INDEPENDENCE: In three years, coach Byron Scott couldn’t change the Cavaliers’ culture of losing.
But the two men who perpetuated that culture so the team could land another lottery pick got off Scott free.
General Manager Chris Grant failed to make roster improvements that led to the 24-victory season that cost Scott his job Thursday. Owner Dan Gilbert let Grant tread water and continue to build for a free-agent bonanza in the summer of 2014.
And think how bad the Cavs would have been without the Jan. 22 trade with the Memphis Grizzlies that brought Mo Speights, Wayne Ellington and another potential lottery pick. That gave Scott a credible 10-man roster for a 7-5 run in February that made many feel they had turned the corner.
But from the day camp opened, this season was all about the lottery pick and the Cavs achieved their goal in woeful fashion. With the third-worst record in the NBA, they will select no lower than sixth, depending on how the pingpong balls bounce on May 21.
Trailing the Orlando Magic and Charlotte Hornets, the Cavs have a 15.6 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick. Stranger things have happened, the most recent example being the “What’s not to like?” lottery that delivered Kyrie Irving in 2011.
But the strategy Gilbert and Grant took into 2012-13 season had to permeate every crevice of the franchise, even though Grant begged to differ Thursday.
“I don’t feel that from our guys or anyone in this organization, from the owner on down,” Grant said.
How was Scott supposed to convince his young players to go all-out for four quarters in every game when the organization wasn’t going all-out to improve the team now? That seems like a tough sell, even as Scott preached the daily demands that come with being a professional.
Blowing four 20-point leads, especially a 27-point advantage against the Miami Heat on March 20, might have sealed Scott’s fate. The Cavs lost 16 games when they were tied or led going into the fourth quarter.
But if the Cavs had improved on defense and still won 24 games, would Scott have been allowed to fulfill the final year of his contract?
If rookie Dion Waiters had looked better alongside All-Star guard Irving and the Cavs still lost 16 of their last 18, would Scott looking for another job today?
With the Cavs playing for the lottery pick, Scott was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.
On game nights, Scott had his shortcomings. But I can’t subscribe to the theory being bandied about on sports talk radio that Scott stood stoically and watched the Cavs unravel without calling timeout because he was instructed not to. I believe Scott was old school in that regard, believing players should fight their way out of a bad stretch like his Showtime Los Angeles Lakers did. Scott would have been safe in that conspiracy-theorist scenario.
Gilbert did not appear at Thursday’s press conference at the Cleveland Clinic Courts because he was attending the NBA Board of Governors meeting in New York, leaving Grant to explain the logic behind Scott’s firing. Grant gave little detail, citing a lack of progress “on a day-to-day basis” and the Cavs’ woeful defense.
Grant acknowledged his part in Scott’s failure more than once. Asked if Scott got a fair chance, Grant said: “I think there’s certainly challenges. I think all of us are accountable, including myself.”
Scott ended up with a .278 winning percentage, the lowest in franchise history among coaches with at least one full season. Years from now, no one will care that it wasn’t all his fault.
His best defensive player was Alonzo Gee, who wouldn’t be a starter on any other NBA team, no matter how heartwarming his rise from the D-League.
After Anderson Varejao was diagnosed in December with a split quadriceps that required surgery, Scott was left with a starting center, Tyler Zeller, who needs two offseasons of weightlifting to be league-worthy.
Irving returned from the All-Star Game disinterested, almost as if his peers had convinced him not to stick around when the Cavs can offer him a max contract in the summer of 2015.
Fans have long been enamored with Gilbert because of his emotional outburst after LeBron James’ “Decision.” Grant tried to take the fall for this decision, but Gilbert’s tweet-happy fingers were all over it.
Grant sold Gilbert on the philosophy of building through the draft, perhaps without realizing it would get a coach he respects fired.
After May 21, thoughts of how many pingpong balls are in the hopper must be banished from the minds of Cavs’ management. If the Cavs end up with the No. 1 pick, the good man who was sacrificed for it should be remembered amid the celebration of the two to-this-point blameless parties who remain.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.