INDEPENDENCE: The post-trade deadline remake of the Cavaliers continued on Saturday when Byron Scott decided to make Tristan Thompson his new center.
The rookie has been coming off the bench all season, but will have the opportunity to start the final 25 games, beginning with today’s game against the Atlanta Hawks.
Thompson is averaging 6.7 points and 5.7 rebounds off the bench, but his minutes are about to dramatically increase.
Since Antawn Jamison was not moved at the deadline, the only way to get Thompson into the lineup is at center, where Scott has shuffled through Semih Erden, Samardo Samuels and Ryan Hollins ever since Anderson Varejao went down with a fractured wrist.
“It makes us small, but I figure, what the heck?” Scott said. “He’s been playing that position the last few weeks as a reserve, so let’s start him and see how he plays.”
The move reshuffles an already patchwork second unit that lost its leader when the Cavs traded Ramon Sessions at the trade deadline. The Cavs’ reserves have been among the league’s best this season, but without Sessions and Thompson, they’ll face a new set of challenges.
The only reserve guaranteed to get significant minutes is Daniel Gibson.
The rest of the positions are up for debate. Scott said it’s “50/50” whether newly signed point guard Donald Sloan plays today against the Hawks. Scott has been impressed with how far Sloan has progressed in just two practices, making his appearance today a possibility.
The real promotion, however, goes to Thompson, who was selected fourth overall last summer and has patiently waited behind Jamison. He has already produced three double-doubles off the bench, but now more will be expected of him.
“Your name just gets called earlier and I’ll just come out there and play hard,” Thompson said. “I’m going to do what I’ve done all year — run the floor, rebound and be aggressive.”
Luke Walton arrived at practice Saturday, surprised he was traded but excited for a new opportunity.
Walton was dealt to the Cavs in the Sessions trade, but said he was sick in bed all week and had skipped the Los Angeles Lakers’ most recent road trip. He just started feeling better Thursday when Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak called to inform him of the deal.
Walton has battled a pinched nerve in his back that has bothered him for years, but he said Saturday he hasn’t felt this good in three years. Still, it did little to get him into Mike Brown’s rotation in Los Angeles.
Walton appeared in just nine games for the Lakers, averaging 1.3 points and 1.6 rebounds.
“We weren’t on the same page,” Walton said. “I felt great and was playing well. Mike said he was going with a certain rotation. With the shortened season and not that many practices, there weren’t many opportunities to earn time.”
Walton has played only in the triangle offense throughout his career, but felt comfortable going through roughly 20 plays at Cavs practice on Saturday. That’s good, because the Cavs won’t hold another practice until Thursday in Orlando, Fla.
“Most all of the sets, we had names for them [in Los Angeles] and we’ve gone through them,” Walton said. “I’ve been on scout teams. As soon as I learn the terminology, I knew what the play was. That won’t be an issue.”
The Cavs officially waived Jason Kapono on Saturday and re-signed Manny Harris for the remainder of the season. … Varejao has now missed five weeks with the fractured wrist, but Scott reiterated on Saturday he is confident Varejao will return at some point this season. … Christian Eyenga, traded to the Lakers in the Sessions deal, will report to their Development League affiliate.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://cavs.ohio.com. Follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.