April 20, 2014

Medina
Mostly clear
35°F

Brown hasn’t named starting small forward

Rick Noland

The Gazette

INDEPENDENCE — If the Cavaliers had Uncle Drew, their small forward situation might be cleared up.

On the day Kyrie Irving’s latest 6-minute Pepsi Max film was released, Cleveland coach Mike Brown still wasn’t ready to name his starting small forward for the season opener Wednesday against Brooklyn at Quicken Loans Arena.

Brown said Monday following practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts that free-agent acquisition Earl Clark worked with the first team the last two days, but stopped short of anointing the 6-foot-10, 234-pounder the starter.

“I’m still not sure what I will do,” Brown said. “Nobody completely separated themselves (in the preseason).”

Clark, given a two-year, $8.5 million contract in the offseason, appears to be the favorite. Not only has he been working with the first team in practice, he started five of the team’s eight preseason games, including the last two, and has the size and length Brown likes.

“It’s challenging to go out there every night and play defense,” Clark said. “We’re trying to get that in our head.”

The 25-year-old averaged 6.7 points, 2.7 rebounds and 0.9 assists in 23 minutes in the exhibition season, but didn’t shoot the ball well, connecting on just .389 from the field, including .222 on 3-pointers (2-for-9).

The other candidates are Alonzo Gee and C.J. Miles, with the latter appearing to be a long shot because he’s not a great defender and doesn’t do much besides shoot, though that’s an attribute Cleveland’s starting front line could use.

Gee was the starter last season and will likely be the choice if Clark is not, but the Alabama product is limited offensively and stands only 6-6, which causes some matchup problems against taller small forwards.

Gee doesn’t do much offensively other than throw down an occasional dunk in transition and stand in the corner and wait for a kick-out pass for a 3-pointer, but Brown doesn’t have a big problem with that because he feels his team will get enough production from the other players on the floor.

The 225-pound Gee had some minor hamstring issues in the preseason, when he averaged 5.2 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists in five games (3 starts). He shot .409 from the field and .556 on 3-pointers (5-for-9), but one 4-for-6 performance was responsible for the lion’s share of the latter.

Miles is easily the most offensively skilled of the three, but he’s never met a shot he didn’t like. The 6-6, 231-pounder averaged 12.0 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists in four preseason games (1 start), shooting .429 from the field and .294 on 3-pointers (5-for-17).

Because nothing was really decided in training camp, Brown is “going to try” to play all three in the early stages of the regular season, regardless of who he picks as the starter.

“Hopefully, it works out,” he said. “If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. (The closeness of the battle) is a testament to all those guys coming into camp in shape and being fairly even, even though they bring different skill sets to the table.”

Clark can play some power forward, but with Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett and Tyler Zeller also available at that position, there probably won’t be any minutes for him at that spot. Gee and Miles will likely get a few minutes at shooting guard, in addition to small forward.

Eventually, one of the three players likely will fall out of the rotation. Miles appears to be the ideal scorer coming off the bench, so he’s probably safe. With Clark looking like he will end up being the starter, that person could be Gee.

Uncle Drew

Irving gladly fielded questions about his latest Uncle Drew feature for Pepsi Max, which was shot over 12 hours at Seward Park in Chicago and kept secret until it was released Monday.In addition to Irving, the film features pro basketball players Nate Robinson (as a musician named Lights) and Maya Moore (as Lights’ significant other, who reminds him he shouldn’t play ball because he had his hip replaced).

“Uncle Drew does what Uncle Drew does,” Irving said of the old, gray-bearded playground player he portrays.

Irving jokingly said he was “going to sue” anyone who revealed anything about the segment ahead of time, then smilingly added he likes that line of work, though he plans to end the Uncle Drew series after two more installments.

“My second job might be as an actor. I think I might go Rick Fox’s role,” he said of the former Los Angeles Lakers small forward turned actor. “I’m kidding. That (acting) stuff just comes naturally to me.”

Asked whether Irving or Uncle Drew played better defense, Brown said, “If you would have asked me that last year, I would have said Uncle Drew. I’m giving the nod to Kyrie right now.”

Bynum update

Brown said free-agent acquisition Andrew Bynum, who missed all of last season with a knee injury and did not play for the Cavs in the preseason, has been participating in five-on-five, full-court, contact drills for seven to 10 days.“He looked good,” Brown said of Bynum’s performance Monday. “Again, it’s a guy who hasn’t played in over a year. He looked good for the time he’s been out.”

The 7-foot, 285-pound Bynum is listed as “out” at the moment because team doctors have not cleared him to play in a game, but Brown stopped short of saying the center would definitely not play in the opener.

Tip-ins

Irving said “that’s over” when asked about comparing himself to other top point guards currently in the league. “Now it’s getting compared to past historic point guards,” he said. Center Tyler Zeller, who has recovered from an appendectomy, went through a full practice and should be ready for the opener, while second-round pick Carrick Felix still isn’t fully recovered from a hernia.

 Nets coach Jason Kidd won’t be on the bench for his team’s season opener against the Cavs because he’ll be serving the first of a two-game suspension imposed by the league after he pled guilty to driving while impaired in July. Kidd will also miss the Nets’ home opener Friday against LeBron James and the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat.

 Cavs backup guard Jarrett Jack turned 30 Monday.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.