LeBron James sitting out Cavs' preseason opener; Tristan Thompson embraces 6th man role
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James sat on the bench nursing a left ankle injury when the Cleveland Cavaliers
took the court for their annual Wine & Gold scrimmage Monday, and
he will not play in the Cavs' preseason opener Wednesday against Atlanta, according to coach Tyronn Lue.
James, who turned his ankle in a scrimmage last Wednesday while stepping on the foot of rookie Cedi Osman, has not practiced since, but is no longer in the walking boot that he wore for a couple of days following the injury. Lue said James would play at some point during the preseason.
Cleveland has been extra cautious with James in past preseasons, not wanting to risk any long-term injuries that could affect him during the regular season and playoffs. James has played in just 10 of the Cavs' 20 preseason games the past three years.
Not seeing James with the Cavs' starters wasn't the only difference in Cleveland's starting five. Lue started Kevin Love at the 5 and Jae Crowder at the 4, moving Tristan Thompson to the bench. Lue has now named James, Love, Crowder and Derrick Rose as his opening night starters, only holding out on whether J.R. Smith will continue to start at shooting guard or if Dwyane Wade will take his spot. Wade started in James' place Monday but also spent significant time playing point guard with the second unit.
Lue said he told Thompson, who started all 78 games he played last season, about his planned lineup shift late last week.
"Tristan has been a big part of what we do. I hated having that conversation, but it was great," Lue said. "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."
Thompson finished 10th in Sixth Man of the Year voting in 2015-16, when he played 48 of 82 games off the bench at center behind Timofey Mozgov. He became a starter for the entirety of Cleveland's championship run through the 2016 playoffs.
"I'm going to go for Sixth Man of the Year, put myself in position to do that," Thompson said after the scrimmage. "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."
Thompson, 26, accepted Lue's decision in stride.
"It was fine," he said. "I definitely knew where T-Lue was coming from and it was definitely tough, I could see 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. 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."
Lue was pleased with what he has seen out of his new-look starting lineup so far, even when missing James' presence.
"Just gives us spacing on the floor," Lue said. "[Love] is a great passer; 5s 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."