CLEVELAND (AP) — Cavaliers All-Star Kevin Love is being moved after all — from forward to center.
Love, who has been the subject of trade speculation for three years in Cleveland, will be the club’s new starting center, coach Tyronn Lue announced Monday night after the team played an intra-squad scrimmage at Quicken Loans Arena.
Lue has experimented with Love at center during training camp and believes the new-look lineup will create matchup problems for opposing centers as well as open the floor for LeBron James, Derrick Rose and others.
“He’s a great passer,” Lue said of Love. “Fives (centers) have to get out and try to guard him on the pick and roll with LeBron and D-Rose and those guys making plays, so it’s going to be tough for those guys. We liked it.”
Center Tristan Thompson will come off the bench, and newly acquired forward Jae Crowder will take Love’s former spot, Lue said. Crowder, acquired this summer in the Kyrie Irving trade, is a strong defender.
Lue said he spoke to Thompson about the switch and “it was great.” Thompson started all 78 games at center for Cleveland last season. In 2016, he made just 33 starts and the Cavs went on to win the NBA title.
“I told him I’m one guy you don’t have to worry about,” Thompson said. “I’m a team-first guy. I understand that at the end of the day it’s about winning and if you win, we all look good — whether you come off the bench or you start. And it’s not about who starts the game, it’s about who is in the game in the fourth and who is finishing it. So, I’m not worried. The last time I came off the bench, if history repeats itself, we had a parade in June. So, I’ll take it.
“I’m going to go for Sixth Man of the Year, put myself in position to do that.”
Lue has more options this season after Cleveland’s roster was overhauled with Irving being traded to Boston and the additions of Rose, Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Isaiah Thomas and Jeff Green.
Wade will likely be Cleveland’s backup point guard until Thomas recovers from a hip injury, but Lue said he hasn’t committed to that idea just yet.
As for Crowder, Lue said his defensive presence will free up James.
“With Jae starting at the four, LeBron’s able to roam freely on the defensive end,” Lue said. “Jae will take the toughest matchup between the 3s and the 4s and LeBron will be able to roam and kind of quarterback our defense. Being that back line defense, talking, communicating, and also being able to pick off passes when guys are throwing bad passes. I like LeBron in that role because he’s great at being the help guy, being in the right spots at the right places, so I think it will be good for us.”
For now, James is sidelined with a sprained left ankle sustained last week in practice. Lue said the three-time champion will not play in Wednesday night’s exhibition opener against Atlanta. James’ injury is not believed to be serious, and the Cavs will make sure he’s fully healed before he plays.
Lue said he expects James on the court at some point in the preseason. Cleveland opens the regular season on Oct. 17 against Irving and the Celtics. •
By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
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