Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal was the first to report that Byron Scott is out as Cleveland Cavaliers coach, after two years of minimal growth behind All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and three seasons in total. The move comes on the heels of a disappointing 24-win campaign in Cleveland.
Scott was brought into Cleveland right before the Cavs made a massive misstep during the 2010 offseason. Following LeBron James’ insipid ‘Decision’ charade, the team countered with a hastily-written rant from team owner Dan Gilbert that promised a title in Cleveland prior to LeBron’s first in Miami, harmless enough stuff, but then the squad countered James’ absence by … doing absolutely nothing. The Cavs acted as if a LeBron-less squad was good enough to do damage in the NBA, and a 19-win season in Scott’s first year as coach was the answer.
Luckily, though, the first round pick Cleveland acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers before the 2011 trade deadline vaulted up seven spots in the 2011 draft, and the team won the rights to draft Irving first overall. Tristan Thompson followed a few slots later, as did the team’s unanticipated gift of the amnesty clause, which allowed the franchise to waive Baron Davis. Suddenly, under a respected coach in Scott, the Cavaliers were finally rebuilding the right way.
And then precious little happened over the next 17 months.
This isn’t to say that there hasn’t been growth under Scott. Thompson was reportedly choked up at the Cavaliers’ practice facility on Thursday as he discussed the only pro coach he’s ever worked under, and we discussed Thompson’s improving game here on Wednesday. Irving played just 18 games at Duke during his one NCAA season, and turned in an All-Star level season in 2011-12 before actually making the All-Star team for the first time last February. And Anderson Varejao’s offensive skills grew to match his potent defensive production with Scott as coach.
The Cavaliers still remained a miserable team on the defensive end, though, actually dropping from 26th on defense in Irving’s rookie season to 27th in 2012-13 as Varejao missed 57 games. The Cavs were celler-dwellers on defense even with the active forward/center healthy, though, and the paucity of needle movement probably pushed the Cavalier front office over the line. Yes, the Cavs are rebuilding … but 64 wins in three seasons?
Irving toed the line when it came to endorsing Scott’s candidacy as head coach following the expiration of his contract, and this mixed with reports of a rare shootaround following a pair of back-to-back losses fueled speculation that the Cavaliers were tired of Scott’s Pat Riley-influenced workout schedule. To hear Thompson and veteran Luke Walton tell it on Thursday, though, Scott was well-liked by the team. The team, I should re-iterate, and not just Thompson and Walton. Irving himself was clearly emotional following release of the news.
That’s admirable, but at some point all this practice and all this potential had to pay off into something. More moral victories. More actual wins. A jump out of the low 20s, on defense. A step up to around the average mark on offense even in a season that saw Irving miss 23 games. A spark in rookie Dion Waiters that allowed you to discern between the rookie you watched in early spring, and the one you saw in the heart of the winter.
The Cavaliers were designed to lose. To brave a few tough seasons and take advantage of a series of upcoming draft picks and the stash of salary cap space that the team smartly went after in the wake of the 2010-11 disaster. Byron Scott was not hired to lead this team to a surprise run to the eighth seed, even if Varejao and Irving stayed healthy the entire season. This franchise, intelligently, is in it for the long haul.
And because they’ve seen such little progress even while working through the rebuilding caveats, they’ve garnered enough information needed to deduce that Byron Scott is not the man they want for the second part of this turnaround job.
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.