Lineup change: Thompson in for Crowder
INDEPENDENCE — Kevin Love’s latest move hasn’t made any of the Cavaliers screaming mad.
There’s a positive change.
Targeted by some teammates during a heated meeting this week, Love is returning to power forward after Cavs coach Tyronn Lue tweaked his lineup in hopes of reviving a team that has dropped 10 of 13 games.
Lue had been resisting changes, but following Thursday’s practice he announced he’s dropping forward Jae Crowder to the second team, returning center Tristan Thompson to the starting lineup and switching Love, who was named an All-Star reserve, back to a position where he is much more comfortable.
LeBron James and his teammates have been consumed in recent days by chaos, highlighted by a pre-practice meeting Monday when players aired grievances. A few targeted their frustration at Love, who went home sick from Saturday’s lopsided loss to Oklahoma City and missed Sunday’s practice.
Lue said he considered other changes, but decided the Crowder-Thompson-Love maneuver is it for the moment.
“It’s not a good time right now,” Lue said. “Just see how this works first and go from there.”
Monday’s clear-the-air meeting didn’t do much good as the Cavs lost in San Antonio on Tuesday. During the third quarter, Crowder ignored and walked around a fallen Love , who was helped to his feet by one of the Spurs players.
Cleveland’s season is crumbling with every loss, and Lue had little choice but to do something to slow the decay. He had several other options, like benching either point guard Isaiah Thomas or struggling shooter J.R. Smith, but Lue felt the move with Crowder made most sense. Lue said Crowder, who started 43 of Cleveland’s 46 games, accepted the demotion without pushback.
“Jae has been playing good the last few games and it has nothing to do with Jae,” Lue said. “He’s been great. He’s all about the right things. He’s all about the team. You hate to make these changes. Not saying it’s permanent, but he’s about the team. Went and talked to him this morning and he said, ‘Whatever is best for the team. I’m all in.’ It was a great talk with him.”
Lue believes Thompson’s defensive ability will help when opponents run pick-and-rolls on the undersized Thomas, who is still finding his rhythm after missing seven months with a hip injury. On the offensive end, Thompson’s screens might free up Thomas as well.
When Lue informed Love of the switch, the five-time All-Star said, “good.”
It’s the best thing that’s happened in days for Love, who has spent much of his four seasons in Cleveland under attack.
While he struggles on the defensive end against bigger players, Love is a matchup nightmare for defenses because of his ability to play with his back to the basket and outside range. He willingly moved to center this season for Lue, who appears to be done with his “small-ball” lineup.
“He felt good about it and I think offensively for him now he can post more 4s,” Lue said. “Get back to posting him more. I think it’s a good adjustment for us. Just have to see how it looks going forward.”
While they’ve made an on-floor adjustment to improve, the Cavs have unresolved issues away from the court. Thompson said the team’s fractured relationships may not heal.
“That’s part of life,” he said. “But at the end of the day when we’re between these lines, we got to play for one another and that’s all that matters. I don’t care if X don’t like X off the court. … As long as you’re on the court playing hard and playing for each other, that’s all that matters to me. We don’t got to talk to each other off the court. As long as we talk on the court, on the defensive end, that’s all that matters to me.”
The Cavs have been at each other’s throats before.
“We’ll be fine,” James said. “We’ve got to work our habits though. It’s not going to be as easy as we’d all like it to be. But at the end of the day, nothing has ever come easy to me, so I actually like what we are. I don’t like losing, I don’t like the way we’ve been losing. But I think it’s going to help us out in the long run.”