and having my back when I took this time off."
Lue felt confident that he would not relapse and have to miss any more time.
"It was tough all season," he said. "But I'm in a much better place now. I feel good and that's the most important thing."
James feels the same way.
"We all noticed that his health wasn't where he would like it to be or where it should be to just be living an everyday life, let alone being the coach of an NBA franchise," James said. "We're happy he's in a great place now."