"I just think being the leader of this team, I don't think he thinks he can take games off, because, you know, guys being hurt and going through a rough patch, and now new guys coming in," Lue said before the Cavs' 112-89 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. "So, I think he's trying to lead and lead by example … I think we still got to be smart about the situation, but [the training staff] say he feels good."
Friday was the 58th game of the Cavs season and the 58th that James played in. He recorded a triple-double (18 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists) in 37 minutes of action.??
Last season, James rested in the Cavs' 11th game of the season and played in 74 games total.
Cleveland came into the season with eight new players, then went through a rotation shuffle in late December through early January when Isaiah Thomas and Tristan Thompson were worked back onto the court after rehabbing injuries and are in the midst of more change since dealing away six players and adding four more in their place at the trade deadline.
In January, James stated his intention to go 82-for-82.
"I told you I want to play every game," James said. "If my health continues as it is right now, then that's what it is."
James, 33, has picked up the nickname "Benjamin Button" by Lue because of his ability to seemingly age in reverse. Lue was surprised to hear Friday that James has never played in all 82 games. The most games James played before resting was in 2008-09 when he played the first 81 before sitting out the season finale. James' good friend Chris Paul of the Houston Rockets played all 82 games in 2014-15 and told ESPN's Michael Wilbon he has held bragging rights over the four-time MVP ever since.
The subject of James resting came up Friday because Lue chose to sit James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving when the Cavs traveled to play the Grizzlies last December. Cleveland's big three did not even make the trip with the Cavs that game, contributing to a growing debate in the NBA about when player rest is appropriate.
Player rest was eventually labeled a "significant issue for our league" by NBA commissioner Adam Silver in a memo distributed to all 30 teams in which Silver threatened "significant penalties" to NBA owners if their players rested in a manner that would be viewed as detrimental to the overall NBA product.
"I really forgot all about it," Lue said of the controversy surrounding his decision to rest James, Love and Irving last season. "And I don't even remember the backlash."
When a reporter reminded Lue that he later referred to the game as a "forfeit" by Cleveland, it jogged the coach's memory.
"Oh yeah," Lue said. "Yeah, I had to apologize. OK. One of those games, like I said, sorry for the fans who had to go through that, because they come to see LeBron, Kevin [and Kyrie]. Just had to be smart, resting our guys on the back-to-back, and like I said, I was sorry for the fans that they had to go through that."