The DEFEND Cleveland Show



Ain’t nothing like a good ol fashion Cleveland coach firing

Reports are circulating via various NBA writers/media members that sources inside the Cavaliers organization are claiming that Byron Scott’s head is on the proverbial chopping block and it is only a matter of days before the executioner’s axe falls.  If you’ve listened to DC Friday for the past two months Mike and I have on multiple occasions come to the defense of Scott citing the usual information, injuries, young team, team never made actual moves via free agency to improve the roster, as to why we thought there was no way Scott was actually headed for an early exit.  Further backing this is the fact that Scott was signed to a 4.5 million dollar extension before the year for the 2013-2014 season.  That would put him in the top ten in terms of coaching salaries and the Cavaliers will have to pay him regardless of if they fire him or not.  Dan Gilbert has shown he has no problem spending money on this team; he regularly went into the Luxury Tax while LeBron James was still here.  So perhaps that isn’t reason to truly think Scott’s job is safe, but still count me as shocked.

The world of professional sports is an impatient one and hardly ever fair in its judgment of coaches and players.  Cleveland is no different and perhaps worse than other cities in this regard.  The championship draught in this city has made sports fans frustrated and impatient with their teams.  I can understand that.  It is not a shock to me that when I tune into the radio or talk to somebody at a local bar and someone gives the opinion that Scott should be fired. These people are not in the business of sports and are merely fans who want to win.  I’d be lying if I said it didn’t annoy me, especially when you hear their uninformed reasoning, but part of the fun of sports is having an opinion no matter how stupid.  I don’t believe this front office to be stupid though and it is they, not the fans, that will be swinging the axe if Byron Scott is indeed let go.  The best argument that can be made against Scott without using information that only the front office would be privy to is that the Cavaliers are terrible defensively.  Their vomit inducing defense isn’t some new revelation either, but has been a staple of this team throughout Scott’s entire tenure as a head coach of the Cavs.  In all three years here the Cavs have been a bottom five defense.  So who’s to blame for this, the young players and lackluster roster or Byron Scott?

Defense or Swiss Cheese?

If you look at the six worst defensive teams this season according to John Hollinger’s team defensive efficiency stats you’ll see the following list of teams: Detroit, Orlando, Portland, Sacramento, Cleveland, Charlotte, and New Orleans.  What else do all those teams have in common?  Their all amongst the youngest teams in the league except Sacramento who though their birth certificates might not place them in the bottom 10 in terms of average age their maturity certainly does.  You can’t play top 10 defense with inexperienced players.  Anthony Davis, the #1 overall draft pick by the Hornets and my hero for proudly not shaving his unibrow, was drafted based mainly on his defensive prowess and though he’s shown flashes of being a potentially great defensive player he still has a lot to learn.  Oh and the Hornets are statistically even worse than the Cavs on defense.  The main culprit of this youth-poor defense correlation is that when compared to High School and College, NBA defense is crazy complicated and is complete 180 for these players.  It is almost like learning a brand new game. Zach Lowe of Grantland, who is maybe the best NBA writer out their currently that covers the entire league and not just single team, recently wrote an article exploring the change in NBA defense that has emerged over the last three years and how much more intricate it has become.  I recommend you read it (after you’re done with this of course).


Combine this fact with the constantly shifting roster due to injuries and the fact that the Cavs are in a transition period and it is hard to put too much blame on Scott for their failure here.  I’m not absolving him completely of this by any means.  I’ve never been one to throw random projectiles in anger during my sports viewing, but the Cavalier’s defense might break that streak if it continues like this into next season and Scott will definitely be partially responsible for my broken TV, but to fire a coach for this alone when the blame isn’t even all his seems rash.  There must be something else going on here.  This front office isn’t going to fire a coach over fan outrage.  They are used to angry fans and their recent draft picks clearly show they don’t give a fuck what the fans, including me, think in terms of how to build a team.  A fact that I am actually quite pleased with.  So what exactly is the front office thinking if they fire Coach Scott?

Who Said What?

Everything from here on out is going to be just conjecture, but that is how it goes with these situations.  Any information of what is really going on behind the scenes always must be taken with a grain of salt and I know I could just wait for the inevitable press conference that would accompany Scott’s firing, but seriously 99.9% of press conferences are banal drivel that doesn’t actually provide any purpose except to waste anyone’s time whose dumb enough to tune in, like me.

Jason Lloyd in the Akron Beacon Journal recently reported some discontent among the players over Scott’s training camp/in-season practice regiment and though I initially wanted to believe it was one or two out of favor players leaking this, perhaps it is actually more prevalent than I wanted to believe in the locker room.  It seemed silly upon initial reading, these are highly paid athletes after all and Coach Scott isn’t exactly some NBA coaching noob.  He has won an NBA title as a player three times and been to two finals as a coach. I’d like to imagine he knows better than a bunch of young NBA players who have won exactly fuck all, but maybe the front office is concerned with what could be a more wide spread unhappiness with Coach Scott’s methods in the locker room.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the NBA season is not something that you win, but something that you merely must survive with your team intact and healthy.  One of the many reasons Greg Popovich of the Spurs is considered such a great coach is that he is figured out how to limit his best player’s minutes, preserving their bodily capital for the playoffs, while still winning 55+ games a season. The importance of this cannot be understated and there are glaring examples of what happens if you do not follow this strategy.  The main consequence is of course injury or more minor fatigue/pains that might not keep players from playing, but do inhibit them from performing at their max.  To Scott’s defense he has been good about not over playing his young players minutes wise; a decision that has actually drawn him some heat due to the thought that Kyrie should be coming back into some of these games early.  Off the court though I can’t say what effect his practices have had on the team, but I’m merely making this point because this type of stuff does matter in the NBA and fans need to get away from the barbaric notion that these are highly paid athletes so they should just be able to push through whatever is asked of them by both the coaches and the fans.  The body has limits and no amount of tough guy bullshit is going to change that.  If Scott’s practice methods are indeed outdated and are one reason for the Cavs lack luster energy late in games or on defense in general this is indeed a legit reason to put under the “Reasons to fire Byron Scott” category.

Coach Scott and his Point Guards

Kyrie has been remarkably mum when asked about Coach Scott’s future, declining to comment on it.  I normally wouldn’t put much credence in this as a news story, but when contrasted with Tristan Thompson’s outward support of his coach as well as the previously held media perception that Kyrie and Coach Scott had a good relationship it is hard for me to believe there isn’t a rift between the two of them.  I’d like to think, if true at all, this has no bearing on whether or not Scott is retained, but the truth is that NBA players have a certain level of influence on management as we here in Cleveland know all too well. If the front office doesn’t feel like Byron is a good fit with this current roster personality wise then it might feel like it is best to move on.

After all, Byron has a history of apparently of “wearing out his welcome” with the two previous teams he coached, New Orleans and New Jersey.  After two consecutive seasons of reaching the finals with the Nets he was fired after starting out the season 22-20 and residing in first place in their division.  Rumors swirled about how his players, mainly their star Jason Kidd, had tuned him out.  A lot of the quotes coming from the post-firing pressers involved lines like “sometimes a change or a different voice is good”.  This seemed to be clear a case of team being fed up with their coach and despite the team having a relatively high level of success, Scott was canned.

In New Orleans Scott seemingly turned the franchise around with the help of star point guard Chris Paul, who he is quite close too and who Paul refers to as a “mentor”.  Despite his success there though he was let go nine games into the 2009-2010 season.  David West, a forward with the Hornets at the time was quoted as saying “Among the team I think there was a sense [that] a few guys weren’t trusting what we had in terms of our system and our ability to know what we were going to get every single night from our system.” , which in context of what the Cavaliers are currently experiencing, hit rather close to home.  Byron’s past gigs paint him as somewhat stubborn and I can imagine the Cavaliers players or front office might be glimpsing this now.  Their defensive scheme has not changed all that much throughout the year and yet still they persist all the while not improving.  If Cleveland players are losing faith in Scott and his coaching abilities it is hard to argue with a possible dismissal.  It is hard to be an effective coach if the players aren’t buying in.

Overused sporting phrase 5892: “Culture of Losing”

The idea of a “culture of losing” gets thrown around a lot by fans and the media.  Much like communism, I can’t help believe this is just another red herring.  People are worried that these young players will somehow be infected with a losing attitude from not having any success and this will be a long term detriment to this team.  There is some validity to this thinking, but I’m not sure how it applies to rookies and second year players.  The Thunder were terrible in Durant’s second year.  This didn’t prevent them from progressing one bit.  That is just one example, but young teams rarely have instant success.  Unless you’re Magic Johnson and you immediately get to team up with Kareem, you’re going to have to take your lumps.

The fact is that when more talent is brought in and the current talent develops more this team will win barring injuries.  To what level they win at I can’t say, but they will be a playoff team, hopefully even next year.  If the current young players can’t take this current level of adversity I think that says more about them as players than Byron Scott as a coach.  Perhaps the players want to blame their own defensive flaws on their coach and hope to escape blame themselves, but I really question whether not some new coach will just be the magical remedy the Cavs need to fix their defensive woes.  All the defensive schemes in the world won’t make up for a lack of effort and focus.

Kyrie needs to step up realize being an all-star, being in commercials, and knowing the right things to say in interviews doesn’t make you a leader.  The shit he pulled on fan night walking off the court because he got his pocket picked by CSU alum Norris Cole in the final seconds of Fan Appreciation night was almost unacceptable except for the fact that I have to remind myself he is only 21 and still has a lot of growing up to do.  His tweets express regret over his actions, but his actions have really yet to express leadership.  Instead the mantle of leadership seems to be on Tristan’s shoulders.  If Tristan is meant to be the emotional/vocal leader of this team then that is fine, but Kyrie’s own maturity still needs to evolve.

BYE-RON Scott?

As for Coach Scott, well perhaps he will be joining the recently dismissed Pat Shurmur in the “We Didn’t Get a Fair Shake In Cleveland” club.  Unlike Shurmur though Scott’s history shows that he is a winner and if given the proper talent he can take a team far in the playoffs.  Ultimately that is why if Byron doesn’t return next year I’ll have to shake my head and sigh.  Not because I know he was the right coach for this team, because I admit I am more unsure of that than I have ever been, but because a coach with a proven track record was given the unfair load of the blame while a bunch of young players who have proved absolutely nothing were let off the hook.  He’ll just be another ripple caused by LeBron’s exit.  Just when the Cavs begin to have cap space and clear out all the dead weight left over from “The Decision” and just when these young players finally were getting enough experience under their belts to perhaps make a jump to the playoffs, they’ll be cutting Byron loose.  People will surely remark that I shouldn’t feel bad for him.  The Cavs will still have to pay him 4.5 million next year and yeah he’ll move on and he won’t struggle financially, but that doesn’t mean I have to like their decision to part with him.  Maybe he really does wear on his players really quickly and he deserves to leave, but from my seat it just doesn’t seem fair.  I know I said I never expect sports to be fair, but that doesn’t mean I don’t secretly hope for them to be.


-Joe Mastrantoni

Listen every Friday to “Defend Cleveland Friday with Mike and Joe”  by clicking here, a weekly hour long Cleveland sports podcast companion to the DC Show that’s the best way to end you week, and the only way to begin your weekend.

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Posted by on Apr 17 2013. Filed under Featured, Hands Down, Man's Down. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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