Recent changes within the Cavaliers starting lineup have taken two of the team’s leading scorers (Daniel Gibson and Antawn Jamison) off of the bench and placed them in the starting lineup. Akin to rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic, the struggling JJ Hickson and Joey Graham were relegated to the bench while teammate and opening day starter Jamario Moon hit the inactive list.
But following the Cavaliers 106-77 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, head coach Byron Scott called out his recently depleted reserve unit (“slaughtered” was his exact term) for a 19-1 third-quarter run that would be the proverbial dagger in the evening for the Wine and Gold. After the starting unit brought the game back to within 10, the second unit could provide little in terms of a roadblock as the Thunder never looked back.
Following the contest, Scott said that more changes could be on the way with the reserve unit, only he used some possibly Freudian words to describe them.
“Our first unit is doing a pretty good job,” said Scott. “I just have to find a combination for that second unit so they can come in and play the right way. We just have to find a combination where they come in and keep the same energy, as well as the same pace.
“I’m going to tinker with the bench. I need to see if I can find a combination that can work with the starters that can keep us out of this hole we keep getting ourselves in. I’m going to look at that first before I look at tinkering with the starting unit.”
The willingness to fix the issue is commendable. The unfortunate part is the definition of the word “tinker.”
tin·ker [ting-ker] –verb
1) to busy oneself with a thing without useful results
2) to work unskillfully or clumsily at anything.
Which ties all the way back into the ever-so cliche opening of this post. The Cavaliers only have so many weapons on their roster – if Scott feels that these weapons are all best utilized within the starting five, it is going to be a tough endeavor to expect league-leading bench production from a unit that was just depleted of its two leading contributors.
JJ Hickson, unhappy with his demotion to a reserve role almost went unfiltered following the recent loss (in which he was a team-worst -30 in point differential) before catching himself and delivering one of the bigger 180-type quotes of the year.
“Oh, so he’s blaming it on the bench?” Hickson asked in an irritated tone before righting the verbal ship. ”[Well,] if he feels that way then, that’s the way he feels. That’s his opinion.
“He’s the head coach. He gets paid to make decisions to put players in and it’s up to us to bring life to the game when we get in and cut the other team’s lead down even more. We haven’t been doing a good job of getting that done. But it’s a long season. It’s a work in progress.”
A work in progress that could involve even more changes among the team’s rotation. Rookie guard Manny Harris had been Scott’s sixth man since the initial wave of changes took place last Wednesday. Though he has shown flashes of potential, he drew the defensive assignment of Oklahoma City’s James Harden, who scored 19 points off of the Thunder Bench. Despite the team’s continued appreciation of Jawad Williams (and his 13-point night against the Rockets), he managed only one point in an 0-for-5 evening against the Thunder.
The pending moves could ultimately see Jamario Moon back into the rotation as well as a bout of playing time for rookie forward Samardo Samuels. Despite not making a field goal, guard Ramon Sessions was consistently attacking the rim, getting to the free throw line eight times in 18 minutes of play, something that could subsequently earn him extended time in the near future.
On the outside looking in could be either Williams or Graham as well as second-year Cavalier Leon Powe, who would have to give way to Samuels given the similar skill sets between the two players. To help the reserve unit out, Scott has hinted that he may mix and match starters with reserves throughout the game, not having full hockey-style line changes.
Whatever the changes may be, Cavalier fans should hope that it is not as much “tinkering” as it is a trial-and-error attempt at rectifying the issues at hand. If it is in fact a chemistry or synergy issue, it is up to Scott to figure out which group of guys will ultimately yield the best results of a 48-minute stretch. While there is no doubt that Scott will not work “clumsily” at this endeavor, what the end product is remains to be seen.
(AP Photo/Tom Strickland)