Fair or not, it was time for the Cavaliers to move on

Byron ScottI still remember the day Byron Scott was hired to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers.

I remember driving in my car and thinking to myself, “You know, I think I really like this hire. Even if LeBron does leave, at least the Cavaliers will play an exciting brand of basketball and be fun to watch.”

Three years later, Byron Scott is no longer the coach of the Cavaliers, and I find myself thinking about how refreshing this is because maybe now the Cavaliers will be fun to watch again. I would call that irony, but in Cleveland, we know it as reality.

It’s funny because up until about three weeks ago, I was positive Byron would be back next season. My confidence in the wisdom of that had long since deteriorated, but I felt that in the spirit of fairness, Byron probably was going to get another year to see what he could do with a healthy roster.

Of course, nothing about Byron Scott’s tenure in Cleveland was fair. It wasn’t fair when the best player on the planet walked away from the franchise before he could even coach him in a single workout. It wasn’t fair when The Left Behinds refused to play and suffered an NBA record losing streak. It wasn’t fair that Anderson Varejao couldn’t stay healthy when the team needed him the most. It wasn’t fair that Chris Grant was giving Byron Scott undrafted D-League players and forcing him to give them meaningful NBA minutes. It wasn’t fair that Byron had to coach a starting five containing two rookies and two second-year players. And it certainly isn’t fair that he was fired before he could see his rebuilding work through to the end.

Unfortunately for Byron Scott, professional sports aren’t about fairness. And even more unfortunate for Byron Scott, firing him at this time was absolutely the right move for this franchise.

The Cleveland Browns once gave Eric Mangini a second year out of fairness. Everyone knew it wouldn’t work. Mike Holmgren was the new boss and new bosses like to have “their guys” in key roles. Eric Mangini isn’t a Mike Holmgren guy. But because Holmgren felt it wouldn’t be fair to Mangini to fire him after one season, he decided to let him coach a 2nd year. It was an enormous mistake that caused the Browns rebuilding project to freeze in time, treading water while everyone around them in the NFL was moving forward.

So no, firing Byron Scott was most definitely not fair to him. But teams cannot make decisions based on fairness. They need to always be doing what is in the best interest of the franchise. The Cavaliers didn’t work for Byron Scott…Byron Scott worked for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Ultimately, the Cavaliers are going to do what they feel is best for their franchise, whether that is fair or not.

So why was this the best move for the Cavaliers? Well, it certainly has nothing to do with wins and losses. I’ve seen plenty of Byron supporters saying it doesn’t make sense that the team built rosters that were designed to lose, and then fired Byron for not winning. That’s not the case.

Byron Scott was never expected to win games. Despite some casual lip service about the playoffs being the team’s goal this season, nobody expected this team to make the playoffs. I predicted the Cavaliers would go 34-48 and finish 10th in the East. But even that felt a little optimistic to me at the time. I was ready for a 30 win season. So obviously 24-58 is a pretty disappointing record. But that’s not why I think firing him is the right move, and I don’t believe it’s why the Cavaliers made this move.

It ultimately comes down to common sense, confidence, and timing.

There’s an inherent quality to coaching in the NBA. Sure, the teams with the best players usually win. But when you watch NBA teams play, you know a well coached team when you see it. When you watched the Cavaliers, they showed all the tell-tale signs of a poorly coached team.

There was no offensive identity to this team. Byron came in 3 years ago and said we were going to see a high tempo running team with a Princeton-based offense in the half court sets. Other than the offense initiating from the high post, there was little resembling the Princeton offense. Not much ball movement, atrocious spacing, not enough moving without the ball. Everything boiled down to isolation plays and a lot of stationary dribbling. Sure, the Cavaliers had a good thing going with Andy and Kyrie running the pick and roll, but good coaches need to adapt when players get hurt. One thing that should never happen is a team not have an identity.

As for this fast break running team stuff, the Cavaliers were 11th in the NBA in fast break points in Byron’s first season. Last year they were 25th and this year they were 24th. The Cavaliers were 28th in the NBA (or, third-worst, if you prefer) in fast break efficiency. If you are a coach preaching fast break, high tempo offense, the team should not be 3rd worst in fast break efficiency regardless of injuries.

Sure, the overall offensive efficiency has gone up, from 29th to 24th to 19th this year. But the defense has never been better than 26th in efficiency. This year the Cavaliers were dead last in opponents FG%, 25th in opponents’ 3P%, 25th in opponents’ PPG, 29th in defensive eFG%, and 27th in defensive efficiency. Nobody was expecting the Cavaliers to finish in the top 10 in these categories or anything like that. Not with the injuries to key players.

But the team has to show some sign of life. Byron had to give Chris Grant something…anything…that they could point to as positive momentum and signs of development. Instead, the defense stood and watched pick and rolls, incapable of being bothered to dig in and give the effort that is required to either fight through screens or to make a good, crisp switch. And in the 2nd line of defense, players were always late on their help rotations, signaling a stunning lack of communication and defensive intensity.

Sure, the players are culpable here as well. But at the end of the day, it’s the coach’s job to make sure players are giving effort. To make sure communication is happening on defense. To make sure the players are pushing the tempo if that’s the style you want to play.

Three years of losing can do a lot of damage to a team. For all of his shortcomings, Byron certainly deserves credit for holding the morale of the team together. His players seemed to genuinely like him for the most part. I like Byron Scott and I think he can be a good coach somewhere else. But over the last month, it has become more clear to me than ever that Byron Scott just isn’t the right coach for this team.

And that leads to the last point of why the Cavaliers made this move. And this is maybe the most important one: timing. Next year is the watershed season for the rebuilding process. Another year like this and we can officially say the rebuild is a massive failure. I’m not saying the team needs to make the playoffs next year. But it’s time to get out of neutral and to start moving forward. Build an identity, show some improvement, breathe some life into this team.

If the Cavaliers did the “fair” thing and gave Byron another year, they would’ve had to have had 100% confidence that Byron was the man to take this team to the playoffs and beyond. Because firing Byron Scott in the middle of next season is the worst case scenario. Certainly a worse scenario than perhaps unfairly dismissing him now.

The Lakers waited to long to remove a coach they didn’t have confidence in. And it pretty much derailed their whole season. If they weren’t confident in Mike Brown, they should have fired him at the end of last season. And the for the Cavaliers, if they didn’t have confidence in Byron Scott, the time to move on was right now. And based on what Byron Scott has showed us for three seasons, I don’t know how Dan Gilbert and Chris Grant could have confidence that he’s the right man for this particular job.

I’ve felt for most of this season that a losing culture was settling in. That’s a hard thing for any coach to undo. But as this season wore on, it felt like the players had lost the will to fight for wins. This began to look like a team that, maybe didn’t “accept” losing, but that walked onto the court every night believing they were going to lose. When teams went on runs, there was a “here we go again” look on their faces and they were unable to keep from spiraling out of control. It’s a coach’s job to change that demeanor, but it’s hard for a coach that can subconsciously be associated with the losing culture.

So it was just time. It’s time to move forward and bring a new voice in the locker room. Sometime that’s all a team needs. Since we all love the Oklahoma City model so much, we can liken this to Scott Brooks taking over for PJ Carlesimo. PJ is a damn good basketball coach with a world of experience. But that wasn’t what the Thunder needed. They needed a new voice. A refreshing sense of new air. A spark and some excitement.

Like Carlesimo, Byron is well respected and has a ton of basketball experience and knowledge. But it wasn’t what these young players needed. They need their Scott Brooks. And so now the pressure of this rebuilding process moves from Byron Scott squarely on to Chris Grant’s shoulders. The bespectacled one must get this next hire right. The entire future of the Cavaliers with Kyrie Irving likely is riding on this next coach being the perfect fit who can coerce effort on defense out of these players while also nurturing their growth and development as players and as men.

And so here I sit, three long years after Byron Scott was hired. I feel the same excitement today as I did back then. I’m not excited that Byron didn’t work out or that he was fired. I actually like Byron Scott a lot. No, I’m just excited at the prospect of a fresh start and a new direction. Hopefully three years from now I’ll be writing a very different summary of the next coach’s tenure.


Image Source: (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

  • Yup

    No because your conclusions and observations were very wrong.

  • Harv 21

    That’s just not accurate or fair. He did not say we would immediately contend or delay a rebuild. The first year post-LeBron they were stuck with big contracts on the books, like Antawn’s and Mo’s, that they could not move. They had to wait to trade and expire – with Mo their patience turned up big. Scott had the rep of developing teams that had been down.

  • Yup

    From today’s chat on ESPN w/Pelton, a super smart advanced stats guy: mike (boston)

    Replace VDN with mcmillan and clippers make the finals?
    Kevin Pelton (3:10 PM)

    I don’t think coaching is important enough that any coach, even Gregg Popovich, would make the Clippers favorites in the West.

  • Harv 21

    I know Shaw’s the hot name, but I’m wondering why the Lakers passed over him after a long, up-close look and now others are as well. Sometimes assistants can get close to players and get plugs for HC jobs from them, but the HC gig requires other skills and attitudes.

  • mgbode

    lots of championships on his resume (sure they are in all the minor leagues of bball). he’s the Grizzlies stat-heavy focused coach (and he’s a defensive guy by nature). they had to promote him to lead asst. and give him a raise to keep other teams from stealing him away. almost got the Blazers HC job last offseason.

  • mgbode

    he went 19-12 w/ Minny his first turn.
    he increased their win% over 10% despite that 20-43 record. and, he did not want to continue coaching at that time (at least what he said).

    he made an incredibly flawed Houston roster above .500 and the 9th seed in the West last year.
    he somehow managed to get this year’s Rockets into the playoffs despite a pretty odd roster (Harden+Lin = bad defense. Maybe the model we look to for our backcourt?)

    he’s not a top5 coach, or probably top10. but, he’s above average (so top15).

  • mgbode

    I agree with much of what you said, but an OPS+ of 120 and above from catcher is not mediocre. And, if he keeps up any semblence of what he is doing so far this season, then lookout.

  • al

    Until people wake up and realize that the real culprit of the unfortunate state of affairs with the Cavaliers is the management nothing will change. Coddling top management and blaming the coach and everyone else under the sun will NOT change anything. Incompetence in management has led to Lebron leaving and many lousy trade and deals that has left us with one very talented player with no defensive skills, injury prone, and now looking for an exit strategy. The other players are role players at best. Who made these decisions? why? is anyone questioning any of these bone headed moves? Byron Scott was a fall guy for these idiots. Now they want to go back to the very guy they fired!!! (Mike Brown). Do you see a pattern of rudderless management?

  • mgbode

    what lousy trades are you referring to?
    what lousy deals are we stuck with?
    can you give specifics to these “bone-headed” decisions?

  • al

    you must be kidding me? are you for real? were is this team at now ? bottom of the barell . So you are saying the management decisons have nothing to do with this? You have to look at the whole 3 years since this genius has been in charge of the team ( Grant). We where one of the best teamsin the NBAnow we are in the bottom. Now that is not all Lebrons fault or is it. My point is dont get caught in individual decisions lets look at the whole picture. Tht picture looks Lousy.

  • mgbode

    ah, so no bad individual decisions you can point out. sorry, but that is a short-sighted and lazy argument.

    we are not bottom-of-the-barre position moving forward. we have been obtaining assets and doing a rather fine job of it. it hasn’t resulted in wins yet, and the next decisions are rather crucial, but the plan is in place and we are building a good young team.

    but, don’t just take my word for it (Kelly Dwyer says):

    “The next voice? Between Irving, those draft picks, and that cap
    flexibility, the Cavaliers should have their pick of the litter. Make
    all the ‘Cleveland’ jokes you want, NBA fans, before you come to terms with the fact that this is an enviable gig. This is a team looking to turn the corner, the right way.”–nba.html

  • al

    keep chearleading the lowsy mangement of a terrible team and constantly point to a bright future. Take my word forit Kyrie will be gone so will Chris Grant. I hope i am wrong and they will go to the playoffs next year but i stopped deluding myself a long time ago about this team. Now stop posting in this forum and getto work running the team already!!!

  • mgbode

    i would be more apt to take your word for things if you would actually point to what was done poorly. you have used alot of words to say nothing thus far.

  • al

    If pointing to the lousy state affairs of this team is saying NOTHING then i am guilty as charged. In any company management takes the blame for poor results except in the NBA. They soround themselves with yes men and a pliant media to cover their weaknesses. So go ahead keep defending them for their loosing ways, that is not going to do anything for the state of this teams fortunes.

  • Brian

    Agree that the sports world isn’t about fairness, but it’s not even about intelligence. Firing coaches before they can rebuild means we will always field teams of “next year.” Break the cycle sports geniuses!

  • mgbode

    the only thing you have said is that management is lousy. you have not said why at any point. that is all I am asking you to do. going through your commenting history, the only FO decision you objected to was that they let Antawn Jamison leave. that’s it.

    I have disagreed with some of their decisions, but overall, we have a star player, we have alot of assets for trades (or good support pieces), and we are not burdened by any bad contracts. I am not cheerleading the FO, but I see the plan to this point. The next few steps are key.

  • al

    yes the Atwan deal, Mo, JJ, Sessions etc. But my point isnt about individul deals its the way they run things. I am not sure they evevr consulted the coach on the trades either. Loook, we all want the Cavs to succeed, why do we take time out of our day to talk about it otherwise. I never thought firing Mike Brown was the answer so maybe hiring him is some acknowelegement of mistakes made by mgmt. Maybe this would be a good omen who knows, maybe this will be a way back …

  • al

    yes the Atwan deal, Mo, JJ, Sessions etc. But my point isnt about
    individul deals its the way they run things. I am not sure they evevr
    consulted the coach on the trades either. Look, we all want the Cavs to
    succeed, why do we take time out of our day to talk about it otherwise.
    I never thought firing Mike Brown was the answer so maybe hiring him
    is some acknowelegement of mistakes made by mgmt. Maybe this would be a
    good omen who knows, maybe this will be a way back …

  • C.S.F.

    How do you think players become experienced (knowledgeable, that is) and are able to maximized their talents? That need good coaching, that’s a big contributor. Of course Micheal Jordan may have always been a gifted player, but if you minus a Phil, could MJ have added his 6 rings?

    Life is tough, but it’s fair. Byron, missed his opportunity here, is how I see it. I feel some excitement for our organizations here in Cleveland, it seems finally these owners are determined, if anything can’t stand to lose.

    So with that attitude as well, I say farewell to all the “mistake by the lake” myths and the chatter about us been us being jinx. Were bringing in attitudes that what to win and don’t believe in that BS.

    Gilbert, is flat out throwing money whomever what it, gotta take advantage and succeed . If the culture that surrounds him is not bringing that same attitude then he has to find a replacement.