Life after Byron

Kyrie Irving Byron ScottThey walked over one by one. Clad in sweats and somber faces, the men who comprise the current Cleveland Cavaliers roster were one-man processions, walking from the far corner Cleveland Clinic Courts over to the padded wall that is laced with marketing blocks of the namesake. The Courts themselves are pristine, featuring some of the brightest, whitest light this side of Christmas. But on this day, while the fluorescent bulbs buzzed, the mood was very dark. On a day that should have been a collective sigh of relief given the end of a 24-win season, it was an afternoon laced with more uncertainty.

The team deemed it a “release,” but Byron Scott, the team’s head coach since the circus of 2010, was fired. Releasing is what you do to a fish that was just a bit too small. Firing is what happens when you swing a sword of accountability and opt to slice the lowest of the hanging fruit in hopes that the loss of one piece helps the rest of the tree grow taller. The players, one by one, slowly migrated over to the half circle of media members and spoke of a man lost. They spoke softly. They often looked down as they shared their thoughts. At one point, power forward Tristan Thompson got choked up and had to take a deep breath before continuing on with what Scott meant to his progress as a player1. They all claimed to be shocked by the team’s decision, many of them claimed they wish they could have done more to prevent it. A eulogy for a man who was still in the building.

“I wish I could’ve played more games for him,” oft-injured center Anderson Varjeao said of his former head coach. Injuries were one of the big supporting legs of Scott’s job-security stool. It was just a week ago when he graded himself with an “incomplete” due to not having the pieces needed to get the job done. Kyrie Irving missed 23 games this season; Daniel Gibson managed to go from one of Scott’s favorite players to bench fodder in the matter of two-plus years thanks to injuries and personal issues. Rookie guard Dion Waiters missed some time with a wonky knee, fellow first-timer Tyler Zeller had his nose turned sideways just a few weeks into his freshman campaign.

There was a players-only meeting on early Thursday morning, an occurrence that is rare when it comes to preceding the annual State of the Union that follows each season’s respective conclusion. It was at this point, the players iterated, that they knew something was up. Most of them had not had a chance to speak to Scott by this point, but some did. Irving, who was the most visibly unhappy—save for Thompson’s moment of lip-biting—was one of the few who did get a chance to see the man who drafted him, but very little was said. “We just looked at each other,” said Irving of the brief interaction. “I lost my basketball father.”

Truth is, a lot of the emotional outpouring, while expected given the circumstances, could have been avoided had this team managed to stick together when it mattered the most. There is a board which hangs on the wall outside of the coach’s office inside of the Cavaliers locker room which lists the entire league, ranked by opposing field goal percentage. It is this board, roughly four-feet tall in stature, that Scott was forced to see every time he opened his door. It was this board that, for the duration of the season, had his Cleveland Cavaliers slotted 30th, a position that may as well have been etched into the maple it hung on. While the accountability sword was swung at just one man, many more claimed to be at fault. “We’re all accountable—even me,” said Chris Grant. “We let him down,” said Waiters. “His résumé speaks for itself. We lost a lost a lot of games that we let slip away from us.”

But as Grant added, from a defensive standpoint, the team needed to be better. Ironically, it was just three short years ago when the team had released Mike Brown, a man who had perennially crafted one of the best defensive units in basketball, and did so with players named Newble and Pavlovic and Szczerbiak. In 2010, it was a stagnant offense that forced the Cavaliers to move on without Brown, coupled with fact that the team had to do something if it were to show LeBron James that next year would somehow be different. The pendulum swung all the way in Scott’s direction, talks of a fast-paced offense wooed everyone within earshot. Three years later, however, as Grant saw the best teams in the league—those who are still playing—be among the best from a defensive standpoint, it became apparent that the old school run-and-gun was not going to cut it. While he would dance around the question regarding Scott getting a fair shake in Cleveland, the point was clear: Progress was not made. If anything, this team regressed. And while every player was asked, none of them had the answer as to why.

There is not a single coach available, Phil Jackson included, who will be able to waltz into this pristine facility and turn this 24-win team (28 if you dig Pythagoras) and mold it into one that can win 50 games. Grant iterated that the team will be aggressive in free agency, but what their efforts yield remain to be seen. The Cavaliers’ best defensive player is on the wrong side of 30 and has not played more than 32 games since 2009-10. Their second-best defensive player is currently suiting up at the position that presents the team’s biggest weakness and has one year remaining on his contract. Sure, Grant has four draft selections at his disposal, two of which are in the top 17, but overall youth has been a crutch for three seasons. Not helping matters is the fact that the veteran leadership presently on the roster—Luke Walton, Wayne Ellington, Boobie Gibson—are staring at free agency and may make the overall roster even younger with any sort of departure.

Walton took to the media horde with his trademark froggy baritone voice, clad in a CLE t-shirt and backwards Cleveland Indians hat and discussed how much he enjoyed his time in Cleveland. Gibson referred to Cleveland as his home, iterating that he wants to be a part of this unit as they finally do achieve the level that they had been seaking since the departure of James in 2010. One by one, they came and they left, leaving nothing but a few quotes in their respective wakes as they walked out of the Courts’ doors one final time before start of the summer. But if there was one overriding emotion on this day, it was exhaustion. The players were sad, but everyone appeared tired. Tired of the uncertainty and tired of the daily grind that the NBA brings, but most of all, they were tired of losing. Scott’s departure was merely another wake-up call on a day that these men wanted nothing more but to sleep in.

Grant’s parting words were indicative not only of the decision to move on without the man they re-upped just six months earlier, but of the season that had just concluded. “It was hard, it was tough, but I feel it was the right decision,” he said. And with that, everyone packed up their bags and went onward to another summer of uncertainty. Free agents will come and go. Draft preparation will be had. Priority No. 1, per Grant, is batting the countless other openings and finding the right man for the job. Speculation will surround it all, the din replicating the sound of a few hundred fluorescent bulbs echoing through an empty gym.

(Photo via Scott Sargent/WFNY)

  1. Thompson finished the season with a PER of 16.1, just 0.4 points shy of this season’s likely Rookie of the Year, Damian Lillard []
  • Vindictive_Pat

    ABJ’s Jason Lloyd is saying that Mike Brown is a legitimate candidate for the coaching job on 850 AM WKNR. Chris Grant basically described Mike Brown to a “T” when describing the kind of coach the team needs who really pushes defense. I also was unaware that Grant and Brown were college roommates are really good friends. Lloyd says a lot more was made of the differences between LBJ and Mike Brown than actually existed and that Dan Gilbert probably wouldn’t oppose the hire. How crazy would that be? I’d be happy about the defense, but remember the awful rotations and head-scratching coaching decisions plus the lack of play design on offense? Ugh.

  • mgbode

    yeah, ESPN has been reporting it all day too making it sound like Mike Brown has to get back to us because there’s a guy on the other line about some whitewalls.

  • mgbode

    one annoyance I have with PER is that it slants to the big guys. there has to be a weigh of weighting it for position, right?

  • http://twitter.com/laughingcavs Laughing Cavs

    You could weight it to position to make sure each position is average of 15. I’m not so sure 4’s & 5’s actually do have higher PERs on average than the rest,

  • mgbode

    higher FG% (more shots closer to rim), more rebounds (that’s their job), etc.

    it could just be my perception. this sounds like a good subject matter for “the Diff” (see what the average PER is for each position – though it’s tricky as people play different positions, etc. not sure there’s a great way at getting it)

  • Steve

    Except that guards aren’t lacking in PER. They shoot more 3s, assist rate is included, it does pretty well across positions.

  • MrCleaveland

    Theory: Mike Brown isn’t coming back here because if he does, then LeBron won’t.

  • Steve

    PER sets the break even mark for shooting percentage at a low enough level that it still rewards below average shooters a bit. A bonus for being able to create shots. May not be the best way to measure it, but that’s how guards make up the difference.

  • Steve

    The lack of play design is credited almost solely to Lebron.

  • osu2win

    A couple of general thoughts:

    1) First off, forget about championships. Unless Kyrie stays healthy and elevates his game to elite of the elite status… championships will just be hard to come by. That’s how the NBA works. Either you have a Kobe/D-Wade/LBJ/Dirk/TImmyD or you don’t. I can’t even think of the last time a team won the NBA championship with their premier player as the PG. The 90’s Pistons with Zeke maybe…??

    2) Grant has to commit the to the direction of the team. The article relates Scott to run-and-gun but we all know this is not the case. Check out OKC/Houston/Golden State/and to a certain degree the Spurs… this is the modern day “run-and-gun” and it involves spreading the floor and knocking down lots of 3’s…especially the high percentage ones from the close corners… outscoring teams 110-100. Our current roster is not built for this…

    The other method is the Bulls/Pacers/Griz route of playing hard stiff defense and winning games 90-85. This can work too… and honestly probably fits our current personnel better. Cue the Mike Brown rumors.

    No matter what… the GM – and thus rosters – has to be in harmony with the coach and system. Otherwise, you’re a bottom feeder. Lucky for us we have Kyrie and as we saw with the Rockets this year the right coach, system, and key FA’s can turn a team completely around.

    That is all.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Is this a good or bad thing?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I preferred LBJ then and I prefer him now. Gilbert is to smart, I think/hope/pray, to allow this to happen. Resigning Brown.

  • woofersus

    I get what you’re saying. Guards might get credit for assists (dependent on somebody else making a shot) and the 3’s may compensate a little bit, (inherently lower percentage, but necessary to spread the defense out and allow the 4’s and 5’s to work) but there’s no accounting for the more subjective ability to “create.” Also, guards handle the ball, and thus commit more turnovers, but a guard who commits very few of them is still docked more than a big who never puts the ball on the floor at all. And yet, you can’t win in today’s NBA without good backcourt play.

  • woofersus

    True it was Lebron’s fault to a certain extent that there was a ton of isolation with 4 guys watching to see if he could create something at the end of games. However, that hasn’t been the case nearly as much in Miami. He’s older and more mature as a player now, but he’s also in a system that encourages ball movement and motion off the ball. I think I’d place mutual blame.

    Brown was at least a little inept on offense in LA too, with too much emphasis on isolation with Kobe. I’ll give him at least a little credit for trying to install a Princeton offense in LA this year, although it got him fired and replaced with a guy who’s even more one dimensional.

  • woofersus

    So, I get the talk about Mike Brown. He’s a guy who has a pretty good record, is defensive minded, is available, and may feel like he has some unfinished business in Cleveland. To be honest I wouldn’t be horrified. He has some clear strengths and we could certainly do worse. However, I’d like to throw out some names of guys who aren’t retreads who I think will make good head coaches.

    1. Brian Shaw: He’s the guy I wanted when they hired Scott. He’s been raved about by pretty much everybody he’s worked under or coached. Kobe wanted him as coach in LA. He’ll bring a triangle-esqe offense, an possibly (if you believe rumors) Scottie Pippen as an assistant. At this point, he’s probably going to be courted by several teams though, so he’d have to be convinced the roster is getting better and the checkbook will have to be open wide.

    2. Mike Budenholzer: He’s Greg Popovich’s right hand man of 16 years. If you want Pop Jr. this is him. It’s a travesty he hasn’t been offered a head coaching job yet.

    3. Mike Malone. Yes he was a Cavaliers assistant under Mike Brown, and he did a good enough job that Brown wanted to take him to LA, but he took a job as the top assistant under Mark Jackson at Golden State. Mark Jackson’s genius performance only makes Malone look that much better. (another example of a team that played good defense despite being saddled with players known for being bad at it) He almost got a head coaching job last year and he probably will this year.

    There are a few others who could possibly be worth a look, like Kelvin Sampson, but those guys are my top three.

  • King Me

    “Multiple sources claim…”

  • NeedsFoodBadly

    Put me down for Shaw.

  • Steve

    Lebron just ran iso’s in Miami until they lost to Dallas and he took the lion’s share of the blame. That was the swift kick in the rear he needed.

    And Kobe has been isolating since he came into the league. Your examples make no adjustment for context.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I see that you have done so, yes :)

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Hahaha, “Hey Mike it’s your old pal CG! How’d you like to coach the Cavs next season?” “Well…. I dunno.”

  • http://twitter.com/GreatestHurley Jason Hurley

    Complicating matters woud be defining people who play multiple positions in the course of a game.

  • AMC

    Re-hiring Brown would be a massive mistake. Setting the LeBron implications aside, are people forgetting how the defensive gameplan of this supposed defensive “genius” sabotaged the Cavs in the ECF against Orlando in 2009? Everyone could see that Orlando was winning the series because the Cavs were double teaming Howard so they were unable to close out in time against Orlando’s red hot (and likely performance enhanced) 3 point shooters, yet Brown never made the correct adjustment. Brown was reigning Coach of the Year at the time and I would have fired him then and there.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    You’re preaching to the choir big dawg. I want nothing to do with Mike Brown as a head coach.

  • Joe

    chauncey billups was a PG that won for the pistons in ’04, series MVP. i’d say he was a premier PG at the time…

  • mgbode

    Tony Parker tore us up in 2007 as well.

  • osu2win

    then all we need is All-Stars starting at C, PF, SF, SG and we’ll be good to go.