I hate discussing NBA coaching situations. I really do. It’s perhaps my least favorite discussion point in basketball, right next to anything that involves discussing Kobe Bryant. However, the hot topic for Cavs fans in the last few weeks, and one that will continue to be hot through the end of the season, is the coaching performance of Byron Scott. Scott has been the coach for three years in Cleveland, and there are rumblings that this might be his last. I do not understand this. Many people point to Scott’s overall record in Cleveland, his substitution patterns and his end-of-game coaching decisions. However, a lot of this has been very explainable, and the positives of keeping Scott around for another season are abundant. Also, there would be almost no benefit to firing Coach Scott.
In my opinion, coaching firings (Or many of the “resignations” that coaches take; they’re basically a coach leaving when he knows he’s probably getting fired anyway) are often unnecessary. Coaches are often used as scapegoats for not being able to deal with front office mistakes, whether they are misfiring on draft picks, slapping together a bad roster or a star player’s ego clashing with the coach. In my opinion, there are only four reasons to fire a coach that are valid. Here is my Coach-Firin’ Manifesto:
1. If the coach’s style clashes severely with the roster he has, and he shows a complete inability to adapt to his players. This makes the Mike D’Antoni resignation in New York justifiable; you can’t run Seven Seconds or Less when your best player is a ball-stopping Iso wizard in Carmelo Anthony and your second-best player thrives off grabbing offensive rebounds in a half-court set, like Tyson Chandler does. This was shown when Mike Woodson took over and quickly adapted to the pick-and-roll oriented Linsanity, then again this season to Carmelo-oriented half-court sets and the ton of threes they take. D’Antoni was unchanging, it was resulting in an unhappy Carmelo and the losses piled up. Justifiable termination.
2. If the coach is just completely inept to the point of severe detriment. Vinny Del Negro’s Chicago tenure, Isiah Thomas in New York and Rick Pitino’s Boston tenure go here. Granted, this one is fairly subjective, but generally if it’s widely accepted that you have no idea what you’re doing, that’s what I’m talking about.
3. If the players quit on the coach as a group effort, fire him. Mike Woodson’s end of the Atlanta tenure goes here, as the players completely lost faith in him and it resulted in Apex Josh Smith, Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson back when he still had a pulse needing seven games to beat Milwaukee and getting swept by Orlando. Unreasonable. This is different from just a superstar being unpleased. I’m talking about a team that should be better descending into chaos on court because they’ve quit listening to the coach. Other examples here include every Scott Skiles coaching exit and the end of the Bill Fitch era in Boston, if we want a historical example.
4. The Eddie Jordan/Rick Carlisle/Mo Cheeks rule: If players are threatening each other with guns in the locker room, start the most famous in-game fight in the history of team sports or are referred to as the “Jail Blazers,” your contract termination miiiiiiight be justified.
That leaves out the following common reasons for firing a coach:
-Losing a ton of games over a couple years, particularly on a lottery team. Usually this is a product of a terrible roster, a la Flip Saunders winning a ton of games in Minnesota with KG then failing in Washington post-Arenas, and Doc Rivers going from winning 24 games for the ‘07 Celtics to a championship in ’08 by virtue of adding KG and Ray Allen. I hate this reasoning because it’s almost always due to roster more so than coaching ability.
-Getting rid of a coach because a superstar is unhappy. Mike Brown getting fired to try to keep LeBron. Jerry Sloan resigning because D-Will was unhappy. The Magic firing Stan Van Gundy over the Dwight situation. This NEVER works. Usually, you end up completely at square one because you’ve fired a decent coach and it doesn’t appease the player you end up trading. If we’re going the opposite route, the Nuggets kept George Karl even though Melo was unhappy, and he found a way to turn a bunch of spare parts into a perennial playoff team.
-A team with players that are bad at something being bad at. A truly great coach in one area can overcome this, but it’s a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to fire Keith Smart because a team with Stephen Curry and David Lee couldn’t play defense, or to fire Alvin Gentry because the Suns saddled him with a plethora of offensive black holes.
So, how does this pertain to Byron Scott? Well, let’s go step-by-step through the first three reasons since the fourth one doesn’t really apply:
Style-clash-Doesn’t appear to be a problem here. Coach Scott is doing well with developing an offense that utilizes Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson effectively. When the Cavs struggle offensively, it’s usually because one of their key guys is hurt and the team is forced to rely on C.J. Miles, Wayne Ellington and Luke Walton too much. I don’t necessarily think that system is a problem.
Coach incompetence-Here’s probably the most compelling argument about retaining Coach Scott. A lot of people point to Scott’s inability to coach defense and questionable substitution patterns and coaching decisions as reasons he is inept as a coach. However, look at the players that are on this Cleveland roster: Marreese Speights, Ellington and Shaun Livingston have all always been pretty mediocre defensive players. Irving and Thompson are growing, but they are still average defensive players. Switching from Varejao to Zeller on defense is like going from the Spurs third-ranked defensive efficiency to the Kings 28th-ranked defense (He makes the Irving/Waiters/Gee/Thompson lineup 11 points/100 possessions worse defensively than Varejao does). Oh, and the Cavs were missing their best defensive player for 2/3 of the season. A team defense is only the sum of its parts in the NBA, and when the parts are terrible, no amount of coaching is going to fix that overnight. At the same time, the substitution patterns are inconsistent and odd because, you know, guys keep getting injured constantly. When guys are in and out of the lineup constantly, it makes it difficult to form a consistent rotation. If the Cavs weren’t a work in progress defensively and health-wise, this would be valid. However, I’m chalking this up to the team more so than Scott’s coaching.
Players quitting on the coach-Another one that could have been a valid concern, but after Tristan Thompson pulled the team together and defended coach Scott a week ago, they’ve ripped off consecutive wins and look a ton better than they did at any point during the 10-game losing streak. I’m not ready to say that the team’s quitting on Byron just yet.
Beyond the fact that Scott doesn’t fit any of my four reasons for firing a coach, there are several positives to keeping Scott around. First, Scott has a great reputation for developing players. Richard Jefferson, Chris Paul, David West, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters have all developed into key players on Scott-coached teams. He has a knack for getting the most out of young guys, particularly guys like Waiters, Thompson and West, who all had significant question marks coming out of the draft. This is a good omen for the continued development of the young guys on roster, as well as whomever the incoming rookies will be next season. Second, think of the message that firing Scott would send. “We brought this guy in the summer after our biggest star ever left, saddled him with one of the crappiest rosters ever assembled (your 10-11 Cleveland Cavaliers most common starters: Ramon Sessions, Anthony Parker, Gee, Antawn Jamison, J.J. Hickson. Never. Again.), then weren’t satisfied when he could only muster 64 wins in three years with an insanely young roster, before he ever had a chance to see any real chance for success.” That’s setting impossible expectations for any coach that will replace Scott, and that’s something that might deter any big names that might be interested.
Finally, continuity is a good thing for a young roster. Consistent coaching changes is partially how the Kings ended up where they have gone post-Rick Adelman, and why the Bobcats reboot every two seasons. Allowing Scott to continue to develop the young guys is smart, because it allows them to be comfortable with the system and explore to find their niche. That’s how the Heat have grown into such a fearsome offensive unit. It’s how the Seven Seconds or Less Suns developed such great chemistry. It’s how the Pacers slowly embraced their defensive identity in the third Frank Vogel season. Continuity is huge for young players. Give the Cavs time to develop with Scott, and I feel that they’ll become a better defensive team and learn how to be more consistent offensively. If we get to next season and that doesn’t happen, fine. We can revisit this issue. But as it stands right now, I can’t think of a valid justification for the firing of Byron Scott as the Cavaliers head coach.