Byron Scott signed on with the Cleveland Cavaliers knowing he might never coach LeBron James(notes). So when James announced he was leaving for the Miami Heat, Scott didn't take the decision personally. He soon realized not everyone in Cleveland felt the same way.
One drive past the mammoth Nike mural of James by Quicken Loans Arena showed Scott just how emotionally invested Cleveland was in the two-time MVP.
"You got people throwing things and giving the you-know-what finger and yelling some stuff you don't want your kids to hear," Scott said. "The police had to surround it because they didn't want them to tear it up. That's when it hit me how attached the city was to him."
Scott joined the Cavs without any indication whether James would stay. His first assignment on the job was to join owner Dan Gilbert and front office officials in trying to convince James to re-sign. Scott's strong relationship with New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul(notes), a close friend of James, would seem to have helped Cleveland's cause. Scott's biggest selling point to James was realizing the euphoria of winning a title in your hometown. The Los Angeles native won three NBA titles with the Lakers.
"One of the things I told him was, 'There is nothing like winning a championship at home,' " Scott said. "…There are so many people at home you are close to, and so many people that you know that love you and respect you and want that for you as well. There is no better place to do that. There isn't a more significant place to do that at when you're a homegrown product like he is, to be able to win a championship or bring a championship to your city.
"I left the meeting feeling good. I thought we did everything we could and put our best foot forward. I thought we all said a lot of things that made a lot of sense. We were very sincere about our presentation. We felt that's all we can do was go out there, tell the truth and be honest with him and tell him what he meant to the city of Cleveland."
Scott watched James' televised decision alone from his office at the Cavaliers' practice facility shortly after a summer-league practice. He quickly had a bad feeling as the show started. After James announced he was leaving, Scott watched the show for about another five minutes before turning off the TV and heading back to his hotel.
"The first couple minutes of him talking before he went to commercial, I had a feeling he wasn't coming back," Scott said. "I just could kind of see it. [James] looked uncomfortable sitting there. I'm no body-language expert, but it didn't look like it was something real comfortable.
"Once he made his choice, I had to shift gears like everyone else in the organization. The only difference in me and everyone else is they had ties to him. I never did. I just said, 'It's business as usual.' The objective is to still win a championship."
Scott's new boss wasn't so calm and collected. Not long after the show ended, Gilbert released an open letter to Cavs fans criticizing James by calling him "narcissistic" and "cowardly." Gilbert also told The Associated Press that James quit in the playoffs the past two years. The NBA fined Gilbert $100,000.
"I love his passion. I really do," Scott said. "Some of the stuff he said, I know some people took offense to it, obviously. You got Jesse Jackson saying it's racial and it's a slave mentality. I don't know Dan that well, and I haven't known him for a long time. But that's the last thing that it was all about. He was hurt and he felt that this was a place [James] should be. I read it, I listened. And the next day when they talked about it, I made no bones about it.
"I want an owner that's passionate and wants to win and is driven to win. That's why he is so successful in the business he is doing.
"I had no problem with it. Most people took it the right way, and a lot of people in Cleveland did. But you got a lot of people that didn't. I got his back."
With James and Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) having left for Miami and Shaquille O'Neal(notes) likely gone, too, the Cavaliers' main players are now point guard Mo Williams(notes), forward-center J.J. Hickson(notes) and forward Antawn Jamison(notes), who has been dangled in trade talks. Scott has previously guided other rebuilding situations with the New Jersey Nets and Hornets. The difference is that the Cavs had the NBA's best record the past two seasons and are expected to dramatically fall off without James.
"It's a big difference because this organization the past two or three years is used to winning, whereas in Jersey we had to change their culture and try to change their thinking to make them winners," Scott said. "The same in New Orleans. This organization is already used to winning. There are a bunch of guys on this team that aren't going to accept losing. That makes my job a little bit easier, but at the same time they got a coach that won't accept losing either."
- Byron Scott