The defense is a mess, and some of the in-game decisions have been questionable. The Cavaliers have blown far too many big leads in games they should’ve won, and coach Byron Scott has to take responsibility for all of it.
But that doesn’t mean he should be fired when the season ends in 10 days.
That might sound hypocritical, considering the damaging story I wrote a week ago chronicling the various figures within the organization unhappy with Scott. That was intended as an objective, fact-finding mission presenting the dilemma facing the franchise.
This is my opinion: It would be a mistake to fire Scott now.
This team has issues, no doubt. But the biggest issue is a lack of talent, and that’s not the coach’s fault.
Scott said last week that he would grade his first three years here as a “C” or an incomplete. An incomplete at this point seems about right. Part of the reason the Cavs’ defense has been so bad is that they don’t have any defensive players.
Anderson Varejao has played the equivalent of one season since Scott arrived, and he is easily the team’s best defensive player. No one else is really close. Scott has tried billing Alonzo Gee as a premier defender, and while Gee isn’t bad, he isn’t making an All-Defensive Team any time in his career. He just happens to be the best option available.
As for the rest of the roster?
Kyrie Irving refuses to defend most games, Dion Waiters does a decent job when his man has the ball, but he quits moving when his opponent gives up possession. That’s why guys he’s guarding are constantly left open for shots around the perimeter — they move and he rarely follows. Part of that is traced back to his Syracuse roots in the zone defense. Scott believes it is correctable, but Waiters is only a rookie.
I expected Tristan Thompson to improve more as a defensive shot blocker this season, and it hasn’t happened. Thompson said a few weeks ago that he is concentrating more on rebounding with Varejao out, and that shot blockers typically take themselves out of position for rebounds. There is some merit to his argument, but the Cavs really need a shot blocker and he would seem to have the length and athleticism to fill the role.
The two veterans added in the deal from the Memphis Grizzlies, Wayne Ellington and Mo Speights, aren’t exactly gritty defenders, either. In fact, their lack of defense is why Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins didn’t seem terribly upset after the trade sent the pair to the Cavs.
“We have a little bit more defensively dominated mindset,” Hollins said when the Grizzlies played here last month. “When they don’t do what they’re supposed to do [defensively], they’re sitting over there next to me. They [Ellington and Speights] were over there a lot.”
Playing defense isn’t difficult, but it is an acquired taste and requires a structured system with clear principles. LeBron James wasn’t a very good defender when he entered the league, but Mike Brown helped make him elite — in time.
The problem is Scott isn’t much of a defensive coach. History indicates his teams have rarely been smothering defensively. He grew up in the NBA’s “Showtime” franchise, and Showtime had much more to do with putting the ball in the basket than keeping it out.
If Scott has any chance at keeping his job beyond next week — and I truly believe the final decision hasn’t been made yet — changes will have to be made. Management and ownership will likely require Scott to alter his coaching staff and install a better defensive system.
If not him, then who?
The biggest question team officials privately keep asking themselves — and don’t yet have an answer — is if they fire Scott, who replaces him? The first rule of hiring and firing coaches is when firing a coach, make sure you can find someone better.
Stan Van Gundy is a magnificent X’s and O’s coach whom the Cavs like, but his abrasive style can be even more grating on players than Scott.
There will be at least five and perhaps as many as 10 teams looking for new coaches this summer, making this a buyer’s market and giving marquee names like Van Gundy the option to hand-select his next job.
The Cavs have some nice young pieces, millions in cap space and a treasure chest of draft picks, but is that enough to sway him? And if not Van Gundy, then who?
No one wants to admit this, but if the Cavs make a coaching change now, the summer of 2014 and LeBron James’ future must be considered. That’s not to say the Cavs’ coaching decisions would be dictated by their former star, but one question that must be asked before they make a change is whether or not James would likely be open to the new coach?
It’s just one of many tentacles to this type of decision.
Scott is not a perfect NBA coach and might ultimately prove to be the incorrect choice to lead this franchise back to contention. But reality is no one can definitely say because he hasn’t had enough time — and certainly not enough pieces — to make a final decision.
Yes, incomplete was the appropriate response last week. This Cavs’ rebuild is incomplete, this roster is incomplete, and most certainly, the evaluation of Byron Scott as Cavaliers coach to this point has to be considered incomplete.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.