Though handed a rather unorthodox preseason schedule, the Cleveland Cavaliers will finish up their second of two exhibitions tonight when they play host to the Detroit Pistons. With 17 players in tow and the roster needing to be trimmed by two roughly 48 hours before their season tips off, tonight’s contest will undoubtedly be used to help Chris Grant and Byron Scott make any decisions they see fit.
In the backcourt, the table appears to be set for Ramon Sessions, Anthony Parker, Kyrie Irving, Christian Eyenga and Daniel Gibson. Though Gibson will get plenty of run in tonight’s game after missing the first preseason contest following a bout with the flu, and Kenny Hayes – the Miami (OH) product – was a camp invite to provide depth at a position that the team already has plenty of, there are two players who by no means have their roster spot locked up: Manny Harris and camp invite Mychel Thompson.
Harris, as has been writ large around these parts, is still missing time with a foot injury sustained during the extended offseason. Thompson – the son of former NBA player and Los Angeles Laker Mychal Thompson, brother of 2011 first-round draft selection Klay Thompson – received plenty of playing time in Harris’ (and Gibson’s) absence on Friday, looking like the first-year camp invite that he is; several shot attempts were blocked, he would only hit one of his seven attempts in 26 minutes of play. But Thompson, unlike Harris, is doing just that – playing.
Where Harris was able to usurp Danny Green at this point last season due to his strong preseason play and willingness to attack the basket, Thompson is taking advantage of his opportunities by working hard in practice, specifically on the defensive end. While some may think the lineage between Thompson’s father and head coach Byron Scott could provide some nepotism, the 6-foot-6-inch wing will be the first to refute such an accusation, stating that, if anything, the man who used to hold him as a little boy is tougher on him than anyone else.
Fellow wing Alonzo Gee appears to have a roster spot locked up, recently getting the start at small forward while Omri Casspi works on getting his right knee back to 100 percent health.
In the frontcourt, the emergence of Samardo Samuels coupled with the relative absence of players like Luke Harangody and Ryan Hollins has been enough to give pause. Obviously, players like Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson and Antawn Jamsion will not be worrying about their immediate future. But with Samuels’ contract being unguaranteed for the 2011-12 season, there was natural concern for his short-term fate. Harangody’s $800,000 is fully guaranteed.
Samuels, he of the off-season work on his jump shot and mid-range game, amassed 15 points, shooting 11-of-16 from the line, seven rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots in 25 minutes of work on Friday. Tonight, he will be given a rest as his minutes will belong to both Harangody and Hollins who were given the infamous DNP-CD late last week. The Notre Dame product has shown plenty of willingness to work on both ends of the floor, but could potentially be found on the outside looking in if the Cavaliers decide that Harris showed enough last season and Thompson’s athleticism is too good to pass up.
Fans may laugh at the lack of magnitude in these decisions, but there was a point last season where the Cavaliers were forced to play with injury-laden rosters and short rotations. There were points last season where Harris, the 15th man, drew starting minutes. And given that only a handful of players are contractually tied to the team beyond next season, each one of these young players are playing for their future as well.
Just who that 15th man will be this season should become clearer following tonight’s game.