INDEPENDENCE: Despite the Cavaliers closing the season by losing 16 of their last 18 games, General Manager Chris Grant and all the players polled on Thursday insisted former coach Byron Scott never lost the locker room.
A handful of 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 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.
But both Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson said Scott never lost the locker room, a sentiment with which Grant concurred.
“I don’t think Byron lost the team,” Grant said. “I have an enormous amount of respect for Byron and I think the players do. Obviously, the last five weeks have been difficult. But that’s part of professional sports and that’s part of an NBA season.”
Players were somber and quietly milled around Cleveland Clinic Courts after hearing the news Scott had been fired. Thompson adamantly defended Scott in recent weeks and referred to him as a father figure. Thompson seemed particularly down while discussing the firing.
“Coach Scott is a well-respected coach in this league and a well-respected man,” Thompson said. “I think everyone respected him. So no, I don’t think he lost the locker room or anything like that. We just lost games and things didn’t go our way.”
Scott was in the facility for much of Thursday, so the players had an opportunity to say their goodbyes. Irving said he talked to Scott, “but no words were really spoken. It was just kind of both of us looking at each other because we’re speechless.”
“This is all new to me right now,” Irving said. “Emotions are running high. I’m just trying to get over the loss of my basketball father, as I’ve called him.”
Despite finishing with the third-worst record in the league, Daniel Gibson thought the Cavs had enough talent to make a playoff run this season.
“The last two years, we had young guys but … you didn’t feel like you had an opportunity to make it to the playoffs,” Gibson said. “You knew that you were still growing. Being on the floor [this year] with these guys and seeing Kyrie and Tristan’s growth and Dion [Waiters] and Tyler [Zeller] and everybody you have, you felt like this is a possible playoff team. You felt that we were right there to turn that corner to being in the playoffs.”
Instead the Cavs finished 24-58.
“But you can go back to a lot of games this year that we had an opportunity to win and we were in and we were extremely competitive,” Gibson said. “With the right steps and each guy goes into the summer and gets that 1 percent better, we come back as a team and some of those games we didn’t win this season, hopefully next year that changes.”
Varejao’s goal for this season was to stay healthy, but that obviously didn’t work. Now he’ll make it his goal again for next season.
Varejao said he hasn’t decided if he’ll alter his offseason activities, something Scott suggested he do in recent days. Varejao said he’ll “probably know a lot more in the next week or so” as he visits with team doctors.
The blood clot is gone and he is off the blood thinners, a team source said. Now he’ll start the slow process of preparing for next season.
“I’m going to keep playing the same way,” Varejao said. “Everything that happened to me in the last three years is just freaky injuries and stuff you cannot control. I’m going to keep playing the same way and I feel I’ll be fine next season.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.