INDEPENDENCE — Three players are battling for two spots in the Cavaliers’ starting lineup. Five others are battling for the final three spots on the 15-man roster.
Center Anderson Varejao, power forward Tristan Thompson and point guard Kyrie Irving are entrenched as regular-season starters as Cleveland enters its exhibition finale tonight at Quicken Loans Arena against Indiana.
That leaves rookie Dion Waiters and veterans Alonzo Gee and C.J. Miles battling for the shooting guard and small forward spots, with Miles the only one in the running at both positions.
Signed as a free agent over the summer, the 25-year-old Miles has played the best of the three. The left-hander has averaged 12.3 points on .429 shooting in seven preseason games, but that guarantees nothing because coach Byron Scott might decide his team is better with the eighth-year pro coming off the bench.
Waiters, the No. 4 pick in the draft out of Syracuse, has been up and down, but the 20-year-old has shown enough good signs that he’s still battling Miles for the starting shooting guard spot.
Waiters is averaging 8.0 points on .360 shooting. He’s shown the ability to get to the hole and also been a surprisingly good defender and passer, but his jumper has been inconsistent and he’s struggled when the ball has not been in his hands.
Waiters is almost certain to be the starting shooting guard at some point this season, so Scott must weigh immediately throwing him in the fire and letting him suffer some ups and downs vs. bringing him along slowly.
Gee, who signed a three-year, $10 million contract in the offseason, is averaging 6.7 points on .464 shooting. Though he’s had a number of games where he’s done next to nothing, the Alabama product is still battling Miles for the starting small forward spot.
“I’m going to feel pretty comfortable no matter what lineup I put out there,” Scott said Monday following practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts.
Scott has started Waiters and Miles in recent exhibition games, but said he’ll go with a different lineup tonight, though he declined to be specific.
“I want to see if this lineup (tonight) can be a little bit better than the lineup I’ve had the last three preseason games,” said Scott, adding tonight’s starters have worked together in practice for several days. “I want to see how they play together, then I’ll make my final decision on who’s going to start (in the season opener) and all that stuff next week.”
Asked how big a role tonight’s game would play in determining his starters for the Oct. 30 season opener at The Q against Washington, Scott said, “I don’t know if it will be a gigantic factor, but it will at least give me some information.”
Tonight’s game could also help determine the final two spots on the roster, though the Cavs have the luxury of having a full week between their exhibition finale and season opener.
Rosters must be submitted to the league by Monday, and a maximum of 15 players can be kept. The Cavs currently have 17 players in camp.
Twelve players — the six already mentioned and Omri Casspi, Daniel Gibson, Jon Leuer, Samardo Samuels, Tyler Zeller and 32-year-old Luke Walton because of his $6.1 million contract — are guaranteed jobs.
That leaves 6-foot-11 center Micheal Eric and forwards Kevin Jones and Luke Harangody battling for two spots and point guards Donald Sloan and Jeremy Pargo battling for the other.
Because of his legitimate size and the fact the Cavs have a lot of forwards, Eric is likely to stick, leaving Jones and Harangody battling for one position. Sloan, who has played better than Pargo in the exhibition games, would seem to have the edge for the other spot.
Regardless of who he keeps, Scott will enter his third season with the Cavs with much more confidence in his bench players than he had in his first two years.
The coach also knows he has the option of changing his starting lineup if his initial choices don’t get the job done.
“It gives me a great feeling to look down that bench and know I’ve got more options,” Scott said. “I don’t know if it will be a 10-game benchmark (for judging the starters). It could be five games, it could be 15. I’m not quite sure.
“But I do know when I look out on the floor, if the guys on the floor aren’t doing exactly what I need them to do, I can pull them out and put somebody in who will get the job done.”
- Irving sat out the second half of practice after he took an inadvertent elbow to the eye from Miles. Scott said the injury was minor.
- Scott joked that Miles, an important player in Cleveland’s plans, will face no discipline measures for elbowing reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Irving. “Can’t cut that guy,” the coach said with a laugh.
- Harangody has been bothered by a sore knee.
- WHO: Cleveland vs. Indiana
- WHAT: Preseason finale
- TIME: 7 o’clock
- WHERE: The Q
- RADIO: WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.