Last week, Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue had what he termed a “difficult conversation” with Tristan Thompson. The subject: getting the erstwhile starting center to accept a bench role so he could trot out a small-ball lineup that takes full advantage of the talent base at his disposal. And, creditably, the vital cog accepted his decision, looking at the bright side and professing a desire to go for the Sixth Man of The Year award. In explaining the move, he noted the capacity of All-Star Kevin Love to be a matchup nightmare at the slot and the space it creates for top dog LeBron James and new acquisitions Derrick Rose and Jae Crowder.
Significantly, Lue failed to mention J.R. Smith, who became a fixture in the Cavaliers’ First Five since transferring from the Knicks in 2015. Inadvertent or not, his omission provided the proper backdrop for his second “difficult conversation.” Yesterday, he named free-agent signee Dwyane Wade his last starter, relegating the 18th overall pick in the 2004 draft to the bench. “It’s tough,” he admitted. “You’ve been in position where you went to three straight Finals and you’ve been the starting two-guard. But, like I said, it’s about sacrifice if you want to win.”
Smith, Lue noted, “was great about it, just knows he has to have a different role right now.” Indeed. At first glance, those from the outside looking in might envision the Cavaliers to begin matches with a superior offense, but, with their two best one-on-one defenders tapped to be reserves, likewise a decidedly deficient defense. There is also the question of chemistry for a group that has three new faces at tip-off. Then again, it’s not as if the bench tactician has suitable alternatives. He initially tried to get Wade to run point for the second unit, but felt better with Rose doing the job. Moreover, the latter setup eases the assimilation of immediate past Most Valuable Player candidate Isaiah Thomas, who figures to be back in action by the end of the year.
In any case, Lue will want to “see how it works” before settling on a regular rotation. If the Cavaliers thrive with Love, Crowder, and James taking care of the long ball and Rose and Wade slashing through openings, then well and good. If not, then the wine and gold will be up for more experimentation. If nothing else, they have the depth to do so. And, if nothing else, ego won’t be among the concerns.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is the Senior Vice-President and General Manager of Basic Energy Corp.