Curtain Closes, Cavs Focused on Future

April 18, 2013
Dion Waiters

Thursday afternoon in Independence marked not just the end of the 2012-13 season, but the end of the Byron Scott Era in Cleveland.

After three years and a 64-166 record, Scott was released by the Cavaliers, just hours after the team dropped their sixth straight contest – and 16 of their final 18 – to end a frustrating season.

The 52-year-old Scott became the 18th coach in franchise history in the midst of a tumultuous offseason in July, 2010. In each of his three years, the squad was plagued by injuries, including the loss of center Anderson Varejao to season-ending ailments in each. The Cavs were also in the midst of a youth movement that frequently saw Scott field a starting lineup that averaged just over 22 years of age.

But the team also didn’t make the progress that the Cavaliers brass would have liked – especially on the defensive end, where Cleveland finished last in field goal percentage allowed this year. General Manager Chris Grant echoed those sentiments at Cleveland Clinic Courts on Thursday.

“We just felt that, at this juncture, based on the fact that we weren’t making enough progress collectively as a team that this was the right decision,” said Grant. “Certainly there were challenges – injuries and the age of our roster. We’re all accountable for that, including myself.

"But once again, we felt this was the right decision for us to capitalize on this opportunity to continue to grow going forward. That’ll start today with us looking for the next person to coach this basketball team. “

As for the Cavalier players themselves, many expressed shock and sadness over their coach’s departure.

“This is actually the first time I’ve been on a team where a coach has gotten released,” said veteran forward Luke Walton. “And when you put in the hours and the sweat and the battles with people, you build a pretty good bond. It’s a tough day right now.”

“(Scott)’s always going to have a special place in my heart because he was my first NBA coach,” added Tristan Thompson. “He definitely helped me become a better player and a better man off the court. So I definitely give respect to him and he’s going to mean a lot to me.”

Tristan’s 2011 draft classmate, Kyrie Irving, also expressed sadness over the release of the man he called his “basketball father.”

“The relationship I’ve developed over the two years with him has been very special, so it’s hurtful,” said Irving.

But Irving, like most of his teammates, shouldered much of the load for Scott’s dismissal.

“We all take responsibility for this as professional athletes in this business,” added the first-time All-Star. “That’s all we can do. We just have to leave it all out there on the floor and we have to take some responsibility for this. I, myself, take responsibility.”

Irving heads into the offseason after a breakout sophomore campaign in 2012-13. He put on another show during All-Star Weekend in Houston, winning the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest after being named the sixth-youngest player ever to make the midseason classic. He was one of the league’s top fourth-quarter performers and joined Lenny Wilkens as the only other Cavalier to average at least 20.0 points, 5.0 assists while shooting at least 80 percent from the stripe.

Rookie Dion Waiters – the former No. 4 overall pick who topped all Eastern Conference freshmen in scoring at 14.7 ppg – took it a step further.

“Like I told (Coach), I know this year I lost a couple games for us,” said Waiters. “I can man up to my mistakes. We could have won a lot more games than we did this year that we let slip away from us.

“(But) like I said, I’m a man and I can man up to my mistakes. And that’s how I learned and got better from it, by making those mistakes.”

Those games that slipped away were likely a big part of Scott’s downfall. This season alone, the Cavaliers led four games in which they led by more than 20 slip away – including a painful home loss to the Miami Heat on March 20.

“We didn’t get the job done and everyone’s accountable for it,” admitted Tristan Thompson. “Us, as players, we have to come out and compete every night, and we didn’t do that some nights. So the organization had a decision it had to make. They did what they had to do and whichever coach is picked next, we’re going to give 110 percent.”

Thompson, as much as any Cavalier, can go into the season with his head held high. He improved as much as any player on the roster – upping his scoring average 3.5 points and his rebounding mark by almost three boards per game. He was also one of two Cavs, along with Alonzo Gee, to start all 82 games for the Wine and Gold.

“Everybody was surprised; nobody knew (Scott’s firing) was going to happen,” added Gee. “We just didn’t get it done on the court. We didn’t get it done – we didn’t win. But we have to look forward to the future and try to move on and get better.”

Like Thompson, Gee made big strides this season after re-signing as a free agent with the Cavaliers this past offseason. He was Cleveland’s best perimeter defender and – after being claimed off waivers in late December, 2010 – averaged double-figures in each of his last two seasons.

Gee, Thompson and the Cavaliers frontcourt took another big blow this year when their starting center Anderson Varejao was sidelined for the season. At the time of his injury in December, Varejao was leading the league in rebounding. On Thursday, the Wild Thing – one of the young team’s few veteran leaders – appraised another difficult campaign.

“I just believe those things are going to happen when you have a young team,” said the nine-year pro. “Sometimes you play good and you impress yourself, you think you’re going to be really good and next thing you know you’re not playing your best basketball.

“Everybody respects coach here. He’s a good coach, he’s a good guy. It’s not always about as good as a coach, it’s just the situation. The last three years, we’ve had injuries, we’ve had a young team, new players and stuff like that. The front office is going to make a change and we have to respect that, too.”

One of the Cavaliers other long-time vets, Boobie Gibson, also lamented a difficult season that saw him miss 23 games.

“I just want to be healthy so I can just play,” said Gibson. “My whole thing is that I haven’t been able to play and it’s been killing me that I haven’t been able to help the team. I sort take some of the blame when we lose a coach because of the product that I put out there on the floor this season. I feel like I could have done so much more.”

The Wine and Gold as an organization enter into another big offseason. They’ll have two first-rounders – including the Lakers’ pick that was guaranteed on the final night of the season – and two selections high in the second round. They’ll be in the hunt for free agents and get their youngsters more seasoning in Summer League.

But before that, they’ll be searching for a new head coach to return the franchise to NBA postseason prominence. And, according to Chris Grant, that search started on a sunny but somber getaway day in Independence.

“Moving forward, we’ll look for someone who’s a proven success,” said Grant. “We’ll look for somebody that (emphasizes) strong defense in a proven system. We’ll look for somebody that’s a teacher. We’ll look for somebody that’s a grinder and a worker.”