As you have probably heard by now, Cavaliers Center Tyler Zeller underwent an appendectomy on Friday at the Cleveland Clinic. Zeller was already off to a rough start after straining his left hip flexor in the Cavaliers’ team scrimmage for members of the military and their families on October 5. While that injury seemed minor and his return to the court was imminent, this surgery has Zeller out indefinitely and popular opinion seems to be that it will be at least a month before he returns to action. While the loss of the Cavaliers’ third-string center may not seem like a big blow at first, it will have several repercussions that will affect the Cavaliers going forward including the following.
- With Andrew Bynum already out, losing Zeller makes Anderson Varejao the only center currently on the Cavaliers’ roster. Considering Varejao’s own injury history, playing him heavy minutes probably isn’t the best idea for the Cavaliers in the long term. This could lead to some of the following scenarios to help fill the minutes at center.
- Tristan Thompson sees some time at canter with Earl Clark taking a few of Thompson’s minutes at power forward. While Thompson is undersized for a center, his activity and skill level should make him able to compete with most back-ups at that spot. Clark has spent most of his career at power forward, so this is no great change for him.
- The Cavaliers will probably make sure that one of the players they keep with their two open roster spots has the ability to play center. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think this will affect Matthew Dellavedova’s chances of making the roster as the third point guard, but it may affect Kenny Kadji’s. Kadji had a great effort in the first preseason game against the Milwaukee Bucks, and while his effort against the Orland Magic didn’t stand out, neither did that of Henry Sims. That being said, Kadji is seem by most as a stretch power forward while Sims is definitely a center first and foremost. The Cavaliers are known to like both players and if Kadji can show that he can guard centers consistently, then his superior scoring may give him the edge in the race for that last roster spot. Despite his vast experience and defensive ability, Desagana Diop has seen fewer minutes than either Sims or Kadji in the preseason and his time as an NBA player seems to be coming to an end.
- With the solid play of Carrick Felix and Sergey Karasev, there is a chance the Cavaliers could trade one of Alonzo Gee or CJ Miles for a backup big. While this is unlikely, the additions of Felix, Karasev, Clark, and even Jarrett Jack have created a glut at the wing positions and there is not enough playing time to go around. Considering Clark cannot be traded for three months as a newly signed player, it would not be a huge shock to see Gee shipped out. His contract for 2014 is a team option, and his defensive skills seem a bit redundant this year with Clark and Felix around. He also does not have the offensive ability of Miles or Karasev. If Gee is traded for a big (once again just a hypothetical), look for either Jermaine Taylor or Elliot Williams to make the team instead of Kadji or Sims.
- While we’re on the topic of the wing players, as stated before, both Karasev and Felix have looked solid this preseason. Last night Karasev’s offensive skills were on full display with seven points and three assists in just 14 minutes of action. However, Karasev was also solid on defense, where he recorded two steals and a block while playing well within Mike Brown’s defensive scheme. While he is just 19 years old, needs to add muscle, and Brown rarely relies on rookies, the argument could be made of the Russian wing to start at small forward. If he is able to be consistently solid on defense, then Clark, Gee, and/or Miles should have to play elite level defense to start over him considering Karasev’s greater offensive efficiency and potential. Karasev also provides the advantage of superior outside shooting, something the starters other than Kyrie Irving have yet to show consistently. This was evident early in the game against Orlando when the Magic packed the paint and practically dared the Cavaliers to shoot from the outside.
The first two weeks of Cleveland Cavaliers training camp have been filled with excitement and hope. Despite the unfortunate news surrounding Zeller, this Cavaliers team looks like it will be both much improved and fun to watch. It will be interesting to see how the roster takes shape and player roles are defined over the remaining few weeks of camp.