To be fair to Byron Scott, this was not the job he signed up for. When Scott agreed to become the 18th head coach in Cleveland Cavaliers history on July 1, 2010, a fellow by the name of LeBron James still was considered to be the cornerstone of the franchise’s present and future. Yes, James technically was a free agent but the very act of hiring Scott was seen by some as a move that would enhance the Cavaliers’ chances of keeping him.
A week later, James announced his decision. So long, Cuyahoga. Hello, South Beach.
And yet, Scott’s job was the one he stayed on for, through three difficult seasons that yielded some common problems and some unique challenges.
The talent cupboard was pretty bare once all those supporting pieces around James left or were rightly cleared out. What talent remained mostly was young, embodied by second-year point guard Kyrie Irving, rookies Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller and youngters such as Tristan Thompson, Alonzo Gee and eventually Marreese Speights. And then, this season, injuries to defensive presence Anderson Varejao, to Irving and to others got layered onto the issues already in place.
The result: A 24-58 record that was worse than 2011-12’s 21-45 (in the post-lockout 66-game schedule).
And swiftly, Scott’s termination, not quite 34 months into a 48-month contract but after several weeks of speculation, too. His record: 64-166, heavily tilting the near-.500 mark he brought after most of 10 seasons with New Jersey and New Orleans (he’s 416-521 now).
The Cavaliers, in their news release, said all the expected things: the tremendous respect management has for him professionally, the admiration personally, yada yada yada. That’s boilerplate at this time of year. What got Scott was what gets so many others in his profession: the lack of Cleveland’s tangible improvement in his third season and an eagerness/impatience level from owner Dan Gilbert that was out of sync with the length of his deal, if not expectations.
With Irving running the attack, at least for the 59 games in which he appeared, the Cavs were a third-tier team offensively but trending upward. Defensively, though – and Varejao’s absence can’t be overstated here – they were headed in the wrong direction (27th in the league with a rating of 109.4).
Comments from players once news of Scott’s firing was made official were fairly typical. Gee, I wish I could have done more. And no, it didn’t seem like he lost the locker room.
More interesting, though, was the list of possible replacements that the Cleveland Plain Dealer posted within minutes.
Among the names offered in the combo wish list/guessing game: Phil Jackson, Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, John Calipari, Larry Brown, Rick Pitino, Nate McMillan, Mo Cheeks, Flip Saunders, Jerry Sloan and one or both of the Van Gundy Bros. Current NBA assistants Brian Shaw, Mike Malone and Mike Budenholzer also were mentioned, as were former Cavs bench boss Mike Brown and Keith Dambrot – James’ high school coach now at Akron.
There was a sense, as the news spread, that Cleveland GM Chris Grant ought to act fast, lest some other team with a vacancy snatch the Cavs’ preferred candidate. But that’s the good thing about the coaching carousel – for every one thrown off, another one comes on. And – cue the calliope music! – round and round it goes.
What, you thought the playoffs and the draft were going to provide all the NBA entertainment in the next couple of months?