For the first time in a while, the Cleveland Cavaliers have some skeptics heading into a season. Yes, LeBron James is present and that always helps but some pundits (and players like Bradley Beal) see some vulnerability in the post-Kyrie Irving era and it isn’t as if the Cavaliers are set up to be a regular season juggernaut.
With that in mind, Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue is ready to execute a (very) interesting lineup change at the outset and it includes starting Kevin Love and Jae Crowder alongside James in a small-ball frontcourt. While that may sound appetizing on the surface, it also means that Tristan Thompson will be coming off the bench after being firmly entrenched as the team’s starting center for multiple years.
Thompson is embracing the change in role, though, and he spoke to Dave McMenamin of ESPN about a new goal. In short, he wants to be the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year.
“I’m going to go for Sixth Man of the Year, put myself in position to do that. Just play hard, though. I’m not going to look too much into it, but if you’re going to come off the bench, might as well have a little goal — and I feel like with the second unit we have and the energy that I bring off the bench, I’ll put myself in pretty good position. Especially when you win.”
It is certainly possible that a message to that extent was coordinated but Lue also referenced the same goal for Thompson and, frankly, it seems quite attainable.
“Tristan has been a big part of what we do. I hated having that conversation, but it was great. He was phenomenal. That’s what it’s all about. You hate having those conversations, but he was great. He was like, ‘Man, whatever you need me to do, Coach. I’ll just go for Sixth Man of the Year. I understand what’s going on.’ … When you have those talks, usually they don’t go that good. But he was great about it.”
While the Sixth Man of the Year conversation is an easy one and certainly something that could appease Thompson, it also appears that he is taking the perceived demotion in stride when it comes to managing bigger, team-based goals. The biggest one? Having a parade in June. Referencing the Cavs’ 2016 NBA Championship, Thompson said “The last time I came off the bench, if history repeats itself, we had a parade in June. So, I’ll take it.”
It would be easy to argue that Thompson is one of Cleveland’s best five players at this stage and that is always worth noting. In the same breath, Kevin Love is likely best deployed at center at this point and the acquisition of Crowder allows that to take place with James playing a hybrid forward role.
It remains to be seen just how much Thompson will end up playing on a nightly basis in the regular season but, as both he and Lue note here, there is no reason that his production has to dip off the bench and, if anything, his exceptional energy on both ends could even ratchet up when combined with less deployment.