CLEVELAND: The long-term future of the Cavs’ backcourt still includes Dion Waiters playing alongside Kyrie Irving. That’s no longer the short-term plan, however.
Coach Byron Scott made the surprising change in his starting lineup on Wednesday, inserting the red-hot C.J. Miles and benching rookie Waiters. Scott made the decision on his own, although General Manager Chris Grant didn’t try to dissuade him.
Scott said he wasn’t punishing Waiters or trying to get his attention and others around the team insisted Waiters has done nothing wrong. This is simply Scott’s way to try and bring “balance” to a 7-25 team.
“I’m just trying to find some balance and make us a better basketball team,” Scott said.
Entering Wednesday’s game against the Sacramento Kings, Miles averaged 16.2 points in his last 11 games, shooting 47 percent overall and 51 percent on 3-pointers. That streak began when he replaced an injured Waiters in the starting lineup for four games. He capped it with a season-high 33 points Saturday at Brooklyn.
Scott denied it at the time, but conceded Wednesday he briefly contemplated leaving Miles in the starting rotation when Waiters’ sprained ankle healed. But he held to his belief that a starter can’t lose his job over an injury and reinserted Waiters.
Waiters began Wednesday averaging 14.2 points and shooting 36 percent, the lowest of any regular rotation player. The Cavs have worked on cleaning up the form on his jump shot, and Scott continues to impress upon him the importance of getting to the rim.
Scott said Waiters wasn’t happy with the benching. Since he returned from the sprained ankle, Scott repeated the most important thing was to get him minutes alongside Irving so the two could grow comfortable together. While this move goes in direct contrast of that, Scott hinted the change could be temporary — although he said he isn’t sure how long he’ll stick with it. He typically assesses things in 10-game increments.
“Like I told Dion, this is not permanent,” Scott said. “I still have to figure out what’s the best for the team. Not the individual, what’s best for the team. That’s the most important part.”
Typically tight-lipped Kings General Manager Geoff Petrie said in recent days troubled center DeMarcus Cousins will not be traded despite his recent problems.
Cousins has now been suspended three times this season — twice by the league and once by the team, the most recent incident following a halftime confrontation with Kings coach Keith Smart.
Cousins’ suspension lasted only a couple of days while rumors and reports swirled the Kings would look to trade him. Smart and Petrie insist that isn’t true.
“We’ve got a talented young player that’s 22,” Smart said. “You just don’t put that on the curbside. You’ve got to grow that player.”
Smart is a former interim coach of the Cavaliers who finished the 2002-03 season after John Lucas was fired. Smart went 9-31 over the final 40 games and was replaced at the end of the season by Paul Silas.
It was Smart’s first stint as an NBA head coach. He was also an interim coach with the Golden State Warriors and initially got the Kings job on an interim basis. He began Wednesday 31-59 in parts of two seasons with the Kings.
“When you first start off, every coach thinks he’s ready to take the NBA by storm,” Smart said, adding the best advice he received in Cleveland was to learn the league first. “All the experience from starting here helped me in what I’m doing today.”
Smart remains close with former Cavs owner Gordon Gund, joining him in San Francisco every year for his fundraiser event that promotes the fight against blindness.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.