Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, prompted by yet another loss, said on Tuesday night that he intends to “make a change” to his starting lineup. Lend him your sympathy. There’s only so much that can be done with this band of overpaid, past-their-prime, defensively inept players.
What possibilities does he have beyond switching out one inadequate point guard for another? Bench his most effective frontcourt? Play four guys until the front office is forced to make a trade? Take himself out of the equation?
But since he says he will be changing the starting lineup, here are his three best bets:
1. Bench Isaiah Thomas
Thomas wants to be the star of his own comeback story, but the player we saw last season has yet to return.
The fiery bursts to the basket that created his folklore aren’t possible without legs underneath him; what was once a strength is now a limitation. Without speed, the 28-year-old has settled for shots on the outskirts, and he’s hitting them at the worst rate of his career (39.1 percent from the field). He used to be a high-volume scorer, but giving Thomas the controls has eaten into his teammates’ opportunities. Over the eight games since his return, I.T. has taken 6.3 shots on average from the perimeter, and has made 28 percent of them. That’s worse than outputs from Marcus Smart, Ricky Rubio, and Lonzo Ball.
2. Reboot Kevin Love
Limiting Thomas until he’s fully ready — should he ever get there after his hip injury — gives Love the chance to perform as he did during Cleveland’s win streak.
Love was pushed to center during the preseason. The change not only spaced the floor (Love, a career 37 percent 3-point shooter, has shot his best from long range since his breakthrough 2010–11 season), it created opportunities for mismatches. If teams switched to smaller defenders in order to chase Love around the perimeter, Love could punish them inside with his back-to-the-basket game.
But Love has taken more than four fewer shots per game in the eight Thomas has played in since returning January 2. (In the two games IT rested over that span, Love had his usual diet of attempts. Thomas also split time between the first and second units in limited minutes during his second game back. Love took 17 shots that game.) Love still needs to be a big part of Cleveland’s game plan; the rest of the roster has been inconsistent at best.
The Cavs will also never survive with Thomas and Love on the court together on the defensive end (especially with Lue’s … schemes?).
Love, who was kicked out of the lunch table this week, also needs his teammates to re-embrace him. Thomas reportedly bashed him during a team meeting attended by Cavs players, the coaching staff, the front office, and maybe even Rihanna (a fierce Bron advocate). Team members also reportedly implied that Love was pretending to be ill during Cleveland’s loss to Oklahoma City on Saturday. (He left the court after three minutes.) Love defended himself, but all does not seem to be forgiven. If the jury would now please turn their attention to Exhibit B —
umm... did jae crowder intentionally leave kevin love on the ground? or was this a misunderstanding? pic.twitter.com/QzWAZA4nMs— Matt Ellentuck (@mellentuck) January 24, 2018
— in which the poor guy is hit in the face, not helped up by any of his teammates, and is stepped over by Jae Crowder.
3. Start George Hill and DeAndre Jordan
Point out a flaw here, I dare you.