INDEPENDENCE: Ten years ago, the San Antonio Spurs won a championship built around 7-footers David Robinson and Tim Duncan. The Los Angeles Lakers more recently won titles with giants Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the post.
Since the Miami Heat came into power, however, NBA teams have started moving away from size. The Heat often play without a true center, which forced the Spurs to start 6-foot-7 Kawhi Leonard at power forward in last summer’s NBA Finals.
What does any of this have to do with the Cavaliers?
The Cavs spent the summer building flexibility into the roster that should allow them to play big or small, whatever they choose and whatever the situation dictates. As the Cavs prepare to open their preseason schedule today at home against the Milwaukee Bucks, they can begin tinkering with three-guard rotations with Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Jarrett Jack. When Bynum returns — and there are those within the organization sounding more and more optimistic that Bynum will indeed be a contributing factor — they can produce a front line of 6-10 Earl Clark, 6-11 Anderson Varejao and the 7-foot Bynum.
“We have a lot of different matchups,” C.J. Miles said. “And then Tristan [Thompson] allows us to be big and quick at the same time because he’s agile and he moves well. He can guard pick-and-roll and he and Earl can guard stretch shooters.”
Clark, incidentally, could prove to be a sneaky acquisition. Although the signings of Jack and Bynum absorbed most of the attention during the summer, Clark showed terrific length on the wing during Saturday’s Wine & Gold scrimmage. He won’t be a prolific scorer, but he should prove to be a gritty defender at what is becoming the NBA’s most explosive position.
Cavs coach Mike Brown was on the Spurs’ coaching staff during that title run 10 years ago and he has witnessed the size evolution within the game in the past decade.
“We wouldn’t have thought about having Kawhi at the 4. We had two 7-footers,” Brown said. “The days of Duncan and Robinson, Olajuwon and Sampson, Pau [Gasol] and Bynum, it seems like it’s been a while. But Indiana has shown you can have two bigs on the floor and have a chance, plus some length on the perimeter. That’s all you’re asking year in and year out is, ‘Hey, can we have a chance?’ ”
No one is talking about the Cavs competing for a championship this season, but they could certainly be in the running for the league’s most improved team following an active summer.
And now they have the lineup possibilities, at least on paper, to match up against any team in the league. That doesn’t guarantee they’ll be successful in stopping teams like the Heat and Pacers, but they at least have a chance.
“We have bigs who can shoot, we have bigs who can guard in the post, we have bigs who can score in the post and same thing with the guards and point guard,” Varejao said. “This is good for us because guys can really play. It’s not like guys [have the size] but cannot play or get in the game. This should be good for us.”
Tyler Zeller’s strained left hip is expected to keep him out of today’s game. Zeller was a limited participant in practice Monday after injuring the hip during the team’s scrimmage Saturday when he slipped on a slick floor. The injury isn’t considered serious, and Zeller said on Saturday he didn’t expect to miss much time.
The Cavs endured their longest day of camp on Monday when Brown worked them for the better part of five hours. A lengthy film session was followed by instructional time. By the time they actually got around to practicing, nearly two hours had already passed.
The day went so long, when the players huddled together at the end of practice, veteran Jarrett Jack joked they’d have to be back for this morning’s shootaround in two hours.
Miles joked the Cavs only have two offensive plays to run in today’s preseason game and one of them is the standard pick-and-roll. Brown said he crammed five new plays into Monday’s practice, otherwise Miles would’ve been accurate.
“And the two plays we had in we put in so we could work on defending them, because they’re standard NBA sets,” Brown said. “So C.J. is close.”
Former Cavs assistant Hank Egan and former NBA assistant Tim Grgurich were both visitors at Monday’s practice. Egan coached both Brown and General Manager Chris Grant in college and Grgurich has also influenced Brown’s coaching career.
Grgurich is an old-school coach, proven by his sleeping arrangements while he’s in town.
Brown offered for him to stay at his home in Westlake, but Grgurich refused. Instead, he slept at Cleveland Clinic Courts.
When Brown asked him why he stayed at the facility, Grgurich said, “Kid, this is training camp, you don’t leave the gym.”
Grgurich slept on the couch in the players’ lounge, and when housekeeping arrived at 3 a.m., he moved onto a massage table for the rest of the night.
“I’ve been begging him to come stay at the house,” Brown said. “He said, ‘No coach, during training camp you don’t leave the gym.’
“I said, ‘Well I am. I’ll see you tomorrow.’ ”
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.