If the Cleveland Cavaliers’ shockingly competitive start seems like a lifetime ago, it’s probably because the Cavs have been killed about a dozen times since their .500 days.
Byron Scott is left to confront the realities of his dreadfully limited roster, and though there are a few useful players in the bunch, he’s been forced to stockpile the lot of them in his starting lineup and essentially leave the bench for dead. The days of Antawn Jamison the reserve are over, and though the newly minted starting lineup of Mo Williams, Daniel Gibson, Anthony Parker, Jamison, and Anderson Varejao can sometimes keep its head above water, the team as a whole drowns because of the reserves’ dead weight.
Scott took notice of his bench’s inability to keep pace, and also took a bit of a shot from the press scrum. From Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Although the Cavs entered Sunday with the most points scored by reserves, when Scott turned to them in the third quarter, the game got away for good. “Our first unit is doing a pretty good job,” Scott said. “I’ve got to find a combination of that second unit that’s going to come in and play the right way and do the right things because as soon as all five [starters] are off the floor, we’re just getting slaughtered.”
J.J. Hickson, who went to the bench when Jamison was promoted, didn’t want to hear that from his coach. “Oh, so he’s blaming it on the bench?” Hickson said. Then he caught himself. “If he feels that way then, that’s the way he feels,” Hickson said. “That’s his opinion. He’s the head coach. He gets paid to make decisions to put players in and it’s up to us to bring life to the game when we get in and cut the other team’s lead down even more. We haven’t been doing a good job of getting that done. But it’s a long season; it’s a work in progress.”
Hickson’s scoffing response is a pretty natural defense, but nothing he says makes Scott any less correct about the bench’s troubles. Cleveland may have the league’s best reserves based on their season scoring average, but over the last five games, the Cavs’ subs have ranked 22nd in points per minute. What’s perhaps worse: they’ve shot a league-worst 34.6% from the field, a painful thorn in the side of any team.
It shouldn’t be all that surprising. Hickson doesn’t have the means to create his own shot consistently, and alongside him on the bench are Ramon Sessions (who can create shots, but only for steady scorers), Manny Harris, Ryan Hollins, Leon Powe, and Joey Graham. Who among them is supposed to score, much less score efficiently?
No matter how Scott rearranges the pieces, this roster is riddled with holes. Every adjustment reveals a different flaw. The only way to really patch things up is to make additions, and the only way to make additions is to start cutting salary and cashing in on what value the roster has left.