It might seem somewhat unfair to keep talking about rebuilding and future seasons when we still haven’t yet hit the All-Star Break in the current NBA season. After all, there is still knowledge to be had and lessons to be learned from this season, even as the team sets all kinds of records for futility. It’s difficult when many had higher expectations for this team, but for the Cavaliers, the complete rebuilding process is under way now, whether that was the plan or not.
So it is in that spirit that we begin to find ways to bridge the present with the future, and one of the best ways to pull that off is to consider what rebuilding assets and/or tools the team currently has. We can only project so much without exceeding the margin of error for guessing. So this isn’t about guessing who the Cavs might try to trade for or sign through free agency or select in the upcoming draft. Rather, this is about evaluating what the Cavaliers currently have that the organization can feel good about as we move forward into the great unknown that is the future.
So it only makes sense to start at the top and begin with Byron Scott. Now, some may say if we’re starting at the top we should start with Dan Gilbert and Chris Grant. However, the truth of the matter is that we don’t have a track record in this area to feel either good or bad about with them.
We know Dan Gilbert is committed to winning, is willing to spare no expense on the success of this franchise, and he’s genuinely someone that all Cleveland fans should really good about. I’m proud to have Dan Gilbert as the owner of the Cavaliers and I love his passion for this franchise. Yet, I can’t promise that he will have the patience to let this process play itself out. There are no guarantees that half way through this tedious process that he won’t demand Chris Grant do something dramatic that might jeopardize the progress.
As for Grant himself, well, this is his first season on the job. I applaud the patience he has shown so far in not making any hasty moves or overreacting to the dire circumstances of this season. I love the long time he has spent as an assistant in various front offices and I feel good about the lessons he learned under Danny Ferry. But the jury is still out on his ability to draft well and master the art of negotiating trades.
Byron Scott, however, not only has a track record of rebuilding, but he has wasted no time in putting his imprint on this organization. For all of the things that have gone wrong for the Cavaliers over the last 6 months, the one thing that went right was the hiring of Coach Scott. It’s really quite strange to be so happy with a coach who is overseeing an 8-39 nightmare as the team is on a historic 20 games losing streak. The truth is, though, the forces of nature that caused this disaster were all out of Coach Scott’s hands. He was dealt a good hand, but hit a lousy flop and the turn and river haven’t been any better.
Yet the coach hasn’t panicked. He’s kept up a strong poker face and continues to grind away at his team in his attempt to re-mold them into something different. The spirit may have been sucked out of this team, and it’s awfully tough to blame them for that. But I don’t see quit in this team. Through heartbreak, injury, insecurity, and everything else, this team continues to go out and compete every night despite the fact that circumstances have dealt them a roster filled with undrafted free agents who play significant minutes. The fact is, this is a team that goes into every game knowing their are outmanned and less talented.
I don’t believe Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, Doc Rivers, or any other coach could win much more, if at all, with this lineup and under the heavy emotional weight left by the departure of LeBron James. However, I do think there are plenty of coaches who would let their body language suffer and who would give up on this team. So I do think Byron Scott deserves credit for his positivity throughout all of this.
We can move out of generalities, though, and get into the specifics of why I feel that Byron Scott is proving to be a valuable rebuilding coach. It’s clear now to see the differences in how Mike Brown and Byron Scott coach. Coach Brown was a big picture guy. He coached the team as a team and focused on team-based principles. It was all systematical and he was able to get the most out of defensive systems featuring many players who were not good defensive guys.
If Coach Brown was macro-oriented, then Coach Scott is the micro-oriented answer to the equation. Not that Byron Scott doesn’t have his own systematic approach, but his coaching style has shown time and time again that he has an innate ability to coach up the team on an individual level. He is much more focused on player development than Mike Brown ever was, and player development is precisely what a rebuilding team needs.
We can look at a few examples. Though many have expressed disappointment in Mo Williams this season, I remain ultimately impressed with the way he and Byron Scott were able to work together to re-shape Mo’s game to fit into the system as a true setup type PG. Mo has always been a shoot first PG who was really more of a SG in a PG’s body. Under Byron Scott, though, we saw Mo hit new career highs in assists as he changed his game to try to help the team.
There’s perhaps no greater example, though, of Byron Scott’s ability to develop players than the work he has done with JJ Hickson this season. Coach Scott had high expectations and thus high demands of JJ heading into this season, and when JJ struggled early in the season, the two gentlemen frequently butted heads. Rigid quotes were given to the press and it looked like things might get ugly. Yet Coach Scott has been able to prevail and get through to JJ, and now we are seeing Hickson begin to grasp the importance of rebounding, defense, court awareness, and yes, even more rebounding.
From October through December, JJ averaged just 5.10 rebounds per game. In January that number has rocketed up to 10.9 boards per game. In November and December combined JJ had 141 rebounds in 28 games. In just 14 games so far in January, Hickson has 153 total rebounds. Some of this obviously has to do with the lack of Anderson Varejao, who ate up plenty of rebounds in his own right, but you have to also acknowledge both Hickson and Scott for finding a way to work together and begin to provide results.
From day one Byron Scott has done wonders with Daniel Gibson. He not only saw that Gibson deserved more meaningful minutes than he had been getting, but he also found ways to put Boobie in better situations to take advantage of his skills and minimize his weaknesses, and Gibson has responded in putting together a really solid season in the wake of all the surrounding negativity.
In addition to Coach Scott’s ability to mold certain aspects of veteran players’ games, he’s also been working with undrafted free agents and projects all season. Of course, I’m referring to Manny Harris, Christian Eyenga, Samardo Samuels, and Alonzo Gee. None of these players are putting up numbers that would make anyone look at them twice, but anyone who has watched this team all season can’t help but notice the slow but steady improvement in their games. You can’t help but feel like with time Coach Scott will continue to shape certain aspects of their game one at a time to keep developing them into serviceable NBA players.
All of this gives me confidence in the coach that when given some actual talent to work with, as opposed to mostly just raw athleticism and incomplete works, that the coach will rise to the job and do a quality job of improving both the player and the team. Coach Scott has built teams from the ground up in the past. His previous 2 stints as coach saw him turn dire situations into Championship contending and he appears to be doing the same job here in Cleveland.
It’s going to be a long process, but if we’re looking for real assets on this team, there’s perhaps no greater asset for the rebuild than Coach Scott. In New Jersey, his Nets went 25-56 his first year and were in the Finals the next year. With the Hornets, he went 18-64 his first year and by his 4th year the Hornets were in the Western Conference Semifinals. If Cavs fans are looking for something, anything, to feel good about, I would suggest starting with Byron Scott. This team appears to be in good hands with a capable leader as we begin the rebuilding road.