During Cleveland’s championship parade, LeBron James told a crowd the NSFW story of how he met Timofey Mozgov in Golden State before a January 2015 game against the Warriors, when Cavaliers GM David Griffin was desperately in need of a rim protector to plug a hole in the team’s interior defense.
“I come down the elevator, and Timo is in the lobby, and I swear it looked like I’d seen the biggest human being I’ve ever seen in my life,” explained James, whose Cavs were mired in a 19-20 start to the 2014-15 season and owners of the NBA’s fifth-worst defense at the time of their trade of two protected first-round picks for Mozgov. “I looked at Griff, and he said, “He’s a big motherf—er, ain’t he.”
Once Mozgov got his bearings, the Cavaliers embarked upon a 12-game winning streak with a victory against the downward-trending Los Angeles Lakers, and from there you know the rest. Cleveland closed out that campaign with a 34-9 record, hobbled to the 2015 NBA Finals, and then submitted a 57-win season that culminated in the franchise’s first title. By the end of that run, Mozgov had lost his starting job to Tristan Thompson and averaged just 3.6 minutes in Cleveland’s 21 playoff games.
The 7-foot-1, 275-pound Russian underwent offseason knee surgery in 2015 and was a casualty of the Cavs going small in a league gone smaller. Yet, that didn’t stop a Lakers team coming off a franchise-worst 15-win season from shelling out $64 million over the next four years for Mozgov’s services. That came with a tip of the cap from Cleveland and a congratulations from James, but the Cavaliers needn’t even bother making an offer to compete with the $17 million annual salary Mozgov got from L.A.
Congrats to my brother Big fella Mozzie on the deal with the Lakers!! Enjoy LA. Dinner on you
— LeBron James (@KingJames) July 1, 2016
Midway through his first season on the Lakers, Mozgov is unsurprisingly the starting center for a team operating well below .500, while LeBron and the Cavs are still perched atop the Eastern Conference standings. So, when asked by 60 Seconds More or Less if he missed Cleveland, Mozzy acquiesced.
“To be honest, yeah, I miss that place,” said Mozgov, who scored two points in 15 minutes during a double-digit loss to the Cavaliers last month that marked his first return to Cleveland as a member of the Lakers. “Everything was special. Being their a few days ago … I miss it. I really miss it.”
Lakers fans may get riled by their $64 million center saying he misses his old team, but I’d be more surprised if Mozgov didn’t miss Cleveland. Besides the natural tendency to miss a place where you enjoyed working, there’s the obvious enjoyment of playing for a title contender that’s gone. Whether Mozgov should be doing more for the Lakers or would be making far less on the Cavs has no bearing on the emotions he experienced upon seeing former coworkers at his old place of work.
You can both miss Cleveland and be excited about playing in L.A., which Mozgov still seems to be.
“So far, we’ve had some tough losses,” he added, “but I think we’re going to be back soon playing the same we played at the start of the season — be together and enjoy the game. We’ll be good.”
Indeed, the Lakers have won three of their last four games — including Mozgov’s 15-point, nine-rebound effort in Sunday’s win over the Orlando Magic — to look more like the upstarts who began the season with a 10-10 record than the bottom feeders who finished December with a 2-14 mark. And if things don’t turn around for him in L.A., Mozgov’s tripled salary might help him find solace.
As for the Cavs, they miss Mozgov, too, or someone like him. At least LeBron suggested as much.
Asked at Sunday’s shootaround about the league-wide trend toward smaller lineups — exemplified by Cleveland’s recent trade for a sharpshooter like Kyle Korver and active search for a backup point guard two years after so desperately dealing for Mozgov — James said of the lack of discussion about a replacement rim protector, “It’s a point of conversation; it’s just that you guys didn’t get it. You guys can’t know everything. It’s almost like the Spurs aren’t talked about, but we all know they exist and we all know how great they are, so some things that are known don’t need to be discussed all the time.”
So, can we expect a trade for a big man in the coming weeks? “I don’t know if we can find one,” added James, “but we’ll see what happens.” Cleveland’s defensive rating (105.0 points allowed per 100 possessions) only ranks 15th this season — worse than they were with Mozgov on the court each of the past two years — and teams are shooting better than 60 percent inside of six feet against them. The immediacy isn’t the same as it was when they gave up two first-round picks, but it sounds like Lebron would like some help defending the rim, if only so he doesn’t have to chase down every block.
One thing we do know: The Cavs won’t be dealing for Mozgov and his annual $17 million price tag, no matter how much they may miss each other. Cleveland will just have to find another big motherf—er.
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