The locker room had the aura of a funeral home. Suited men stood at the entry way, greeting—watching. Silence echoed off of the maple, those impacted by the loss slowly shuffled about with their heads hanging and faces oozing disappointment. Some sat, some leaned; others came and went without saying a word. Laid to rest was the last 48 minutes of basketball, the Cleveland Cavaliers being brutally beaten in front of a home crowd by a team missing two of it’s starters in the playoff-bound Brooklyn Nets. As if any loss is well-timed, this one was especially tough due to the nature—an insurmountable 30-point halftime deficit—as well as the timing and fact that the 18-point loss was the 10th straight game which resulted in a similar outcome.
Also not aiding matters from a timing perspective is that this most recent defeat comes on the heels of rumors and speculation—coupled with crowd-sourced ire on social media platforms—surrounding the future of Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott. Following a victory, Scott can be found joking with his players, sharing laughs with his wife and gathering a few bites of sushi for the road. Following the latest loss, the parting words were Scott saying that he was not concerned with his future—”Whatever happens happens,” he said—the overriding narrative being that a rebuilding process has morphed into a toxic culture fueld by countless instances of implosion1. As has happened all too often in the city of Cleveland, with accountability varying in terms of direction and level, questions of quitting and locker rooms lost are being lobbed.
An 18-point loss at any other point in the season is quickly forgotten—is anyone still sweating the December 7 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves2? An 18-point loss during the home stretch is magnified and hyper analyzed, undoubtedly aided by the nine previous defeats that exist before it amidst this season’s record books. But while the media and fans wonder if the team has quit on Byron Scott, folding up shop in anticipation of a summer vacation, several members of the team can be found in the gym late at night. Not 24 hours before the Nets embarrassed the Cavaliers, leaving thousands wondering if they were better off watching the upstart Cleveland Indians on television, CJ Miles, Boobie Gibson, Tyler Zeller, Chris Quinn and Kevin Jones—among others—were spending their Tuesday night in the gym. While many opted to misconstrue a comment from Kyrie Irving that would be initially reported inaccurately3, it’s the 21-year-old point guard who has lobbied to play despite still suffering from a strained shoulder—hopes are that the vest he wears under his jersey will at least protect him through the rest of the regular season. If “quitting” is in fact a part of the current fabric, this team is going about it in very weird ways.
The narrative or belief that several of the Cavaliers have nothing left to play for due to expiring contracts and overwhelming belief that they’ll be playing elsewhere next season is straw man at best given the finite amount of roster spaces available in the NBA coupled with impending contract negotiations. Marreese Speights will be looking at the open market this summer; how could he conceivably benefit from quitting? Shaun Livingston has bounced around the NBA like a pinball and will be a year older in what is increasingly becoming a young man’s game. Luke Walton repeatedly says how embarrassed he is, how sorry he feels for Cavalier fans who have been forced to endure this sub-par product.
It is no secret that the Cavaliers have displayed abysmal effort at times, largely occurring on the defensive end. Not having an answer, Scott has attempted to implement a zone defense that would make men accountable for areas instead of players—”There aren’t that many good shooters in the NBA,” Scott said in defense of his new scheme. The result in Atlanta earlier this month was fruitful as the team kept pace with the playoff-bound Hawks. The result on Wednesday night could not have provided more of a contrast as the considerably less-athletic Nets torched the Cavaliers. A 38-year-old Jerry Stackhouse spilt two defenders for a highlight-ready dunk. Point guard Deron Williams followed up shortly thereafter with a dunk fit for All-Star weekend; it was his first dunk of the season. Walton’s use of “embarrassing” could not be more apropos. But as Scott would say post-game, for certain players, playing hard—48 minutes of high-gear effort—is a skill. For players like Anderson Varejao, it’s a way of life. For others, it’s something that can be turned on or off and has led to considerable angst throughout the 2012-13 season.
Scott is running out of excuses. Yes, he’s been riddled with injuries and the talent level of the players he has been provided over his tenure has not measured up to many of his competitors. His job as an NBA head coach is to put his players in the best position to win basketball games. It can be argued that he is leading his horses to water, but making them drink is proving to be a more difficult task. Cavalier fans have been repeatedly told that this is Year 2 of the rebuild—Scott’s jump is typically made in Year 3. Neither team owner Dan Gilbert or general manager Chris Grant were largely present on Wednesday night—they may have been lurking, but that would be the extent of their interaction with the evening.
Following the game, Scott said he had very little to offer on what just happened. He scribbled “12:00″ on the team’s giant whiteboard and told them he would offer up his thoughts after a video session, one that would undoubtedly replicate a horror film on the hardwood. Miles described the night as if it were a boxing match—”Not only did we not swing back, we didn’t even get up,” he stated. As a result of the prize fight, the swingman sat in front of his locker with cooler-ready ice bags strapped to his knees and both feet submerged in a tub of ice, saying very little, attempting to piece together what the hell had just happened to the group of guys who were practicing in their free time one night earlier.
With eight games left, the white light at the end is quickly approaching. Hopes are that none of the men who share the locker room with Miles have already started to walk toward it.
Say what you want, asking a high-ranking individual if he’s afraid of being fired is a pretty tough inquiry within a live environment. Answering it candidly is that much harder. [↩]
Backstory: Medina CG’s Rick Noland tweeted that Irving answered a question about quitting on Byron Scott with “you’ll have to ask him,” which was incorrect but widely disseminated, damning both the coach and the player. Irving, however, was referencing whether or not members of the Cavaliers have quit with “you’ll have to ask them.” Chaos, naturally, ensued. [↩]