INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Byron Scott’s days of trying to turn around the Cavaliers are done.
Scott was fired Thursday following a third straight losing season with Cleveland, an 82-game rollercoaster that included injuries, blown leads and a dismal final few weeks.
Scott went 64-166 in his three years with the Cavs, who were weakened by injuries this season but also showed little progress under him. Scott was informed he would not be coming back one day after Cleveland closed the frustrating season with its sixth straight loss to finish 24-58 — the NBA’s third-worst record.
Scott leaves with one season left on his contract. The Cavs picked up his option for 2014 in October.
The Cavs’ three seasons under Scott were among the worst in franchise history. He isn’t solely to blame, but his young team in 2013 seemed to tune him out down the stretch, leaving owner Dan Gilbert no choice but to make a coaching change for the second time in four years.
“I wish Byron Scott and his entire family the best going forward,” Gilbert said in a release. “Byron is a class guy, both on and off the court, and I thank him for his three years of coaching the Cavaliers. I fully support the difficult move that was made today. Although we saw progress with young individual player development, we did not see the kind of progress we expected on the team level this past season.
“We understand it was challenging with the injuries, but when you are at our stage in the building process, you don’t only measure team progress in wins and losses.”
The Cavs said general manager Chris Grant will immediately begin a search for find a replacement for Scott, who was hired in 2010 — shortly before superstar LeBron James left.
All-Star guard Kyrie Irving said he was surprised and saddened by Scott’s firing.
“I feel like a piece of me is missing now,” he said. “The relationship I have developed with him was very special. I’m just hurt. I’m trying to get over the loss of my basketball father.”
The team did make some history with Scott during the 2012-13 season, but none the Cavs want to be remembered for.
They lost four games in which they led by at least 20 points, becoming the only team to do that in at least the past 10 years, according to STATS LLC. One of those four losses — on March 20 at home against James and the Miami Heat — may have sealed Scott’s fate.
Leading the NBA’s defending champions by 27 points, the Cavs collapsed and lost 98-95. Scott was harshly criticized following the game, not only for some his substitution patterns but not calling a timeout during a pivotal stretch in the second half to slow Miami’s charge.
The Cavs lost 16 of their final 18 games for Scott.
There wasn’t much he could do about his team’s inexperience, but Gilbert didn’t think Scott did enough to improve the Cavs or earn a fourth season to try and get them turned around. Their defense never improved and the Cavs had a tendency to come out flat in the second half.
Scott expressed his frustration at points during the season, calling his team “soft” but to his credit he never seemed to stop working. He previously coached in New Jersey and New Orleans, taking both the Nets and Hornets to the playoffs. He never got close to the postseason in three turbulent seasons with Cleveland — the post James era.
“I want to thank Chris Grant, Dan Gilbert and the Cavaliers organization for the opportunity I had to coach this team the last three seasons,” Scott said in a team release. “I am certainly proud of the progress that many of our players have made and greatly appreciate the dedication of my coaches and our team in our efforts to attain the success we all desired.”
Earlier this season, Cleveland lost 10 straight games under Scott, who was also at the helm in 2011 when the Cavs set an NBA record with 26 consecutive losses, just four years after making the finals behind James.
Scott was handed a young team, and despite the many losses, he deserves credit for Irving’s development and rise to All-Star status. However, Irving’s second season as a pro will be remembered for more injuries and a peculiar final two weeks when he seemed to distance himself from Scott.
Irving, the NBA’s top rookie last year, elevated his game to an elite level and seemed to have a strong relationship with Scott. But just last week, with Scott’s future already in jeopardy, Irving scored a career-low four points and made an inexcusable foul in the closing minutes of a loss to Philadelphia.
In Cleveland’s final home game, the 21-year-old Irving was stripped by Miami’s Norris Cole in the final seconds of a one-point loss and ran off the floor to the locker room, skipping a postgame event when he was supposed to give his jersey and sneakers to a fan. Irving later apologized for his behavior, but the damage was done.
The same seemed true of his relationship with Scott. Irving gave a luke-warm public endorsement for Scott, leaving teammate Tristan Thompson to step forward and say players deserved to be blamed for another terrible season — not the coaching staff.
Another of Scott’s failings was that the Cavs didn’t improve defensively. They finished last in the league in defensive field-goal percentage, and there were too many occasions when they simply failed to cover open shooters on the perimeter.