November 21, 2014

Medina
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Cavs’ small forwards facing huge task: How to replace LeBron

INDEPENDENCE — The candidates are Joey Graham, Jamario Moon and Jawad Williams.

That’s not exactly a list of who’s who among NBA small forwards, but one of those players is almost certain to replace LeBron James in the Cavaliers’ starting lineup.

“I expect it to be a battle,” new coach Byron Scott said Tuesday following the team’s first practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “All three of those guys at that position obviously want the starting job. They all want to play, and they’re all going to get the opportunity to do that.

Graham

Graham

Moon

Moon

Williams

Williams

“All three of those guys, as far as being a committee, can get the job done. But it’s not just those three. When you talk about damn near 30 (points), 10 (rebounds) and 10 (assists), almost a triple-double, it’s got to come from other places as well. It’s not going to be one guy or two or three. It’s got to be a collective effort.”

There’s a slight chance veteran Antawn Jamison could be in the mix at small forward as well, but he’s expected to play mostly power forward, whether he starts or comes off the bench.

That means James’ successor will be either Graham, a sixth-year pro who has never lived up to the hype that comes with being a No. 16 pick in the draft; Moon, a versatile player who played all over the planet before finally sticking in the league; or Williams, who accepted the Cavs’ one-year qualifying offer after attracting little interest around the league as a restricted free agent. “All of us are in the same kind of position,” Graham said. “Coach opened up an opportunity. We all bring a unique aspect to the team. We can all add a different variety.” Of the three candidates, the 6-foot-8, 200-pound Moon, who averaged 4.9 points and 3.1 rebounds last season, is probably the most talented player. He’s also the player most certain to be somewhere in the team’s rotation.

However, Moon’s ability to defend on the perimeter, hit a few 3-pointers and provide energy also make him the player most likely to provide an impact off the bench.

“I’ve been to a lot of places and in a lot of situations,” Moon said. “Sometimes I started and sometimes I didn’t. I just want to be put in a position where I can help the team win games. I don’t care about starting. It’s all about wins and losses. If I start and we lose, who cares that Jamario Moon started?” Assuming Scott ultimately decides Moon is best-suited to come off the bench, Graham or Williams will probably start, with the other likely to be the odd-man out when it comes to playing time.

In his first five years in the league, the 6-7, 235-pound Graham’s biggest strength has also been his biggest weakness: He’s a fundamentally sound player who won’t hurt his team, but he also goes through long stretches where he doesn’t produce much.

Graham, who has started 76 games in his career, has never averaged more than 7.7 points, 3.7 rebounds or 0.8 assists in a season. He’s been a .485 shooter from the field and has hit .815 at the line over his career, but those numbers are somewhat misleading because he rarely shoots or gets to the line.

Graham, however, is a fairly good defensive player, has good strength and can handle the ball a bit, so whether he wins the starting job will likely come down to what Scott wants out of the position.

“I’m a bruiser,” Graham said. “I can score. I’m well-rounded. I can play multiple positions. That plays well into the coaching philosophy Coach Scott has. It’s a great opportunity for me.”

It’s an equally big opportunity for the 6-9, 220-pound Williams. The St. Edward High and University of North Carolina product has demonstrated the ability to score in bunches, but he’s a subpar defender, poor rebounder and almost never creates for his teammates.

Williams could show improvement in the latter areas if given more playing time than he got with James in town, but the ability to put the ball in the hole will always be his biggest strength.

That seems to further the theory that Scott will likely choose between a fairly well-rounded but unspectacular player in Graham or a player with upside in Williams, though the coach could fool everyone and award the job to Moon or even Jamison.

“I’m going to go with the guy who’s playing the best,” Scott said.

That will ultimately be decided in the preseason, not after one practice. And even when Scott does name a starter, there’s always the chance he could change things up during the regular season.

“It’s the first day,” Williams said. “I don’t pay attention to that stuff. As long as I work hard, that stuff will take care of itself.”

Ready to go

Scott, whose work ethic was sometimes questioned during previous head coaching stints in New Jersey and New Orleans, couldn’t wait for his first practice with the Cavs.

“I woke up at 4 o’clock this morning,” he said. “I was ready to go. I had to force myself to lay in bed for a little while to see if I could go back to sleep.”

Scott showed up at Cleveland Clinic Courts at 8 a.m., three hours before the start of the team’s scheduled three-hour practice. Practice ran about 30 minutes long and players left visibly tired, but Scott said he actually cut a few running drills short because “guys came into camp in a lot better shape than I expected.”

The Cavs, who will hold their annual Wine & Gold scrimmage Friday at 7 p.m. at the University of Akron’s Rhodes Arena, have no two-a-day practices scheduled for the preseason, a change from previous coach Mike Brown.

“I think it’s best to have one good long practice, get it all done and give the guys 24 hours to recuperate,” Scott said.

Tip-ins

  • Cavs big man Anderson Varejao was excused from practice in order to return to Brazil due to the death of his grandfather. A recent MRI on Varejao’s ankle revealed no damage and he’s expected to practice fully when he returns.
  • Scott called veteran power forward Leon Powe, who has had multiple knee surgeries, a “workhorse,” but added “it’s a gradual progression with Leon just to get him going.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.