July 22, 2014

Cavs late season woes could have big offseason impact

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I’ll be honest. Until Jason Lloyd’s “Scott’s seat may not be safe” article and the debacle that was Wednesday’s game versus Brooklyn, I hadn’t been paying close attention to the day-in, day-out happenings of the Cavaliers. I knew that they were in a bit of a free fall, but that’s not entire surprising given both Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving were missing time due to injuries. Even though I wasn’t a huge Byron guy, it hadn’t even occurred to me that Byron Scott’s job could actually be in jeopardy. Everyone knows they’re tanking, no?

Hell, before Byron’s Teflon coating wore off last week, the biggest late-season story of this Cavaliers season has been whether or not the Lakers can make the playoffs1. Instead of watching horrible losses to the Rockets or Hornets (and really guys, you lost by 20 to the freaking Hornets?), I’ve spent these last few weeks following the Lakers and hoping they can hold off Utah and (suddenly hot) Mavericks for that final Western Conference playoff spot. If the Lakers can find a way to sneak in, the Cavs would be well positioned to have a monster offseason2. I was happily biding my time waiting for the draft lottery (Tuesday, May 21st!) and wondering if any of these people I watched (for the first time) in March Madness were any good.

But now that the Cavs had a gut wrenching collapse against Heat, followed it up with a loss to the Celtics in which they gave up a game winning layup, and suffered through a double digit losing streak that ultimately culminated with the non-competitive laugher versus Brooklyn, people are (finally?) starting to question Byron Scott and all of my focus is firmly back on happenings at The Q.

Let’s see what’s going on, shall we?

The coach.

After a firestorm of speculation whether or not Scott has lost the team, it was nice to see the Cavs bounce back with a solid win against an undermanned Celtics squad. Whether or not this win ‘means’ anything, who knows. But that they didn’t come out and lay an egg following said firestorm is a Good Thing.

I have a hard time judging Scott’s Cavalier tenure. Clearly the W/L record is putrid, but when your team employs Samardo Samuels, Manny Harris and the various Pargos and Sloans of the world, you shouldn’t be expecting playoff births. The Plan was to stink for a few years, hoard some draft picks and then make a move next season. Generally speaking, I’m on board with this “tanking” or longterm approach.

But until this last week, Scott has gotten a free pass from most Cavs fans and almost all media members. Which is normal. Again, the man is forced to play Luke Walton and his best bench player was cut by the Wizards. His team stinks. Got it.

But is that all we judge? This is what I wrote after Byron’s first season:

how many times have you been watching a game this year and thought to yourself, “Wow, I’m sure glad Byron Scott is our coach”?

I’m not saying the Cavs should fire Scott but I certainly don’t think he deserves a free pass for this season. The team that Byron Scott coached lost an NBA record 26 straight times (tying the streak amongst all of North American professional sports). His team set the NBA record to consecutive losses and he doesn’t get any blame?  I know there were injuries and I know the talent wasn’t the best, but some of those 26 straight losses (and 36 out of 37) have to fall on the coach, no? I mean, he kept letting Anthony Parker improvise at the end of close games rather than, oh I dunno, calling a time out and making your crappy team setup a play.

That’s been my issue. Yes, he’s had some crap players and teams full of mismatched parts. But he’s also had some historically bad runs. He owns the worst loss at home in franchise history, to a Bulls team missing Derrick Rose. They have embarrassingly non-competitive games and not just when his players are counting down the days until summer vacation. I know we weren’t expecting “great” but were we really expecting “historically bad”? I can’t help but feel if a coach like Tom Thibodeau was here, we’d at least know what kind of defensive sets the Cavs were running.

Would it be unfair to Byron Scott if he was canned after this season? Sure. Probably. Just like it’s “unfair” to Colt McCoy that the Browns drafted Brandon Weeden and gave him weapons like Trent Richardson that Colt never had3. But is the Cavs’ (or Browns) goal to be fair? The goal should be to win. If you (or the Cavs) have seen enough to know that he’s (probably) not Your Long Term Answer, why prolong it?

Read these reports following Byron’s ouster in New Jersey and New Orleans. Notice something? Look at the dates. Both times Scott was let go, it happened during the middle of the season. That’s my big worry. At no point do I want the Cavs to be dealing with an interim coach next season (aka The Season They Try to Win). Replacing Byron with an interim coach is my worst case scenario (and that’s not even considering any LeBron ramifications).  The last thing I want to happen is the Cavs to bring back Byron next season because “it’s not fair” and then have them start 4-17 because they’re still dealing with the same issues raised in Lloyd’s article.

Of course, I’d rather have them bring Byron back and the Cavs start off 18-3 and everything be all unicorns and gumdrops. But if Gilbert has legit concerns with Scott as a coach (and I don’t think Lloyd’s article gets those quotes without some sort of OK from Gilbert), I’d rather them err on cutting the cord too early rather than too late4.

And to answer the “well if you’re gonna fire Scott, who replaces him” question: Brian Shaw? Nate McMillian? Mo Cheeks? Someone I’m clearly missing? I dunno. But if you’re reasonably sure that he’s not the guy, get a new guy! (Just not Scott Skiles).

The Roster

I’m mostly in on all of the Cavs recent first round picks. Kyrie is clearly a stud, I’m probably irrationally high on Dion and Tristan has improved considerably (admittedly, I have no idea much impact Byron has made in this area. How much can we credit him for Tristan’s growth? Some? None? What about Kyrie, does he get credit for Kyrie’s improvements? Is his lack of D a mark against Byron? And remember how we credited Mike Brown with all of LeBron’s improvements? No?). I’m still not sure what TT’s ceiling is. I love that he basically willed the Cavs to a victory versus the Celtics, but I’m also well aware that was against Chris Wilcox and Brandon Bass. I’ll take it and I love the effort and willingness to work.

As for the other starters, Alonzo Gee should probably be coming off the bench and Tyler Zeller is what he is, a somewhat skilled, overmatched rookie center. Long term, Zeller is probably coming off the bench and would be if Anderson Varejao had stayed healthy.

Out of the bench bunch, the only ones I really like are Luke Walton and Shaun Livingston and that should really give you some pause (but I’m a sucker for guys who can pass well). Marreese Speights is alright, but he’s at his best when he’s knocking down contested 18 footers. And I sure love when my power forward takes long contested twos, don’t you? Wayne Ellington has been solid and I wouldn’t mind him sticking around; he’s be a nice SG off the bench and could start next to Kyrie if they deem that Dion’s at his best as the 6th man. CJ Miles is a stop gap scorer and that’s about it.

It’s safe to say that they’ve got some holes to fill.

The Offseason

On the podcast Scott Raab, Craig mentioned (with a caveat) that he knows the Cavs’ plan is to sign two max players and he just hopes one of those deals happens this offseason (as opposed to waiting for 2014). I get this. We’re sick of losing and next year the Cavs should be making some kind of step towards the playoffs next season (and given how bad the East is, they better get there).

But take a look at the 2013 Free Agent List. Do it. Study it.

The 2013 free agent list is awful. I really really hope Cavs fans didn’t sit through two three years of losing only to see them blow their money on someone like Paul Milsap. Plus, whoever the Cavs sign (assuming it’s not a CJ Miles-type of deal), they’re going to have to overpay them to come here. That’s life. But there’s no one on that list of 2013 Free Agents that I’d be happy with overpaying. Seriously, look at it again.

But I’m not saying the Cavs shouldn’t look to improve the roster or shy away from taking on money. Assuming the Lakers make the playoffs (not a lock, but in David Stern’s refs, we trust), the Cavs should be picking somewhere around 3rd and 15th. That’s pretty solid, even if it’s a weak draft.

But a lotto pick and a mid-first can be paired with any number of other assets to help facilitate trades.

David Zavac over at FearTheSword recently proposed a trade for Al Horford which, while I’d never do it, is along the lines of what types of deals the Cavs should pursue going forward:

I would not want the Cavaliers to start negotiations at this point, but I am ultimately willing to give up:

Anderson Varejao, The Cavaliers 2013 first round pick, unprotected, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller for either Al Horford or Marc Gasol.

Now, again. I feel like that’s waaaay too much (I don’t like the Cavs giving up two years of lotto picks as well as their only veteran asset in Varejao for borderline All-Stars) but I do think that’s the type of deal they’d consider. It’s more likely that Cavs could put together a trade package of picks and young players that lands them an established player rather than try to lure that player here via free agency. Their capspace is more useful in trades, as they’ll be able to take back a contract or two to make that deal work (and save the other team some money).

Who would that established player be? Kevin Love? LaMarcus Aldridge? Demarcus Cousins? Horford? Gasol? Maybe a wing? Who knows! But going the Houston route and flipping parts for a star makes much more sense to me than striking gold in free agency. Seriously, look at that list again.

Where we stand.

If you’re a Cleveland fan that’s fully made the switch to Indians baseball, I can’t blame you. Late season double-digit losing streaks sans Dion and Kyrie are no fun for anyone.  The Tribe has a bunch of new players and the beginning of the season is a time for hope. But for those of us still paying attention the Wine and Gold, these last seven games could, unfairly or no (and probably unfairly), be a referendum on Coach Scott’s tenure.

Given where they are in The Plan, this offseason promised to be pretty momentous regardless of Coach Scott’s fate. Next year should be a playoff push and the Cavs should be looking to add veteran parts around Kyrie, Dion and company. If the Cavs end the season poorly and Byron gets the ax, this summer will be the franchise’s most important and long reaching summer since The Decision. Hopefully it’ll go much better than the summer 2010.

(Boo Utah! Go Lakers!)

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Footnotes:

  1. allowing Chris Grant to swap the Lakers’ mid-first rounder with Miami’s late first acquired in the LeBron trade. If they miss, Cavs don’t get to swap and the pick goes to the Suns []
  2. I’m fairly confident that the Lakers will get in, even though their record sits at 40-36, just a half game ahead of Utah at 40-37. But I fully expect the combination of the Lakers Hall of Fame talent an the NBA’s, um, big market bias, to push the Lakers over this final hump. I’d be shocked if Kobe, Dwight and Nash weren’t in the playoff promos. Shocked []
  3. COLT WOULD’VE BEEN WAY BETTER WITH TRENT RICHARDSON!!! []
  4. I keep thinking about Jon’s axiom: why are you so afraid to fire a coach with a .279 winning percentage? []
  • JeBron_Lames

    Very interesting article, Ben. I agree that if Scott isn’t the coach for the future, then better sooner rather than later to cut ties. So who would you replace him with then? I think you hit the nail on the head by mentioning another B.S., Brian Shaw.

    As for the team itself, why isn’t Andrew Bynum being discussed as a possibility? I know his injuries are a major concern, but if the Cavs draft No. 1 overall wouldn’t Noel have the same concerns? They have the money now so they might as well try and Bynum said that he would consider playing in Cleveland last year. Is there any possibility the Sixers resign him? I highly doubt it. Another possible free agent is Al Jefferson.

    If the draft order is what it stays as, the Cavs will be able to draft Porter with their first pick and other quality backup like Glenn Robinson III. And I think resigning Livingston and Speights is a must.

    With Brian Shaw as the new head coach the rotation could be:

    PG Irving
    SG Waiters
    SF Porter
    PF Thompson
    C Bynum or Jefferson

    PG Livingston
    SG Ellington
    SF Gee
    PF Varejao (giving him the rest to stay relatively healthy)
    C Zeller

    G Miles
    F Robinson III (GRIII, close enough)
    C Speights

    That’s definitely a playoff team in the East.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brunomiller130 Brian Miller

    The difference, obviously being that Bynum will want a max contract while Oden will get a few mill.

    I love the idea of offering Bynum a max one year deal alongside Oden, however. We have the room, and it could open up huge possibilities if one works out.

    I like Speights, but the fact remains that he is a role player off the bench. We need some quality starting bigs not named Zeller.

  • Jaker

    I too have very little interest in FAs this year. I’m more much more willing to do a deal with some picks, but worst comes to worst, just keep drafting good players. Otto Porter would be a very nice grab in the draft

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Horrible time period to have multiple lottery picks as well as alot of cash, doesn’t it figure. No clear top picks in the draft and no real difference makers in free agency. That being said I still believe Grant needs to do something. It doesn’t have to be dramatic but still something. I don’t think that something has to be as dramatic as the trade above for either Horford or Gasol however. If I had to choose one of the two I’d prefer Gasol but A.Still alot to give up and B.I can’t believe Memphis would take it but who knows.

  • Guest

    I think that they should leave Byron Scott alone. How well do you expect a coach to do with a new to the league team with the exception of about 3 players. They are making progress. No it does not show as far as winning but just look at how many teams have a winning record of 500 or better. I say let’s give him another 2 to 3 years. Give the team time to develop. Even the Thunders did not progress that fast.

  • Trenace Chambers

    I think that they should leave Byron Scott alone. He is doing the best that he can with what he has who are not injuried. How well do you expect a coach to do with a new to the league team with the exception of about 3 players. They are making progress. No it does not show as far as winning but just look at how many teams have a winning record of 500 or better. I say let’s give him another 2 to 3 years. Give the team time to develop. Even the Thunders did not progress that fast.