Cleveland center Timofey Mozgov will be out 10-14 days, the Cavaliers announced Friday, due to the strained right deltoid shoulder muscle injury he suffered in the second quarter of their game against Milwaukee at Quicken Loans Arena Thursday. That will put on hold some of the extensive tutoring and intense expectations the 7-foot-1 Russian has faced from star teammate LeBron James.
Mozgov isn’t the only ailing Cavs player. Guard Mo Williams won’t play Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks at The Q (7:30 ET, League Pass), missing his second game with a sore right ankle. Williams is listed as doubtful to play Monday at home against Orlando, the team reported.
But Mozgov is the player who will be absent from the extra attention he’s been receiving – and not exactly in a coddling manner – from James. Cavs beat writer Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com looked at the “tough love” James has shown Mozgov so far this season as a way to prep him for the important clashes to come. What the big man has been giving them – 7.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.1 bpg in 20.8 mpg – is down significantly from last season (10.6, 6.9, 1.2, 25.0):
James will shout at Mozgov for a failed defensive assignment, criticize him when a play isn’t executed properly, implore the big man to make every part of his 7-foot-1, 275-pound frame felt by the opposition.
James and the Miami Heat often lashed out at Mario Chalmers during the Big Three era. Now Mozgov is getting guff from James in Cleveland.
Cavs associate head coach Tyronn Lue even made an example of Mozgov at practice after the big man was repeatedly scored on in the post by Philadelphia 76ers rookie Jahlil Okafor in the fourth game this season.
Lue showed Mozgov what he wanted — crouch low, lean his weight into the opposition, spring up straight — and then had Mozgov try. Over and over again, Lue stopped to correct Mozgov before hailing James over from an adjacent court to join in. Mozgov appeared anything but comfortable as nearly half the team gathered and watched him struggle.
“The spotlight is going to be on us like that as a team every game this season,” James told ESPN.com when asked about the scene. “He has to become comfortable with it.”
In James’ first stint in Cleveland, he pretty much wrote off J.J. Hickson, according to multiple sources. James was fed up with the big man’s shoddy work ethic. But James admits tough love might not be the best tactic with Mozgov.
“I think I may have to change my approach a little bit,” James said to ESPN.com. “A lot of it is predicated on how much he means to our success, how big of an impact he made once he got here last year. And when you see that type of impact, you expect it. And you expect it every single night and you expect it consistently, but I may have to change my approach how I lead him. I think I’ll figure a way out. I’ll figure another method.”
It’s clear Mozgov is testing James’ patience. When Mozgov collided with Anderson Varejao during a drill after practice this week and fell to the floor, clutching his forehead, James could be heard loudly telling a teammate, “You can’t make this s— up,” gesturing to Mozgov laying down in the paint.
“I’m the leader of this team, whatever it takes,” James said Tuesday. “So if it’s laying into them, I’ll do that. I also lead other ways as well. Obviously that makes more headlines than others, but whatever this team needs I’m going to do. I’m going to hold everyone accountable, including myself. And I expect nothing less than greatness out of all of us and if we’re not able to do that, then I feel like I’m failing.”