April 16, 2014

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Cavaliers: Three worth one at the 3?

INDEPENDENCE — The good news for the Cavaliers is they can get just about anything a team would want out of the small forward position. The not-so-good news is it might take three players to deliver it.

Now entering their third season without LeBron James at the position — they went an NBA-worst 40-108 over the first two — the Cavs have three young, emerging players capable of doing some positive things, but all have weaknesses in their games.

Alonzo Gee, who will likely continue in the starting role he manned at the end of last season, is a good finisher and capable defender, but struggles putting the ball on the floor and creating mid-range jumpers.

Omri Casspi, who started at the beginning of last season but lost the job after struggling mightily, understands all the nuances of the game and can do a bit of everything, but he can’t put the ball on the floor and hasn’t shown to be a very consistent shooter.

Free-agent acquisition C.J. Miles can put points on the board, but it sometimes takes a lot of shots for him to do it.

It will be up to coach Byron Scott to sort everything out. All three players will be given the opportunity to earn significant minutes, though one will likely end up doing a lot of sitting.

“I don’t want to talk about last year anymore,” said Casspi, who averaged 7.1 points and 3.5 rebounds while shooting .403 from the field, including .315 on 3-pointers. “I’ve been in the mud for a long time. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. It’s a clean start and a fresh start.”

The Cavs still like Casspi because he’s long (6-foot-9, 225 pounds) and just 24 years old as he enters his fourth NBA season, but he lost confidence last season, when he said his knee bothered him for a “big part” of the year.

Casspi, drafted by Sacramento with the 23rd pick in 2009 and traded to Cleveland prior to last season in the J.J. Hickson deal, returned to his native Israel in the offseason and played with the national team, where he shot 65 percent from the field.

“Just going home and playing in front of my family and friends, playing with my old teammates, I got my confidence back,” said Casspi, who will earn $2.28 million this season. “I lost a lot of confidence last year.”

Scott has not lost faith in Casspi, but with Gee and Miles on board, minutes are not guaranteed.

“We had a long talk after the season,” Scott said. “He was very disappointed with the way he played. I know he’s a much better basketball player than that. I expect him to come back and play much better this year.”

The Cavs are hoping the 6-6, 219-pound Gee, who went undrafted out of Alabama, continues to progress as he enters his fourth NBA season.

“The biggest thing with Zo is to continue to grow,” Scott said. “I think he made leaps and bounds last year. I want him to take another step this year.”

Gee, who signed a three-year, $10 million contract in the offseason, spent the summer working on his ballhandling and mid-range game, but Scott has a simple rule for the 25-year-old: Beat your man in three dribbles or less or pass the ball.

“I’m going to try to get to the rim no matter what,” said Gee, who averaged career highs of 10.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists last season. “If they give me a shot, I’m still going to try to get to the rim. I’m going to use that all the time.”

The wild card at the position is Miles, who signed a two-year, $4 million deal with the Cavs in the offseason. The left-hander spent the first seven years of his NBA career in Utah, but is still just 25 years old after being drafted in the second round (34th overall) straight out of high school.

“I wanted to be here because it’s a great situation basketball-wise,” the outgoing swingman said. “Where I am in my career, I’m still young. I fit in with the youth movement.

“It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be fun.”

Miles isn’t a great shooter — he hit just .381 from the field last season and is at .419 for his career — but he has a scorer’s mentality and is capable of putting up big numbers. He averaged 9.1 points last season, but just 2.1 rebounds and 1.2 assists.

His best season was 2010-11, when he averaged 12.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists, though he shot just .407 from the field.

In Cleveland, Miles will likely battle Casspi for minutes behind Gee. He could also play some at shooting guard behind rookie Dion Waiters, especially if veteran Daniel Gibson struggles or experiences any setbacks in his return from a torn tendon in his foot.

Regardless, the effervescent Miles will likely have a smile on his face.

“I think it’s great to be in a situation to play a game you love,” he said. “We’re blessed t o be able to do it for a living and support our family.

“I don’t feel a little snow or sunshine or whatever should have anything to do with your one purpose, and that’s to win basketball games.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.