By Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writer
SACRAMENTO, CALIF.: The trickle-down effect of the Luol Deng trade can be felt in the Cavs’ rotation, particularly at power forward.
Two weeks ago, when Andrew Bynum was initially excused from the team, it appeared to create an expanded role for rookie Anthony Bennett. Even coach Mike Brown said he needed to remain patient with Bennett and allow him to play through mistakes.
But the acquisition of Deng has sharpened the Cavs’ focus. It’s clear now the playoffs are the goal, meaning Brown now must play the guys who give him the best chance to win. Right now, that isn’t Bennett.
In seven games since admitting he needed to be more patient, Brown is playing Bennett 10 minutes a game. That figure is skewed by the 17 minutes he played in a blowout win against the Philadelphia 76ers, otherwise it’d be even lower. Brown used Earl Clark as his primary backup power forward in the two games with Deng on the floor.
Brown’s reasoning is simple: Clark was playing well as the backup power forward earlier in the season before Brown switched him back to the starting small forward. Clark again struggled with his shot while playing on the wing, so Brown wants to give him the chance to rediscover his stroke at the position where he’s most comfortable.
“I’ll still play A.B. [Bennett] if I feel like I need to or if I feel like he’s playing better than the guy in front of him,” Brown said. “This isn’t a thing where I’m off A.B. because my patience is worn out or anything like that. Earl was playing great at the 4. I took him out of his comfort zone … I’m going to give Earl an opportunity to see if he can get his rhythm back at the 4 spot. Simple as that.”
On nights when Clark is struggling and he’s not comfortable using Bennett, Brown can use a three-big rotation of Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller, as he did in Friday’s win at Utah. But he can’t get away with only playing three bigs every game.
Clark’s best attributes this season have been his length and his ability to shoot 3-pointers. But he was only shooting 24 percent (9-for-40) in his last eight games prior to Sunday. Clark conceded all the position changing has prevented him from really getting into a rhythm, but barring an injury to Deng, Clark’s lone position the rest of the season should be in the post.
“Of course it has been tough, but the business is basketball,” Clark said. “I have to find a way to get going. It’s tough for me to keep switching positions, but I’m capable of doing that so it’s no excuse. I just have to find a way to make shots.”
First-year Kings coach Mike Malone was a top assistant under Brown during the LeBron James glory years. Of all the things Malone learned during his time in Cleveland, what stood out most was Brown’s ability to empower assistant coaches by giving them a voice.
“He had no ego, no insecurities, no paranoia, which is very rare in this business,” Malone said of Brown. “He allowed me to coach. He gave me a voice. That really aided my development.
“We were such a competitive team and we were on TV so much, so all the freedom he gave me to coach allowed for me to make a name for myself.”
Given his previous ties to Cleveland, Malone seemed an obvious candidate last summer after the Cavs fired Byron Scott, but the team moved quickly to bring back Brown. Malone landed in Sacramento and brought Chris Jent with him. Jent served as an assistant with Malone in Cleveland and spent one year with Scott before returning to Ohio State.
“He’ll be a head coach in the league one day,” Malone said of Jent. “Without a doubt.”
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former first-round pick of the Cavs, visited practice on Saturday and addressed the players. Johnson was a three-time All-Star who spent 12 seasons with the Phoenix Suns after the Cavs traded him shortly after drafting him.
Johnson went into a career in politics and played an integral role in saving the Kings from moving to Seattle last season.
“He’s a prime example of life after basketball,” C.J. Miles said. “It’s really cool to see somebody you watched as a kid, who was exciting to watch and one of the better point guards in the league, to see him succeed off the floor and become a mayor.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.