Byron Scott is a paternal figure. Wise and experienced, the Cleveland Cavaliers head coach tells stories fit for the campfire. He has won multiple championships in the City of Angels, partied with Jack Nicholson, and shared a locker room with Big Country. He appreciates the finer things, is an NBA historian, and oftentimes finds himself wondering just what makes today’s players tick.
In what is very much a “kids these days” manner, Scott feels that efforts tend to be misguided—focus is paid to personal brands, impending contracts and me-first scoring rather than concentrating on defense, the fans who pay their hard-earned dollars and the ever popular full 48 minutes of work. He is the definition of “old school.” He once referred to today’s generation of players as “scary,” but in the perjorative. When Carmelo Anthony was demanding a trade, all Scott could do was bite his tongue. At one point last season, Scott referenced Sidney Moncrief—one of the greatest defenders in the history of the NBA—only to be met with blank stares from his apprenticed audience.
Scott offers tough love to his players. His preseason workouts are notoriously tough. He is demanding from start to finish. Akin to any parent-child relationship, it is not until long afterwards that the appreciation sets in. What may have been a stingy allowance was merely an attempt to instill financial responsibility. What was construed as an unfair curfew was simply means to force discipline. And what may have been assumed to be senseless chores and indentured servitude was a way to channel accountability and earning ones keep. It was Byron Scott’s unwillingness to bend his rules in an era that was all too lackadaisical that led to his New Jersey Nets playing in the NBA Finals. It was Byron Scott’s extreme expectations that have helped mold Chris Paul into the perennial MVP candidate he is today. It is this style of coaching that led to Scott being named NBA Coach of the Year in 2008 and then as a coach whom players would least like to play for two years later. And, unfortunately, it’s the same mantra that has led Scott to be the target of an anonymous attack from one of his players.
With no benefit of hindsight just yet, there is undoubtedly a level of frustration setting in during the home stretch of the 2012-13 regular season. Losses continue to pile up—some in epic fashion. Scott has taken the role of the demanding father, requiring more from his players as the season wears on. Team shootarounds today are just as long as they were during the onset of the season; practices are still used as punishment at times when the head coach feels that the team did not give maximum effort in a previous contest. The anonymous player dubbed this as “crazy” given the point in the season. This sentiment was quickly refuted by a veteran player, but also by the actions of one Kyrie Irving who had petitioned his head coach to let him back on the floor earlier than previously anticipated. Coincidentally, it was also Irving who came to Scott’s defense following the release of the Sports Illustrated poll.
It is easy to portend the end of the Byron Scott era when it comes to misused timeouts, questionable rotations and shoddy defensive effort—these are hallmarks of a head coach. The argument that the Cavaliers should have more wins at this point in their rebuilding process is one that can be easily supported; many of their oh-so-close losses can often be directly pinned to a decision—or lack of—by Scott. But to conflate Scott’s future based on the frustration and unhappiness of one cowardly player is misguided. Professional athletes are hard-wired to yearn victory. The Cavaliers under Scott yet to accrue many wins. If all of this running and “crazy” requirements were leading to victories, it would be easy to attribute success and the whining would carry little value. Instead, the focus on conditioning is now relegated to a straw man, used as means of blame as the team drops its seventh and eight straight contest.
If Byron Scott were to be relieved of his duties, it would be due to a lack of wins in what is considered to be the second year of the rebuilding process—not be because he pushed his players too hard. Alas, players should not expect their hard-nosed coach to let off of the gas merely due to the finish line being within reach.
Dan Gilbert has stated that—regardless of what the calendar says—this season was Year 2 of the team’s rebuilding process. While Scott’s players may not know who Sidney Moncrief is, they should be well aware of Scott’s track record when it comes to turning teams around, starting with the third season. This tenacity and management style are some of the integral reasons why Gilbert brought Scott on board following the departure of Mike Brown. After years of a system that let players run the asylum, Gilbert demanded a change in culture. While this change has not necessarily resulted in wins just yet, it is one that was mutually understood upon his hiring and one that would be an utter shock if it led to any sort of departure just months after the team picked up his option for the 2013-14 campaign.
There is undoubtedly be a generational gap between Scott, his championship rings and this current crop of players. Scott may have been forced to walk the Hollywood Hills (uphill, mind you) both ways. His version of Call of Duty involved setting a hard screen on one of the Detroit Bad Boys. While his players are hob-knobbing with 2 Chainz and Pitbull, Scott is blaring Otis Redding and Al Green. But as long as Dan Gilbert is behind him, Scott’s stories and choice of song will win out, his players will run, and his team will—hopefully—inch closer to contention.
After all, father knows best.
Image: Scott Sargent/WFNY