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An honest critique of Byron Scott and his job with the Cleveland Cavaliers

Unfortunately for the Cavaliers and their fans, the 2012-2013 season has yet to come to an end. As the Cavaliers heart-crushing and sometimes downright embarrassing losing streak stretches on, fans want answers as to why this team looks just so bad. Recently, the subject of fan's ire has been Byron Scott, opening up a frustrating dialogue between two camps; the one that thinks Byron Scott is the worst thing ever and must go, and the one that thinks he can do no wrong and must stay. This is an attempt at bridging the divide.


It's been a rough month to be a fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers. After coming out strong in February after the trade that brought Marresse Speights and Wayne Ellington to town, many fans, myself included, had high hopes for the remainder of the season.

In retrospect, that was a mistake.

Here the Cavaliers stand, 22-52 on the season, in the midst of a heart-breaking 10 game losing streak. Their most recent loss, an absolutely embarrassing annihilation at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets, seems to have been the straw that broke the camel's back for many Cavs fans. And who's to blame them, really? This comes just shortly removed from the Cavaliers blowing a 27 point lead against the hated Miami Heat at home. Not only was the hometown Cleveland crowd robbed of a victory against LeBron James in the most heart-breaking way possible, it also denied them what would surely have been the highlight of the season in snapping the Miami Heat's near historic winning streak. Instead, they got embarrassed yet again and in a fashion much like they lost to the New York Knicks at home after having a substantial lead a week prior.

This is becoming a disturbing trend of late with the Cavaliers. Like clockwork, any lead that the team has going into the half can be expected to be completely blown in the third quarter. This is so common, that I tried to explain it away in an earlier post a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, it seems my explanations haven't caught on and a sizable portion of Cavs fans have come up with their own explanation to why the Cavaliers continually blow leads and look lost, confused and defeated on the court.

Byron Scott.

What started as a quiet din has erupted into a full-blown outrage, with many Cavaliers fans openly calling for Byron Scott's job. Of course, this has galvanized yet another portion of Cavaliers fans into defending Scott against any and all allegations. Unfortunately, the world isn't so black and white. While the problems with the Cavaliers haven't been 100% the fault of Byron Scott, they also haven't been 100% not the fault of Byron Scott. This is my attempt at trying to find some fair criticisms.

While the "Byron Scott can do no wrong crowd" loves to dismiss the collapses against the Miami Heat and New York Knicks away by saying that the Cavaliers had no business having that lead in the first place, that's no excuse. The NBA plays all 82 games in a season for a reason. On any given night, any team in the NBA can beat any other team. Games between two teams that are comically mismatched don't just get skipped over, their outcomes assumed. They get played. And they get played because upsets can and do happen. The Miami Heat have lost to the Washington Wizards and Orlando Magic this season. It's totally possible for them to lose a game to the Cleveland Cavaliers, especially if the Cavaliers were carrying a 27 point lead.

That's why these collapses cannot be just brushed away under the rug. There are lessons to be learned from these games and, unfortunately for the pro-Byron Scott contingent, that lesson is that Coach Scott sometimes mismanages the game clock and time-outs. The Cavaliers walked away from the Miami Heat loss with a timeout left. When Shane Battier and LeBron James were raining threes down in the Q, Scott failed to make any attempts to disrupt their momentum with a timeout. Examples of this are plentiful throughout most of these Cavaliers collapses. Say what you will about the inevitability of the loss, Scott walked away from those games without exhausting every possible strategy he had available.

Of course, Byron Scott wouldn't have needed to call those timeouts if the team on the floor wasn't short-handed and in the midst of blowing a 27 point lead. Those losses absolutely aren't all on him. But then again, when you're seemingly unable to coach defense, maybe there is a slight bit of blame to go around. And saying that Scott could coach defense in New Orleans and New Jersey isn't a valid excuse. Alonzo Gee and Tristan Thompson are above average defenders, yet the Cavaliers are an absolute sieve on defense. That said, Scott does deserve praise for the defensive development of Kyrie Irving throughout the year and for turning Alonzo Gee into a decent rotation player given his D-League background. But for whatever reason, this individual development is yet to develop into any sort of team development. That's an important point I'll come back to in a bit.

A much more fair criticism stemming from these collapses is Scott's poor play calling at the end of close games, of which there's been a lot of this season. While Scott's job is much easier with Kyrie Irving on the floor, the current strategy of "get the ball to Kyrie and pray" isn't going to be successful each and every night. Sometimes, like against the Toronto Raptors earlier in the year, it works out. Other times, like against the New York Knicks in that collapse, it fails spectacularly with someone like Tyson Chandler blocking a poorly selected three pointer. This is the one area of the game more than any other where a good coach really shows. And this is where Scott's weaknesses are most glaring.

A perfect example is the last game against the Miami Heat in Miami. While Kyrie Irving had been struggling all game, Dion Waiters was more than pulling his fair share. Yet again, the game came down to the wire. How'd it end? With Dion Waiters standing on the perimeter as Kyrie Irving tossed up an awkward scoop shot while tripping in the paint. Why wasn't a play called in that situation that utilized Dion Waiters, who had been hot the entire game? Why wasn't Kyrie used as a distraction to bait the defense away from Waiters to let him get open? Why was the selected play basically amount to "let a struggling Kyrie improvise against the best defense in the league"?


Dion Waiters himself illustrates another concern of mine with Byron Scott. By all accounts, Byron Scott wanted Dion Waiters on the Cavaliers. He was Scott's pick in last year's draft. When he's played without Kyrie, he's improved immensely and shown massive amounts of potential. And yet, when Kyrie is playing, he turns into a spot-up shooter that occasionally goes ISO, usually with poor results. This is the backcourt that Byron Scott wanted, yet he's failed to design a system around the Kyrie and Dion in which both are used effectively. Much like he's failed to capitalize on Tristan Thompson's offensive development and call more plays which get the ball to him in the post. {Editor's note: I will have a piece on Byron coming up soon and I intend to slice up these points, but I'll let you guys react to them for now.}


And that I think is the fairest assessment of Byron Scott at this point. He obviously has an eye for talent and knows how to develop it. Under his guidance, Kyrie Irving has turned into a 20 year old all-star, Tristan Thompson has developed into a player fitting of a fourth-overall selection and Dion Waiters looks like a guy that could potentially one day be a difference maker. When healthy, Anderson Varejao has turned into an unstoppable double-double machine. And yet, the Cavaliers have only won 22 games this season. For some reason, all that individual growth and development has yet to manifest into any sort of noticeable improvement as a team. A starting five with two (three when Varejao is healthy) above average man-on-man defenders is somehow one of the worst defensive teams in the league. A team that can at times be an offensive powerhouse regularly blows double digit leads. A team with one of the best clutch players in the league regularly loses games in heartbreaking fashion.

Right now, the Cavaliers are less than the sum of their parts. And that's on Coach Scott. No more. No less. Does that mean he needs to be fired? Absolutely not. But does that mean he's blameless when it comes to this season's struggles? No. Just like the rest of the Cavaliers, Scott needs to learn from this season and improve his game if the Cavs want to be successful going forward. And if that doesn't happen, then it's time to start thinking about giving him the Ryan Hollins treatment. But not until then. No sooner. No later.