ORLANDO, Fla. -- Channing Frye, who has a reputation as a consummate professional if a journeyman, attempted to play it straight. Richard Jefferson wouldn't allow it.
"They're a good team, they play hard," Frye said after scoring 14 points for the Cleveland Cavaliers in their 109-103 victory over the Orlando Magic, the team that essentially salary-dumped him in a trade last month. "I've got a lot of respect for them."
Jefferson, his Cavs teammate, quickly made Frye uncomfortable.
"You're so politically correct!" Jefferson said. "Be honest, what did you say when you walked in here? In the locker room, what'd you say?"
"I said, 'Good game guys' and 'On to the next one,' " Frye said, still trying to not make a headline.
The Frye acquisition has been fruitful for the Cavs, who gave up two future second-round picks for Frye, and also took on the $15 million left on his contract. After drilling 4-of-6 3-pointers Friday, Frye is 25-of-50 from 3-point range in 12 games with the Cavs. It's the sort of catch-and-shoot big man play that is extremely effective with the team's other personnel.
"I know he feels good about that," said LeBron James, who scored 18 points and didn't keep up the ruse either. "This was definitely for him. He showed up and showed why he's a valuable part to our team now."
Frye's reputation defensively is not strong, but the numbers don't totally bear that out. Frye ranks No. 4 among all power forwards in real plus-minus, just behind teammate Kevin Love. And Cavs coach Tyronn Lue went with Frye over Love in the fourth quarter as the Cavs executed a comeback.
Love missed shootaround because the Cavs said he wasn't feeling well. He was a game-time decision but started. Following the game, he spent an extended period in the training room getting some treatment on his back. So while Love might not have been 100 percent, the decision to play Frye late worked as he blocked a shot and was part of an overall strong defensive finish.
Victor Oladipo, who the Cavs rather infamously passed on in the 2013 draft, scored a career-high 45 points on only 22 shots, thanks to some unconscious outside shooting, and he staked the Magic to an unexpected lead. Not unexpected just because of the talent disparity -- Orlando was without injured starters Elfrid Payton and Nikola Vucevic -- but because the Cavs hadn't lost to the Magic in almost four years, a string of 13 games.
Since taking over as coach in January, Lue has sometimes prioritized offense over defense. As the weeks have passed, the Cavs had played some tremendous offensive ball, but their defense has slowly deteriorated. They entered the weekend 11th in defensive efficiency since Lue took over after being fifth in the 41 games before.
This time Lue went defense first, putting in Matthew Dellavedova to handle Oladipo and slowed him with aggressive ball denial. And he rode Frye and Tristan Thompson, who was a demon in the fourth quarter as he racked up 9 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks in the 12 minutes. Kyrie Irving, playing shooting guard, scored 10 of his 26 points in the final quarter as well.
It's hard to say whether this was a one-time experiment or something that could become routine. Lue has constantly shifted lineups and patterns, looking for consistency from a team that seems as if it can win or lose in an uncountable number of ways. He has been in one long search mode, never really being sure which team he will have show up.
Truth be told, the Cavs sort of acted as if they knew they could beat a ragtag Magic team with just a half effort, Oladipo's performance notwithstanding, and move on to a more appetizing game in Miami on Saturday night. This essentially played out as they had dominant shifts during the second quarter and the fourth and it was all that was needed to beat the Magic, who are 10-26 since Jan. 1.
It's equally a mystery as to whether Fyre's growing role is real and lasting or just a blip. It was just a few weeks ago that Lue played Frye only 10 minutes over the course of four games. Making a proclamation on anything with this Cavs team is a path to folly, at least to this point.
But Frye will always have this one. The team that signed him to a four-year, $32 million deal in 2014 -- and started looking to trade him just a year into it -- had to watch him play the role they once envisioned for him.
"When I came [to Orlando], I thought we could kind of resemble the Phoenix style, not necessarily score 120 points, but fast-paced, spread you out and move the rock around. It just didn't work out like that," Frye said.
"I've got no ill will toward them. Me being on the trading block, that was a mutual thing. When you draft a guy like Aaron Gordon, they wanted to develop that. I understood it, it was part of the business."