Byron Scott was fired today by the Cavaliers, a league source told the Akron Beacon Journal, one day after completing his third season in charge. He departs with a 64-166 record and his .278 winning percentage is the lowest in team history among all coaches (minimum one full season).
Rumors over Scott’s future intensified over the past couple of weeks as the Cavaliers regressed during the month of April, blew big leads throughout the season and gave a sub-par effort on multiple nights.
Owner Dan Gilbert has been unhappy with the Cavs’ lack of defensive improvement over the past three years, one team source said, speaking on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation, and Gilbert was the driving force behind the firing.
The Cavs were never supposed to win this season, but Gilbert told the Beacon Journal during training camp that this was an important year to see progress.
“I don’t even know what the definition of that is,” Gilbert said in October. “But you’ll know it when you see it.”
The team clearly didn’t show enough of it this year, at least not to the owner’s liking.
The Cavs finished last in the league in defensive field-goal percentage, allowing opponents to shoot better than 47 percent. During Scott’s three years in charge, opponents shot .475, .467 and .476 this season. They never ranked higher than 27th in the league defensively.
The team suffered the two biggest collapses in franchise history this season, blowing a 26-point lead to the Phoenix Suns and a 27-point lead to the Miami Heat in March. They lost to the New York Knicks after leading by 22 points, they blew a 14-point lead to the Boston Celtics during the last eight minutes and then lost to the Indiana Pacers after leading by 20 with nine minutes left. They became the first team in 15 years to lose four games they led by at least 20 points, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
General Manager Chris Grant was believed to be a supporter of Scott’s until the final days, when the team regressed amidst crushing losses and poor efforts.
Players and another member of the organization privately criticized Scott to the Beacon Journal in an explosive story late last month, questioning the coach’s grueling practices, his substitution patterns and his in-game strategies.
One player privately ripped Scott for his rigorous training camps and demanding practices late into the season, and another high-ranking member of the organization questioned Scott’s rotation, which often left Kyrie Irving on the bench in the fourth quarter until the game’s final few minutes.
More than once, the organization had to circle back and correct or clarify something the coach said during interview sessions, and Scott’s old school approach and complete disregard for numbers-driven analytics bothered a few within the organization.
The relationship between coach and star player also seemed to disintegrate in recent weeks. Irving conceded to being “disinterested” after a midseason loss at Detroit and committed mental blunders both on and off the court as the season concluded.
He hasn’t appeared to be the same player since the All-Star break and conceded before the season finale Wednesday that the frustration of losing and struggling to get back into a rhythm was wearing on him. He shot 47 percent and 43 percent on 3-pointers in 42 games during the first half of the season, but he slipped to 41 percent from the floor and 33 percent on 3-pointers after the break.
Irving sidestepped an initial opportunity to give Scott a strong endorsement but circled back earlier this week and said “absolutely” he wanted Scott to return.
The long-held belief that Irving and Scott were inseparable clearly eroded over the past few weeks.
“They’re close, but they’re not attached at the hip,” one player in the locker room said in recent weeks as Scott’s job security came into question. “I don’t think Kyrie would be really crushed or anything if he was fired.”
Scott’s time with the Cavs will be widely viewed as incomplete, despite the dismal record. He took the job likely believing he was going to coach LeBron James, but when James left for the Miami Heat days after Scott took the job, the Cavs launched a lengthy rebuild through the draft. He was never able to field a complete roster full of NBA-caliber players and injuries sabotaged any chance the Cavs had at success this season.
They had their projected starting lineup intact for only 10 games. The most devastating injury was Anderson Varejao’s split quadriceps muscle, which ultimately ended his season after he developed a blood clot post-surgery.
Yet even when the Cavs had some semblance of a healthy roster and steady rotation during the month of February, they went 7-5 — their one and only winning month under Scott’s direction.
Scott was often given assurances he would be the coach through the rebuild and when the team returned to contention. Even as rumors swirled about his future, he still had ongoing talks with Grant about plans for the upcoming summer and targets in this draft. He made it clear recently he is interested in finding another job quickly, although he didn’t rule out another stint with ESPN. He was working for the network as an analyst when the Cavs hired him in 2010.
Now the search will begin for his replacement. With perhaps as many as 10 head coaching jobs opening this offseason, the Cavs are expected to move quickly. Candidates they could have an interest in include Indiana Pacers assistant Brian Shaw, Golden State Warriors assistant Mike Malone, Miami Heat assistant David Fizdale and former Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. Even former coach Mike Brown — as far-fetched as it may seem on the surface — cannot be dismissed as a candidate to return.
Coaching legend Phil Jackson has reportedly shown interest in returning to the NBA, and the Cavs pursued him in 2005 before hiring Brown, but much has changed since then and it’s doubtful Jackson would have interest in the Cavs now that they’re in the midst of a rebuild.