Tyler Zeller was a starting center in the NBA last season before he was ready. After spending a summer adding weight and upper body strength, now he can’t get on the floor.
The signing of Andrew Bynum and a litany of injuries have prevented Zeller from making an impact on the court. After starting 55 games last season as a rookie, he has appeared in 14 out of 24 games this season and totaled 102 minutes.
He has played more than nine minutes four times, and he’s totaled nine minutes during the seven December games.
“You have to give Bynum and Andy [Varejao] credit. They’re great players,” Zeller told reporters Thursday. “It’s tough at times not getting to play after I played last year, but you have to keep the right mindset and hope the opportunity will come, whenever that might be.”
Zeller hasn’t recovered from a terrible start health-wise. He strained his hip during the team’s intrasquad scrimmage the first week of October when he slipped on a wet floor, then missed the rest of camp following an appendectomy. He’s had nagging issues during the season, such as the gash above his eye that needed stitches to close and he rolled his ankle Saturday while warming up prior to the game against the Miami Heat. He also banged knees in practice this week with Dion Waiters, although Waiters took the worst of that collision.
The real problem was the appendectomy which sabotaged all of Zeller’s offseason work. After playing last season at about 240 pounds, he bulked up to 253 prior to camp. He lost nearly all of that weight during the month of October and is just now up to 250. He’s still looking for the other three pounds.
“You’d be amazed … five or six pounds makes a huge difference,” Zeller said. “If I can get another three or four pounds, I think it’d make a big difference.”
Former coach Byron Scott was steadfast in support of Zeller as his starting center last season after Varejao was lost for the season. Scott knew Zeller was overmatched, but insisted he’d be better for the experience in the future.
Shortly after Bynum signed, the Cavs reached out to Zeller to reiterate how high they are on him and reassure him he’s part of their plans. Given the lengthy injury histories to Varejao and Bynum, the common belief throughout the preseason was Zeller would still be able to find minutes somewhere. But both big men in front of him have stayed relatively healthy thus far.
“What everybody keeps telling me is there’s always a chance,” Zeller said. “You never know when it’s going to be, but everybody gets one chance and hopefully you make the best of it. I guess we’ll have to see what happens.”
• Kyrie Irving and Waiters missed practice Thursday. Irving is battling an illness and Waiters has tendinitis in his right wrist. Both players are questionable for tonight’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
• Irving is ninth in the league in jersey sales during the holiday season, the league announced. LeBron James was first, Kobe Bryant second, Derrick Rose third, Kevin Durant fourth and Carmelo Anthony fifth during sales between October and December.
• The Cavs are giving away Varejao bobblehead dolls to every fan in attendance Friday. Varejao, in his 10th season with the Cavs, is the first bobblehead of the season. Future players include Waiters (Jan. 5), Zeller (Feb. 9), Irving (March 4) and Tristan Thompson (April 9).
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.