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Even without LeBron James seeing a second of action, the fans who made the trip to Quicken Loans Arena saw plenty of star-power in the squad’s perennial Wine & Gold Scrimmage on Monday night.
With the preseason looming just two nights away, the inter-squad scrimmage was the coaching staff’s opportunity to mix and match – carving out combinations and rotations among a loaded veteran roster. One moment, future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade was the Wine team’s shooting guard; by the middle of the second quarter, he was running point for the Gold squad.
Wade still hasn’t played in Cleveland with the man who helped recruit him – as LeBron continues to rest the left ankle he rolled in Wednesday night’s practice.
Cleveland’s newest addition spent much of the night distributing the ball, but he stopped short of calling himself the club’s backup point.
"I’ve always had the ball in my hands, my whole career,” explained Wade. “So it’s not really playing point guard, it’s just being a playmaker more so than anything. That was one thing for me that I was excited about: I like playing with shooters and I like playing with big men that can roll. Tristan can roll and we have enough shooters on that team.”
With such a deep team, Tyronn Lue will have the opportunity to take different rotations for a test drive without losing much productivity. The first major move of the preseason will see Kevin Love sliding into the center spot with Tristan Thompson coming off the bench.
After the scrimmage, Lue talked again about moving Love to the 5 – where the Cavs like the way he’ll be able to spread the floor, the fact that he’s a solid passer and will create a mismatch for opposing bigs.
But Lue also revealed the difficult side of changing the starting lineup – and the conversation he had with Tristan, who’d been in that role dating back to the start of last season.
“(Tristan) was phenomenal, but that’s what it’s all about,” said Lue. “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 the dynamics of what’s going on.’ When you have those talks, it usually doesn’t go that good. But he was great about it.”
Cleveland’s blue-collar big man took the news as one would expect.
”I definitely know where T. Lue is coming from,” Thompson added. “It was definitely tough – I could see that when I was talking to him. But I told him: I’m one guy you don’t have to worry about. I’m a team-first guy and I understand that, at the end of the day, it’s about winning. And if you win, we all look good. It’s about who’s in the game and who’s finishing in the fourth.
”I’m not worried. The last time I came off the bench – they say history repeats itself – we had a parade in June. So I’ll take it.”
The Scrimmage itself was entertaining. With LeBron on the shelf, the Wine team consisted primarily of Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Jae Crowder, Kevin Love and J.R. Smith. The Gold squad was led by Jose Calderon, Jeff Green, Kyle Korver, Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert.
As he’s been on the practice floor in Independence, Iman Shumpert was bursting with energy on both ends – and he scored seven of the Gold team’s first 17 points. Calderon drained a triple from the top of the arc to give Gold a 20-13 edge after one quarter.
Wade was active with both units on Monday. He facilitated much of the night, but also flashed his old form – scoring on a gorgeous finger-roll and getting to the line after being fouled by Tristan.
The three-time NBA Champ also got the biggest ovation this side of LeBron James when he entered the court out of the pregame locker room.
”I’ve been in this building a lot of times when I haven’t played – for the Finals, doing the TV or at the game – and the crowd’s always been great to me,” smiled Wade. “But coming in here, never having been a player on this side, I’m happy to be on this side because I know what (the fans) bring in terms of energy. So it felt great.”
Derrick Rose, who’s been as impressive as any Cavalier through the first week-plus of Training Camp, also got a taste of what it’s like to be on the good guys’ side at The Q.
”Even walking out of this side (of the tunnel) to get out on the court was kind of weird,” said Rose. “But I’m taking it all in, I’m grateful, I’m fortunate to be on this team and … who knows what’s going to happen.”
After tangling with each other since practices began following last Monday’s Media Day, the Cavaliers will be ready to get after a different colored jersey. And they get that chance soon enough – with the Hawks rolling into Cleveland to tip off the preseason on Wednesday night.