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2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers exit interview: The idea of Rodney Hood was better than the reality

Hood has potential, but he has yet to fully realize it consistently.

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NBA: Finals-Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

There are two ways to look at Rodney Hood’s half-season with the Cavaliers. In one hand, there is a player who had moments where his potential was fully realized — a nine-point fourth quarter against the Nets or a standout Game 3 in the NBA Finals, for instance. In the other hand, there is a player who was frustratingly inconsistent and didn’t adapt to a new situation as hoped — falling out of the rotation in the playoffs and refusing to enter a game don’t do his reputation any favors.

For Hood, though, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. For one, he was injured multiple times with the Cavs, with a sore back and sore Achilles hampering his regular season. He also entered a chaotic situation where there was not the benefit of practice or training camp for him to get acclimated; it was all done on the fly with everyone feeling each other out from the trade deadline on.

Give Hood a summer to work and a training camp to get to know his teammates and there’s a good chance he’ll be a better player, or at least a more comfortable one. It also cannot have been easy for him to go from a career-high 27.3 percent usage rate with the Jazz before he was traded to a career-low 18.3 percent with the Cavs. Such is life playing with LeBron James.

But there’s also no denying that Hood was disappointing for the Cavs. He shot worse from three-point range, got to the line less and was never aggressive enough on offense for Tyronn Lue’s liking. When he did get on the floor, he often settled for contested mid-range shots instead of using his long frame to get off shots at the rim or at least draw a foul. It’s also concerning that, at the rim, he was below-league average finisher with Cleveland:

Say what you will about Jordan Clarkson and his limitations as a player, but Lue knew Clarkson would go on the floor and play his game; he could not have said the same about Hood.

His struggles come at an interesting time in his career. He’s 25 years old — 26 at the start of next season — and about hit restricted free agency for the first time. It comes at a time when there isn’t a lot of money to be spent. All it takes is one team, but it’s hard to see any one team throwing a significant amount of money at him. Even if a team believes in Hood — and maybe it’s the Cavs, as Hood did tell VICE Sports the team told him it wants him around — he has not proven himself to be as good as his potential suggests he might be. Maybe it’d be in his best interest to take his qualifying offer of $3.4 million for next season and try and cash in as a unrestricted free agent in 2019.

And yet, there are moments — moments that make someone watching him play think he’s a star in the making. Take Game 3 of the Finals, for instance. Hood was given a shot to play again after a long time sitting on the bench and he delivered. In 25 minutes, including time on the floor in the fourth quarter, Hood was was 7-11 from the field and was as close the fully realized version of himself as he’d been in some time.

The Rodney Hood that breaks down Draymond Green — maybe the best defender in the NBA — off the dribble like this is someone any team would want and every team needs:

And look how easy it was for him to get a good look off vs. Shaun Livingston, a good, long and heady defender. Would a coach trust Clarkson to get off the same shot at a critical point in a close game?

Had that Hood been around all season, he would have been a staple of Lue’s rotation and perhaps supplanted J.R. Smith as the Cavs’ starting shooting guard. Cleveland could have used another creator around LeBron this seasonGeorge Hill was just not enough — and Hood may have been the best option. That was likely the Cavs’ plan in acquiring him — with or without LeBron, that skill is incredibly useful — and why Lue was always harping on Hood to be more aggressive and attack the basket.

But Lue also could not have counted on Hood to be that night and night out. That’s what makes him so infuriating and so frustrating all at once; he follows up a 7-11 performance in Game 3 with a 4-14 night Game 4.

He is the best version of himself one night and a liability the next. As long as that remains true, the idea of Hood will always be better than the reality.