Byron Scott was hired in the Summer of 2010, largely because Dan Gilbert hoped that his up-tempo offense would appeal to superstar LeBron James as he embraced free agency. An organization that prided itself on defense temporarily set that bedrock principle aside. It wasn't that Scott couldn't coach defense exactly, but it wasn't the primary reason he was hired by the Cavaliers. LeBron James wasn't persuaded to stay, and three years later Byron Scott is out. In the press conference held in the wake of the firing, General Manager Chris Grant made it clear that any replacement for Scott will have a strong defensive pedigree. This makes sense. The Cavaliers defense was an abomination this season. They gave up the highest field goal percentage in the NBA and blocked the second least amount of shots. Their defensive rating ranked 27th of 30 teams. As a team, they had the smallest number of defensive rebounds in the league, a symptom of opposing team making such a high percentage of their shots.
But you all know that the Cavaliers defense was terrible. And there are elements of the futility that can be tied to Scott. The Cavaliers are a relatively athletic team that has guys who can run the floor, and yet they were beat repeatedly in transition. Young players like Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters made great strides offensively, but not in terms of team defense. Alonzo Gee is no longer a young player, but there was no discernible improvement in his off-ball defense. It is unfair to ask first and second year players to be good defenders; it is fair to ask them to get better as the season goes on.
Blaming Byron Scott entirely, though, doesn't make sense. Chris Grant deserves a healthy portion of the blame. This isn't really an article meant to criticize Grant. The slow rebuild was almost certainly the correct option for Cleveland in the wake of James leaving. Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson appear to be great picks, and Dion Waiters looks like he is on track to become a solid starting shooting guard with time. The trade of Mo Williams that led to Kyrie Irving, the Ramon Sessions trade that continues to keep giving, and swiping a future lottery pick from Memphis and probably Sacramento have been fantastic. But if Grant is going to talk about accountability, the burden is now on him. It is time to use the assets he has to put a winning team on the court.
What am I looking for from Chris Grant moving forward? Let me first explicitly say what I am not looking for. I don't want him to blow the financial flexibility in 2014 the Cavaliers will have. I don't want to make a run at Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap this summer. I don't want to be giving long term money on the downside of their career, especially if it costs serious assets (looking at you, Luol Deng). But if it is time for accountability for Grant, I should be as specific as possible. This is what I have in mind:
No more developmental league guys getting serious minutes
The last few years have seen the Cavaliers give real playing time to some guys who aren't NBA players. Donald Sloan, Jeremy Pargo, Samardo Samuels, Manny Harris, Lester Hudson, D.J. Kennedy, Kevin Jones, and Alonzo Gee all played, and it made some sense; the Cavaliers weren't going to be a really good team, might as well have some young players see if they can make it. Gee worked out, maybe, and Kevin Jones has a shot to stick around on the roster next year. Moving forward, though, Grant needs to be responsible for putting Cleveland in a better position to win. This means that guys like Pargo and Sloan can't be the backup to Kyrie Irving. It means that an injury to Luke Walton (who also wouldn't have been getting minutes anywhere else) shouldn't mean an undrafted rookie power forward like Kevin Jones gets run. It means that an injury to Anderson Varejao shouldn't lead to a rookie center taken out of the lottery playing 35 minutes a night. It means that Alonzo Gee shouldn't play the second most minutes of any Cavalier anymore because other than Omri Casspi there isn't a small forward on the roster.
Be proactive in free agency
Again, this doesn't mean that I want Cleveland to break the bank on a player who isn't that good. Targeted signings like the one that brought in CJ Miles are good enough; they need to happen more often. Retaining Miles and Ellington would be a start, though if Ellington's deal gets much richer than the $3 million qualifying offer the Cavs can choose to tender there would be cause for pause. Matt Barnes and Martell Webster are guys who can make three pointers and guard. Carl Landry would be a great power forward off the bench. Samuel Dalembert would help the Cavs protect the rim a little better. These signings wouldn't be sexy, but if they give the Cavaliers actual depth it would be a huge step towards the playoffs next season.
Start using the surplus of draft picks for established NBA talent
The Cavaliers have 15 draft picks over the next four years, many of which are in the first round. While there is some talk that these picks are not valued around the league, that view is wrong. The Chicago Bulls valued their mid first round pick this season so much that they were willing to pay the luxury tax for the first time in Jerry Reinsdorf's history of owning the team - in a year in which there best player won't play a single minute. Gerald Henderson is a pretty good player, and could have been helpful to a playoff team, but the Charlotte Bobcats were unable to secure a first round pick for his services. As punitive luxury tax fines kick in, young talent on manageable contracts are valued, and the easiest way to acquire those players is through the draft.
I have written about wanting a player like Al Horford or Marc Gasol. Other players may or may not become available. Again, you want to do it in a way that doesn't necessarily hurt Cleveland's flexibility for 2014, but the main point is that it is time to stop collecting future draft picks, and it is time to start getting players that can help now. The Cavaliers don't need to try and win an NBA title next season, but they do need to see their young core take concrete steps towards becoming a winning team. I don't know who will be available when. But between now and the trade deadline, Grant should be trying to make a big splash.
Conrad has written that the Cavaliers are done tanking. I have written in the past that the team is in a state of limbo. With a new coach coming in, free agency and the draft approaching, that doesn't have to be the case. The Cavs can start winning now. Chris Grant, the ball is in your court.