INDEPENDENCE — The Cavaliers never played much defense under coach Byron Scott, so general manager Chris Grant went on the offensive Thursday morning.
Grant fired his head coach the morning after the Cavs’ concluded a 24-58 season with a 105-98 loss in Charlotte, dropping their record to a dismal 64-166 in three seasons under Scott, whose team ranked last in the league in field-goal percentage allowed.
Scott, the 18th coach in franchise history, had one year left on his contract at approximately $4 million.
“We were one of the worst defensive teams this year,” Grant said during an afternoon press conference at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “We’ve got to get better at that.”
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who tweeted a month and a half ago that the franchise would return to prominence when it regained its defensive mindset, expressed a similar view in a statement.
“It has been our strong and stated belief that when our team once again returns to competing at the NBA’s highest levels, it will be because we have achieved our goals on the defensive side of the court,” said Gilbert, who was attending the NBA Board of Governors meeting in New York.
“Our fans have been incredibly loyal and supportive during these transition years. They deserve better than we have been delivering as of late, and it is our full intent to deliver them the kind of competitive team that they expect.”
Grant declined to discuss coaching candidates, but said he wanted his next coach to have a history of success, a strong defensive mind and be a good teacher, a grinder and a worker.
“Finding the right person to lead the team going forward is (priority) No. 1,” Grant said.
A number of other teams will also be looking for a head coach, but possible replacements include former Cavs assistants Michael Malone, now on Mark Jackson’s staff at Golden State, and Chris Jent, now on Thad Matta’s bench at Ohio State. Miami Heat assistant David Fizdale is another possibility.
All are well-liked by former Cavs small forward LeBron James, who could be a free agent in the summer of 2014 and has stated he’s open to playing in Cleveland again.
Former NBA head coaches Nate McMillan, Jeff Van Gundy, Stan Van Gundy, Flip Saunders and, as shocking as it may seem, Mike Brown are also possibilities. Brown coached the Cavs for James’ last five seasons in Cleveland.
“We have an enormous amount of respect for Byron and what he’s done for this organization, personally and professionally,” Grant said. “We just felt at this juncture, because we weren’t making enough progress as a team, this was the right decision.”
Scott’s three years in Cleveland were marred by tons of injuries, most notably to center Anderson Varejao each of the last three seasons and point guard Kyrie Irving the past two, but he was always extremely popular with his players.
In addition, the Cavs never made a serious attempt to win under Scott, who toed the company line and went along with the organization’s plan to build around young players like Irving, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters while holding off on adding key veteran pieces.
“I’m certainly accountable for that,” Grant said when asked about the talent that was at Scott’s disposal. “Moving forward, I will continue to be.”
Scott’s .278 winning percentage was the third-worst in NBA history for someone who coached at least 200 games with one team, trailing only Chicago’s Tim Floyd (.205, 49-190 from 1998-2002) and Miami’s Ron Rothstein (.232, 57-189 from 1988-91).
Scott’s mark was also the second-worst three-year record in NBA history immediately following a 50-win season — the Cavs were 61-21 under Brown in 2009-10 — but players like Irving and Thompson got very emotional upon learning of his firing.
Scott, who was at the team’s practice facility for a time but did not meet with the media, got the news from Grant on Thursday morning.
“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 statement released by the team.
“I am certainly proud of the progress that many of our young players have made and greatly appreciate the dedication of my coaches and our team in our efforts to attain the success we all desired.”
The 52-year-old Scott, whose assistants remain part of the organization for the time being, coached the Cavs to a 19-63 mark in 2010-11, a 21-45 mark in 2011-12 and a 24-58 finish this season.
Cleveland lost an NBA-record 26 games in a row — and 36 out of 37 — in his first season and concluded 2012-13 by dropping six straight and 16 of its last 18.
“I don’t think Byron lost this team,” Grant said. “These guys continued to play hard. We had our challenges during the season. At moments, we did some pretty good things, particularly individually. But there were times we didn’t see the progress we wanted to see.”
Cleveland lost four games in which it led by at least 20 points. Prior to this season, the Cavs had won 116 straight when they led by that margin. Cleveland blew a franchise-record 27-point lead vs. Miami, a 26-point lead at Phoenix, a 22-point margin vs. New York and a 20-point lead vs. Indiana.
The Cavs led the latter game by 20 with nine minutes left. NBA teams had been 4,382-1 when leading by at least that many points at the nine-minute mark.
In addition to his defensive shortcomings and lack of halftime adjustments, Scott also struggled with in-game substitutions and utilizing timeouts.
“It was an opportunity for us to take a big step going forward,” Grant said of making a coaching change. “It’s hard, it’s tough, but I believe it’s the right decision.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.