Tony Cartagena covers the Cleveland Cavaliers for ESPN 850 WKNR
CLEVELAND – Timofey Mozgov will not be in the starting lineup when the Cleveland Cavaliers begin their 2016 post-season campaign. Head coach Tyronn Lue has previously confirmed to media members that Tristan Thompson will start at center for the remainder of the season.
At least that’s the plan.
Thompson will be faced with the tall task of out-rebounding and out-playing one of the best big men in the NBA in Detroit’s Andre Drummond.
Mozgov has been a shell of his previous self all season long. When the Cavs traded for him at the deadline last year, he made an immediate impact and was thought to be an absolute bargain while comparing his impact to a miniscule $5 million salary.
Pre off-season knee surgery, that was.
“Mozgov had a bad knee and he shouldn’t have started the season when he did,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said during his weekly radio show ‘Hey Windy’ on ESPN 1540 KNR2 in Cleveland. “He should have been more worried about rehabbing his knee.
“The surgery that they performed last summer was not a success but he felt pressure to play really well because he saw a massive paycheck coming his way. It was the combination of worrying about the contract and an unhealthy knee and a changing role on the team that all contributed to him having a down year.”
Mozgov’s points per game average has plummeted from 10.6 during his time with the Cavs last season to just 6.3 this year. His rebounding numbers have also dipped to below five per game.
Both drop-offs could be attributed to his dwindling number of minutes, averaging almost 10 less than he did last season, but the fact of the matter is that his play hasn’t justified earned playing time.
Last season he started 45 out of a possible 46 games for Cleveland, this year just 48 out of 76 opportunities.
“He had a cyst in his knee that they removed,” Windhorst added in detail to the summer surgery. “The removing of the cyst didn’t completely heal the issue and there’s the possibility that he may need another surgery.”
Windhorst reiterated that an additional surgery is possible but not guaranteed.
Earlier in the year, former head coach David Blatt consistently credited Mozgov’s slow start to a lack of conditioning that was a result of the surgery. While in recovery mode, he was unable to participate on the Russian National Team nor complete much of his usual off-season regimen. Mozgov’s conditioning took place on the floor in real-time, instead of in practice, which may have been a mistake.
“Because the knee was slow to recover, because there is no such thing as minor knee surgery, he did have a conditioning issue when (the season) started,” Windhorst said. “But, the answer to that should have been rest. Not to play through it.
“He played a back-to-back in the pre-season.”
Mozgov has also been sidelined this season with a strained shoulder.
“Timo’s knee issue last year, whether it was anybody’s fault, or circumstance, did not get handled properly, "Windhorst added. "Whether it was the best knee surgeon in the world, or whatever happened, he did not recover properly and he played through it because he felt the pressure of the contract.
“Frankly, the pressure of the contract has really bothered (Mozgov). One of the things that we’ve learned about him is that he is a little bit fragile mentally especially when it comes to something like that.”
After taking a vicious elbow to the throat from the Boston Celtics' Amir Johnson in early March, Mozgov was so shaken up that he was unavailable for a post-game quote on the incident. Not that he was in danger of missing time due to injury, but he physically couldn’t speak and when he was approached, he just pointed at his neck and shook his head.
Lue joked post-game that the pending free agent would most assuredly be alright because of his massive size and extreme strength.
“Some (team) may get him on a contract, I don’t know whether or not it is going to be the Cavs,” Windhorst speculated. “But somebody may end up getting him on a three-year deal where it ends up being a discount when he recovers.”
Listen to ‘Hey Windy’ Friday mornings at 8 EST on ESPN 1540 KNR2 and download the podcast here.