Any time your team is having a 22-47 season, it’s certain to elicit negative reactions from fans about the organization’s head coach. But it’s a very nuanced type of negativity when it deals with Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott.
Multiple times this year — notably, after the team started 5-23 — fans have questioned whether he’s the right coach to lead the Cavs into their hopeful playoff seasons down the road. Many have questioned his rotations. Others have questioned his overall toughness. Some have recalled how previous New Jersey and New Orleans teams started to ignore him by the end of his reign.
Whatever your Byron Scott-related point of view du jour, it’s likely that you displayed it on Twitter as the Cavaliers suffered their worst loss of the season, 118-76, on Friday in Houston. This of course followed Cleveland’s loss despite a 27-point lead against Miami on Wednesday. Placed within the context of Scott’s 186 games with the organization, it’s just been another tough week on the job.
Yes, arguably, the Cavs are again without their three best players. Anderson Varejao has now missed 44 games, Kyrie Irving 20 and Dion Waiters 12. Take away the Big Three of the Miami Heat for a combined 76 games and they’d likely struggle too. But is it time things fell on Scott more? Let’s take a look at how Twitter reacted last night.
10:12 p.m. — The Cavs are losing badly in Houston, so the PD’s beat writer cracks a joke about her Friday highlight.
“Two minutes remaining” = best news I’ve heard all night. #Cavs trail Rockets, 109-76, with 1:39 left
For added context, the Cavs organization has repeatedly called this season “Year 2″ of the complete rebuild post-Lebron James. It’s not fair to count the decimated roster of 2010-2011 as that was practically “Year 0″ for both the rebuild and Byron Scott’s tenure. There were no added prospects on that team and to count it ignores the reality of how rebuilds operate in the NBA.
So then, last year’s 21-45 (adjusted to 26.1 wins) lockout-shortened season record was the first official one with judgement toward Scott’s ability as a Cavaliers coach. It was tough at times, again, as the team was incredibly weak, even more so on the bench. Omri Casspi and Anthony Parker each played 1,200+ minutes, while names such as Samardo Samuels, Donald Sloan, Manny Harris, Ryan Hollins, Semih Erden, Lester Hudson and Luke Harangody all received stretches of significant minutes.
Lest it be forgotten, the team actually had an opposite start to the season as this year. Cleveland started 13-17 on the year, with semi-decent wins over the Knicks, Celtics, Mavericks, Clippers and Pacers. Optimism was still relatively high for a possible No. 8 spot in the playoffs. But in those final 36 games, they lost by an average of 10.3 points, suffering an obscene 14 losses by 16+ points (including 11 of their final 21 contests).
Expectations then were mixed heading into 2012-13. Some hoped optimistically that the Cavs — with two more first-round additions, full health and a weak Eastern Conference — might be able to contend for the No. 8 spot again. That was never the case. The highlight of the season roster-wise was the addition of Wayne Ellington and Marreese Speights from Memphis, plus the Shaun Livingston pick-up to give the team a more complete bench, but that hasn’t been sustaining.
Several times this year, Byron Scott hasn’t held back in his assessment of the team’s overall effort. He was similar in his demeanor last night in Houston:
“It was the first game in a long time I saw us being very disconnected on both ends of the floor. Even though the first quarter was close, it started in the first quarter. We just made some shots in the first quarter. But from that point on, I just thought we were disconnected. Guys were trying to get theirs on the offensive end. Defensively we were disconnected. Guys weren’t communicating. We were just individuals out there. We weren’t a team.”
Two months ago exactly, I wrote in The Diff about some relatively recent franchise comparisons for the Cavaliers and their current rebuild. My focus in that article was on success via the NBA Draft, but let’s take another perspective now: Coaching changes.
Oklahoma City — This is the example folks love to discuss. After a 1-12 start in Kevin Durant’s second season, the organization fired coach P.J. Carlesimo and brought in Scott Brooks, a long-time player/assistant. OKC fell all the way to 3-29 in 2008-09, then finished the year on a 20-30 spurt. With the addition of James Harden and a much more efficient Durant, they won 50 games in 2009-10 and the rest is history
Chicago — Since Michael Jordan/Phil Jackson’s final title in ’97-’98, the Bulls actually have had five different coaches coach 145+ games. There was Tim Floyd and Bill Cartwright, then Scott Skiles and Vinny Del Negro, and now in the back-and-forth Derrick Rose years, there has been Tom Thibodeau. Few teams — even the awful ones — have had as much coaching turnover in the last 15 years, while they’ve only advanced past the first round twice.
Grizzlies – In The Diff, I shared two four-year drafting segments of Grizzlies history: From ’94-’98 and from ’05-’09. By far the longest tenured and most successful head coach in franchise history has been Lionel Hollins, who has been there since the end of the 2008-09 season. Before that, six different coaches had between 123-184 games in their tenure, beginning with Brian Winters and ending with Mike Fratello.
Atlanta — Dating back to 1984’s arrival of Mike Fratello (and even before this too), the Hawks have had some of the best head coaching security in the NBA. Yet they still haven’t been to an Eastern Conference Finals in franchise history. Most recently, Mike Woodson was in charge for six seasons while Larry Drew is in his third year.
Minnesota — After Flip Saunders’ departure during the 2004-05 season, the Timberwolves have had six different coaching tenures (which includes Kevin McHale twice). In fact, outside of Saunders’ nine-year reign that coincided with the Kevin Garnett years and some great regular season records, no other coach in franchise history has lasted more than two full 82-game seasons. Despite major injuries, the Wolves are on pace for their best season in the post-Saunders era this year with a 24-43 record.
Sacramento – Similar to Minnesota, the Kings had one coach during their long stretch of successful seasons from 1998-2006. Rick Adelman advanced past the first round four times with Sacramento, but never made it to the NBA Finals. Post-Adelman (who, of course, is the current Minnesota coach), the Kings have had five different coaches. Keith Smart currently is in charge but chaos remains about possible relocation and the polarizing DeMarcus Cousins.
Cleveland — Looking back at Cleveland’s last rebuild, with Lebron James, the team fired Paul Silas mid-way through James’ second season. Brendan Malone filled in the gaps as an interim coach, then Mike Brown was in charge for the next five years. Looking back in time to the decent Cavs teams of the late ’80s and early ’90s, there was the seven-year reign of Lenny Wilkens followed by the six years of Mike Fratello.
So again, there are lots of head coaching changes and interim head coaches spread throughout these franchise comparisons. You obviously see a lot of chaos and confusion, but whether it is correlation or causation, you often see this pattern emerge: A successful team sticks with one head coach throughout the entirety of its successful run. Both things generally come to an end at the same time.
Next season, the Cavaliers will have significantly higher expectations as a franchise and for Byron Scott. It will be the third full year of the rebuild and of true evaluations from the front office. Is a No. 8 seed the minimum accomplishment in order for him to keep his job? Will long-term injury-prone players cost him an opportunity to remain with the team as they re-emerge from these dark seasons?
Both in Cleveland with Lebron James and Oklahoma City with Kevin Durant, the franchises decided to part ways with their existing coach mid-way through the star’s second season. That obviously has not occurred just yet for Kyrie Irving. Will that be a mistake long-term, or will the franchise’s added patience reap additional benefits through organizational consistency?
We obviously shall see shortly, but fans are starting to get unruly and if this is the same situation on March 23, 2014, then it’s certainly well within our rights to expect change to finally occur.
Photo: Jacob Rosen/WFNY at the 2012 Greater Cleveland Sports Awards
Jacob Rosen is a long-time contributor to WaitingForNextYear. He's also a writer online at SportsAnalyticsBlog and Nylon Calculus . An Akron native, Jacob is a current MBA student at the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. You can follow him on Twitter @WFNYJacob or e-mail him at udjrosen(at)gmail(dot)com.