Yesterday I reported that the Cleveland Cavaliers are interested in former Hornets coach Byron Scott as a candidate for the vacant head coaching position. Scott was fired only nine games into this season after a disappointing 2009 postseason and start to the 2009-10 season.
But what would it mean if Scott were to take over as head coach in Cleveland? Well, in the first of what will be a couple of free agent coach profiles, we’ll take a look at Byron Scott, analyzing his past gigs, coaching style, strengths, and, most importantly, weaknesses.
First, Byron Scott has a career 352-355 (.498) record with a 33-24 (.579) record in the playoffs. His first gig was with the New Jersey, inheriting a 31-51 Nets team and taking them to two straight NBA Finals appearances in his second and third season. He would be fired halfway through his fourth season and relocate to New Orleans to coach the Hornets the following year. In five full seasons with the Hornets, Scott would win 200 regular season games, including a 56-26 (.683) 2007-08 campaign that netted him Coach of the Year honors.
Without further ado, here is a look at what Byron Scott would mean to the Cavaliers, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly style.
In his two previous coaching gigs, Byron Scott entered the arena like Clint Eastwood, commanding respect while shooting the hats off of any players unwilling to buy into his philosophy. Prior to Scott’s arrival in New Jersey, the Nets had one winning season in the previous six seasons and hadn’t had a 50 win season since 1976, when they were still part of the ABA. However, it took Scott only two years to churn out a 50 win season and he compiled a 101-63 (.616) record in his second and third years combined.
It’s a process that Ryan Schwan of Hornets247 calls “forging a team.” Last season he claimed that “I don’t think there is a lot of question that Byron Scott has been successful at building team identity and cohesiveness.” He went on to state that “the players who got time were the players that would buy into what he was selling. Knuckleheads were not tolerated. That’s Byron Scott. Even during the struggles this season, did anyone see real cracks in the teams facade?”
Over the years, it has been this trait, Scott’s seemingly effortless ability to mend a broken team and set them on the right path, that has stood out as his best quality. Furthermore, we as fans can only speculate how he would do if he inherited a good situation, such as a 61 win team and title contender, assuming LeBron James re-signs. Such a great opportunity could give Scott the boost he needs to lead a team back to the Finals, much like he did in 2002 and 2003.
Additionally, Scott has a reputation for being a good “player’s coach.” He is able to command respect while maintaining a good report with his best players. Chris Paul had a great relationship with Scott and was reportedly upset when he was fired, citing his great communication and claiming “he was always straight-forward with you from Day One.”
If Paul believed in Byron Scott even after he was fired, then Scott may be a coach that can command the respect of LeBron James. One thing’s for certain; whether or not he would be successful in Cleveland, Byron Scott would not tolerate his team ignoring his pleas to foul the opponent in the final minutes of an elimination game.
Lastly, Byron Scott has a good history of offensive efficiency while coaching ball-dominant players such as Jason Kidd and Chris Paul. Granted those players are legitimate point guards, whereas LeBron operates the offense in a point forward capacity, but Scott would likely be able to achieve offensive efficiency with James dominating the ball while making sure not to revert to 20 second isolation plays down the stretch.
During the 2007-08 season, when Scott was crowned Coach of the Year, the Hornets were tied for 2nd in terms of offensive efficiency, whereas the Cavaliers were tied for 17th. The Hornets were also 1st in offensive efficiency that postseason, while the Cavs finished 14th out of 16 teams.
Both Kidd and Paul thrived offensively under Byron Scott, averaging more points and assists per game with Scott as their head coach than in the following seasons with their team. One would only hope that if Scott were to take over the LeBron-led Cavaliers that he would be able to gain his respect, smooth out any issues, and correct the bad offensive habits that the team has practiced over the past few seasons, namely relying solely on LeBron’s isolation during crucial stretches of the game.
However, while Byron Scott’s offensive efficiency has been good for the most part, particularly in the 2007-08 season, his pace is cause for concern. After watching Cleveland’s offense struggle in a slow, halfcourt set over the past few postseasons, fans have been clamoring for a quicker pace. This growing ideology of breaking LeBron and his teammates free from the chains of a slow offensive pace isn’t exactly new, as even LeBron himself has complained about it in the past. “We don’t get easy buckets… easy buckets can always help, it doesn’t hurt,” James expressed back in early 2007. Even Larry Hughes chimed in, adding “I definitely think we should run more, it suits our team.”
That was during the 2006-07 season, when the Cavaliers were tied for tied for 21st in the offensive pace rankings. In the three seasons that followed, the Cavs were ranked 23rd, 25th, and 25th in pace, a measure of a team’s possessions per game. Under Byron Scott, the Hornets didn’t fare much better. The last full season that Scott coached, 2008-09, the Hornets were ranked 28th in offensive pace, only a two spot improvement from the season before, when the Cavaliers were ranked 23rd and LeBron James still wasn’t too pleased with the pace of the offense.
While it hasn’t hurt Cleveland’s regular season success, such a slow pace has hindered the Cavaliers in the postseason. For instance, after averaging 102.1 points per game in the regular season this year, the Cavs scored only 95.2 points per game in the six game series versus the Boston Celtics. Typically a slower pace aids the defense, which explains why the Cavaliers let up only 95.6 points per game in the regular season, but the Celtics were able to score 100.5 points per game in the eastern conference semifinals. Ultimately, the Celtics, unlike the Cavaliers, were able to get out and run the last three games of the series, outscoring Cleveland 53-25 in fastbreak points, overcoming a 2-1 series deficit with three straight victories.
Ultimately, a faster pace isn’t absolutely necessary, as the Spurs were ranked 27th in offensive pace the year they beat the Cavaliers in the Finals, but there is a public perception amongst the fans, analysts, writers, and even the players that the Cavaliers need to push the tempo offensively. In fact, many fans and analysts, such as Charles Barkley, wanted Mike Brown out of Cleveland because he slowed down the offense. With this perception in mind, welcoming Byron Scott to Cleveland would be setting him up for failure in the eyes of fans with lofty offensive expectations. If everything doesn’t go smooth right off of the bat, fans could turn on him quickly.
These are the very ugly concerns I have when it comes to the prospect of Byron Scott manning the Cavaliers. The first one deals with Scott’s game-planning. Many fans know that one of Mike Brown’s biggest weaknesses was his inability to make in-game adjustments. However, in that regard, Byron Scott makes Mike Brown look like an impromptu genius.
I think the aforementioned Ryan Schwan explained it best when he said that Scott’s ego “allows [him] to be certain his way is best. It makes him certain that what he is doing is right. That may allow him to sleep well at night and control the team, but it also makes him stubborn and inflexible. That inflexibility shows up in his gameplanning – and has in every year he’s been with the Hornets. Byron installs a gameplan during training camp, and from that moment on, it will not change.”
There were rumors in New Jersey that Scott very rarely focused on game film or pre-game adjustments and instead opted to hammer away at his pre-season gameplan. Part of this inability to properly adjust his gameplan includes the snubbing of younger players. As Kevin Pelton put it, “ultimately, though, Scott sealed his own fate with his reluctance to trust young players.”
This is another shortcoming that mirrors those of Mike Brown, who refused to insert J.J. Hickson into a more serious role until general manager Danny Ferry forced him to. Unfortunately, even then, Hickson became an afterthought in those final three losses against Boston, averaging only 3.0 minutes per game, despite playing 15.7 minutes per contest in the first three games of that series.
Keeping with the Mike Brown theme, Scott’s first and only two exits from coaching have come because his team had seemingly quit on him. In fact, charting Byron Scott’s progression with each of the two teams he has coached is quite interesting. Both times he inherited an average to below average team and took them to new heights within a matter of a few seasons. However, in each instance, Scott peaked in a matter of a couple seasons and then it wasn’t long before he was out of a job. Charting Byron Scott’s rise and fall as a coach is like drawing a rough outline of the Laffer Curve on a napkin.
While a declining record is typical for most coaching gigs that end in a coach losing their job (excluding Mike Brown), for it to happen so quickly suggests that teams have quit on Scott. And many agree that’s exactly what happened in New Jersey. Bill Simmons believes the Hornets lost faith in Scott as well, citing that New Jersey incident first, claiming “the Nets practically revolted against Byron Scott four years ago. So there is a precedent.”
Simmons watched a game at the start of the 2008-09 season in which he felt that the Hornets players didn’t particularly like Coach Scott. He explained that there are several nonverbal communication signs present when a player respects his coach and looks hungry to learn. And, even though Chris Paul respected Scott and backed him publicly as I mentioned earlier, Simmons felt that he didn’t truly buy into what Scott was teaching on the court. Bill Simmons summarized by claiming that he “mistakenly believed that Chris Paul and Scott had an ‘A’ relationship [total respect] but in the second half of Monday’s game, it was revealed that they were a ‘C’ [‘I’ve just had it with this freaking guy’].”
Ultimately, while the revolt wasn’t immediate in either case, I’m not so sure that the Cavaliers should hire a coach that LeBron James could show even the slightest disdain for in three to four years. What makes this especially risky is that if James does re-sign, it’s very likely that he would sign another three year deal in order to maximize his contract flexibility. If Scott eventually lost his players like he has with other teams, this would leave the Cavaliers in the same situation they’re in now, with a head coaching vacancy synced up with LeBron’s free agency. Believe it or not, it’s not an attractive situation for the team to find themselves in.
In the end, Byron Scott offers many good qualities and may be the best realistic option out there for the Cavaliers. However, if he cannot capture the respect and attention of LeBron James while restructuring the nature of Cleveland’s postseason offensive stagnation, then the Cavaliers wouldn’t be any better off with Byron Scott at the helm.
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