CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers have a new starting center and power forward.
Coach Tyronn Lue confirmed after the annual Wine & Gold Scrimmage on Monday at Quicken Loans Arena that Kevin Love will move from power forward to the middle, with LeBron James and recently acquired Jae Crowder starting at the forward spots. Previous starting center Tristan Thompson will come off the bench.
“Tristan’s been a big part of what we do,” Lue said. “I hated having that conversation, but he was great.”
Thompson, whose new goal is to win the NBA’s Sixth Man award, started 15 games in 2014-15 and 33 in 2015-16, but he was the starting center when the Cavs beat the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals.
The seventh-year pro was on the floor for the opening tip for all 78 games in which he appeared last season, as well as the entire postseason.
“It’s fine,” Thompson said of coming off the bench. “I definitely know where Ty is coming from. I’m one guy you don’t have to worry about. I’m a team-first guy.”
In theory, the move accomplishes a number of things for the Cavs, foremost among them having an offensive-minded, 3-point shooting center in Love, with Thompson providing defensive intensity and offensive rebounding off the bench.
“It gives us spacing on the floor,” Lue said of Love at center. “He’s a great passer. (Centers) have to get out and guard him.”
Equally important, it creates a starting spot for Crowder, who was acquired along with Isaiah Thomas, Ante Zizic and first- and second-round picks in the trade that sent Kyrie Irving to Boston.
Crowder is listed at 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds, but he’s a strong, rugged defender who Lue views as interchangeable with the 6-8, 250-pound James when it comes to guarding opposing forwards. The plan is for Crowder to take the toughest assignment each night, thus giving James more opportunities to play free safety.
“LeBron will be able to roam and quarterback our defense,” Lue said. “I like LeBron in that role because he’s a great help guy.”
Thompson will still get plenty of playing time off the bench behind Love — and sometimes with him — as Cleveland’s only other big men are 34-year-old perimeter player Channing Frye and the untested 20-year-old Zizic.
Jeff Green (6-9, 235) and Richard Jefferson are also capable of playing both forward spots for a Cavs team loaded with talent.
“It spreads the floor,” recently signed Dwyane Wade said of starting Love at center. “It puts other five men in uncomfortable positions. He’s one of the best shooting big men in the league.
“Coach is going to play with different lineups throughout the year. He has the talent to do that.”
Still undecided is who will start at shooting guard. James didn’t play in the scrimmage because he’s nursing a sprained left ankle — he also won’t play Wednesday when the Cavs host Atlanta in their preseason opener — so Wade and J.R. Smith both started on the Wine team along with point guard Derrick Rose, Crowder and Love.
Wade or Smith will come off the bench in the regular season, but Lue has not yet made that decision.
“My ego is not that big that I wouldn’t play any role they ask me to play,” Wade said.
After beginning the scrimmage with the starters, Wade switched to the Gold team in the second period and racked up five assists while serving as the point guard with reserves Kyle Korver, Frye, Green and Zizic. Korver, who made four of six 3-pointers, was particularly effective while playing with Wade.
“I like it,” Wade said of running the offense. “It allows me to be a playmaker, which I love. There’s so much talent on this team. I’m trying to get used to all the weapons we have.”
Rose is a rose
Still just 28, Rose had three great drives to the hoop, including a nifty Euro step around the 36-year-old Calderon, who also played very well offensively.
“I probably traveled,” Rose said. “It’s something I’ve been working on.”
Rose has been impressive throughout training camp and will start until Thomas is fully recovered from a hip injury, which the Cavs are hoping occurs at the beginning of January. The veteran is not the slightest bit concerned about eventually coming off the bench.
“I’m not in it for stats,” Rose said. “I’m in it to get us wins.”
With eight new players projected to be on their 15-man roster, Rose said “of course not” when asked if there was enough time for the team to jell before the Oct. 17 season opener, but quickly added, “We’re pros. We’ve got to figure it out.”
A number of Cavs players used social media to reach out to Las Vegas shooting victims, their family members and city residents after the mass killing at a concert Sunday.
“Pray for Vegas!!” James posted on his Twitter account. “What the hell is going on people!?!? My prayers sent to the heavens above for all the families.”
Iman Shumpert posted on Twitter: “Goodmorning, continue to keep love in our hearts. Spread love always. My heart out to all those affected by Vegas shooting. #prayforpeace.”
Smith got more political, posting on Twitter: “Can’t wait to hear what y’all ‘president’ say about this one!!”
- The Gold team, which consisted of reserves (plus Wade in the second period), won the scrimmage 58-56. Three 10-minute periods were played with a running clock, with the game called with 15 seconds left in the third.
- Wade got a tremendous ovation when he walked onto the floor for pregame warmups and James got an even bigger one when he began taking part. When the two were shown on the video screen, the approximate 13,000 fans who picked up free tickets for the event went bonkers.
- Zizic scored six straight points in the second period against a gassed Kendrick Perkins.
- Rookie Cedi Osman didn’t play due to back spasms.
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