The Cavaliers are down two games to none, holding onto any inkling of hope they can find as they head back to Cleveland to avoid losing the NBA Finals to the Warriors for the second year in a row. All hands are on deck, everything is on the table, and Ty Lue just shattered the “in case of emergency” glass and pulled out Rodney Hood.
”We’re going to give Rodney a chance,” Lue said Tuesday at the Cavs’ practice. “He’ll get a shot, and see how he does. He’s been working, staying ready. So we’ll see.”
In professional wrestling, the announcing phrase “By god, is that [wrestler’s name’s] music?” connotes a high-energy excitement as they enter a match. Rodney Hood’s signature entrance music would be a half-hearted somber trombone that is somehow hopeful only because it has to be. Hood will play meaningful minutes for the first time since Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals after he somehow lowered expectations to zero on a team that could use him.
About that. Hood, who is still 25 and more than a few years away from being able to use “washed” as an excuse for riding the bench, has played a total of four minutes in the Finals. He began the playoffs by averaging 18.8 minutes a contest in the series against the Pacers, but played only seven minutes in the Game 7 win. His minutes dwindled to 12.9 per game in the series sweep of the Raptors, and Hood didn’t play at all in Game 4, notably refusing to enter during garbage time. It was the worst possible look. During the conference finals against the Celtics, Hood got minutes only in the three games the Cavs lost that series—all blowouts.
“I was playing at such a high clip when I got traded,” Hood told The Undefeated. “And then, this is my first time having DNPs in life. The first time shooting two times or five times in a game.”
It wasn’t supposed to go like this for Hood. After three seasons in Utah, he expected to become the primary scoring option following Gordon Hayward’s departure in free agency. Instead, he was usurped by rookie Donovan Mitchell, who was too good to play second fiddle, let alone pupil, to Hood. Hood’s departure made sense, and when it came via a trade to the Cavaliers at the deadline in February, the landing spot seemed perfect. Who doesn’t want to play with LeBron James? Hood had been shooting a career-high 38.9 percent from 3 and 42.4 percent from the field this season on the Jazz as a bench option. He was supposed to be the perfect 3-and-D wing Cleveland needed to get back to the Finals.
The Cavs got to the Finals, all right, but it was in little part thanks to Hood. He has languished on the bench in these playoffs like a ball boy more so than a key contributor. Lue has seemingly played everyone but him.
“At times when I may lose a little bit of confidence because of playing time or whatever, I look back to my Utah highlights a lot on YouTube just to remind myself that that was this [season] when I did those things,” Hood said, sounding like a player with a severe lack of confidence. YouTube highlights is a new low. In the Undefeated piece, Hood acknowledged the pressure of playing on a team led by LeBron had been tough to adapt to.
Conventional wisdom tells us that playing with LeBron is a boon for a player’s game, especially if you’re a shooter, like Hood is supposed to be. But it’s undeniable that the spotlight is never brighter than when you share the court with a player who has lived up to the “Chosen 1” tattoo across his back. Entering that situation halfway through a season can be a culture shock. Hood didn’t help himself by refusing to go into a game, and there’s no excuse for that, but his case is a relatable one. Not everyone has been conditioned to shield off pressure like LeBron, or thrive under it how he does. His teams also can’t afford in-season development. You’re either good enough to play or you’re not. Hood has fallen into the latter category.
But Hood has undeniable talent too, and it’s hiding below the surface of a player thrown for a loop in a foreign situation. The Cavs desperately need wing scoring and better defense. Given how much LeBron has to carry for the Cavs to have a shot, any meaningful contribution from Hood that helps the King get a win in the Finals has the power to turn Hood’s negative playoff stint into a narrative of redemption.