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After almost a full season of being questioned, Tyronn Lue finally gave a definitive answer.
The Cleveland Cavaliers coach has decided J.R. Smith is not a starting-caliber shooting guard. At least not with the Cavaliers.
Not only did Lue opt to start the almost-37-year-old Kyle Korver in Smith’s place Tuesday in Phoenix, he went as far as to say when Rodney Hood returns from a lower-back strain, Hood will supplant Smith as the starter.
Before the Cavaliers whipped the Suns, 129-107, Lue offered little explanation for making the move, which many have been calling for most of this season.
“I just felt like it” was his only response.
And if Hood, who suffered the back strain after one quarter Friday night against the Clippers in Los Angeles and did not return, then didn’t play against the Lakers on Sunday night, had been healthy?
“It would naturally probably be Rodney but because he’s out tonight, we just decided to go with Korver,” Lue said.
It’s difficult to argue with the decision or the immediate results.
First, the results.
Korver, making his first start of the season and only his second since coming to Cleveland, needed only seven shots, six makes, to pile up 22 points in only 23 minutes. Korver made 5-of-6 from deep, 5-of-5 from the free-throw line and added four rebounds and an assist.
To his credit, Smith, too, played well in his new role. He posted 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting, including 2-of-4 from the 3-point line, finishing with 14 points, five boards, one assist and one steal.
“He was pretty good,” Lue said of Smith. “I think he’s a guy that can catch and shoot, obviously, maybe put the ball on the floor at times. Make plays, make plays for himself, so we’ll see how it works out.”
In regards to the change, Smith said he did not know what his role will be.
“Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know,” he said.
“But I think it’s good for the first unit, though,” he continued. “Because we actually get to have someone out there we’re going to run stuff for and who is a threat, as opposed to having somebody who is not an option.”
Smith said his offensive production while a member of the starting lineup was not a product of sets run for him, just coming in the ebb and flow of the game.
“Those are ‘go-get-’em’ buckets,” Smith said. “Those wasn’t like, ‘All right, look, this is what we’re looking for …'”
Smith, 32, has struggled all season. Since losing the starting job to Dwyane Wade for the first several games, then returning to the starting lineup, the 14-year veteran’s up-and-down play (mostly the latter) has been the subject of much discussion.
Averaging 8.3 points per game, Smith is shooting only 39.0 percent from the field, 36.2 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. Despite that, he started the next 61 games in which he played after playing behind Wade in the first three games.
Lue said he and Smith had a positive talk about changing the starting lineup.
“It was good,” Lue said.
Smith, however, said no conversation took place in regards to the change.
“We didn’t talk,” Smith told ESPN. “He sent me a text [Monday], and I told him, ‘No problem.’ I didn’t know that it was a ‘talk.'”
Smith admitted he was surprised by the change.
“That’s all right, though,” Smith said. “I’m not upset about it. I just wish there would have been more dialogue, I guess.”
Smith had another of what has become a slew of unproductive games Sunday night against the Lakers , when he shot only 1-of-7, finishing with three points in 23 minutes.
“My performance has been steady,” Smith said. “It has not been great, it’s been a lot of bad shooting nights.
“So it’s been a pretty steady pace.”
When queried why he finally decided to make the change, Lue was once again short in his response.
“I decided to do it today,” Lue said. “Next question.”
That question will be, when will Hood return? He was listed as questionable for the game against the Suns, but did not play. The Cavaliers (39-28) play at red-hot Portland, winners of 10 consecutive games, Thursday night.
Since coming to Cleveland on Feb. 8, the 25-year-old Hood has played 11 games (making 4 starts) , averaging 10.2 points while shooting 41.1 percent from the field, 32.5 percent from the 3-point line.
In Utah, Hood averaged 16.8 points and shot 42.5 percent from the floor, including 38.9 percent from deep.