INDEPENDENCE: At various points since the Cavaliers acquired Mo Speights from the Memphis Grizzlies, coach Byron Scott has been asked if he has considered benching Tyler Zeller and moving Speights into the starting lineup permanently. At every juncture, Scott has steadfastly stood behind Zeller.
So it was no surprise when Scott answered the same way when he was asked again if Speights had a chance to supplant rookie Zeller as the starter following Speights’ brilliant first half against the New York Knicks.
“Still like Tyler,” Scott said. “He’s our starter.”
What Scott can’t say, but what has been implied throughout the organization is that Zeller is a long-term fixture on this roster. Speights is not. He could opt to leave via free agency at the end of the season, but even if he exercises his player option and returns, Speights’ remaining time with the Cavs is limited.
If the Cavs ever become the championship contender this front office envisions, Zeller likely won’t be the starting center — but he’ll still be an integral role player off the bench. That’s why Scott loves the experience Zeller is gaining this season, even if he has been outmuscled and overwhelmed at times during his first tour of the NBA.
Zeller returned to practice Tuesday following a 48-hour bout with the flu that provided him with two IV bags and a trip to the hospital Sunday while taking away about five pounds in what Zeller hopes is only water weight.
He is expected to play tonight when the Cavs host the Utah Jazz, but Dion Waiters’ status is still questionable. He has the same bug that infected Zeller, but Waiters caught it a day later, which meant he wasn’t at practice on Tuesday. Even though Zeller did make it through the entire practice, it’s still not assured he will play tonight, but all parties sound hopeful.
“I made it out of bed,” Zeller said. “That’s a victory for me today.”
Zeller rotated between the couch and the bed the past two days, but did muster enough strength Monday night to watch the Cavs blow a 22-point lead to the Knicks from his couch. He watched Speights make all 10 of his shots in the first half, then go 0-for-4 in the second half.
Scott wasn’t happy with Speights’ effort on either end of the floor in the second half, when Scott said the Cavs appeared to stop playing while waiting for the clock to run out.
When Speights is making his mid-range jumper, as he was shortly after the trade with the Memphis Grizzlies, he looks like a force in the middle and a key reserve. When it isn’t falling, or when he makes silly turnovers and gets lost defensively, some of the shine erodes from his game. That’s what Scott saw in the second half of the loss to the Knicks.
“I thought in the first half, he was really focused and into it,” Scott said. “The second half, I thought he probably stayed in the locker room from a mental standpoint.”
Still, Speights’ overall numbers with the Cavs have been impressive. He is averaging 12.6 points and 6.2 rebounds in 17 games since the trade in part because his playing time has increased. He is playing 22 minutes a night, compared to his days with the Grizzlies, when he averaged 6.6 points and 4.7 rebounds in 14.5 minutes.
Speights understands his role and realizes his starting role was brief.
“Tyler’s back so now I’ll go back to the bench,” Speights said. “It’s Tyler’s spot.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.