There is a story Byron Scott has often told about the first time he was faced with losing. He was a veteran near the end of his career playing for the expansion Vancouver Grizzlies — and they were awful.
Scott, used to winning championships with the Los Angeles Lakers and playing on championship-caliber teams at Indiana, suddenly was on a 15-win team surrounded by guys who weren’t long for the NBA.
He had to go home after losses — 67 of them that season — and he couldn’t sleep. He drank for the first time in his life, cracking open one Coors Lite and then another. His wife, Anita, would join him at the dinner table in the middle of the night. Scott was debating a career in coaching, so Anita suggested this was exactly what he needed to endure after such a sparkling career as a player. After chewing on that for a bit, he determined his wife was right.
Those sleepless nights are back for him now as coach of the Cavaliers. They have lost five in a row, nine out of 10 and 15 of their past 17 entering the game Tuesday against the Lakers. The Cavs are 44-125 under Scott for a .260 winning percentage, making them the worst team in the NBA since the start of the 2010-11 season.
“Losing hurts, period,” Scott said. “I don’t handle losing well. I wake up through the night and think about what I could have done better to help the guys be better. It doesn’t sit well with me.”
The Cavaliers are teetering on a dangerous cliff. There is rebuilding a franchise through the draft with high lottery picks, then there is a franchise infected with a losing mentality. The Cavaliers insist they are the former and not the latter.
The season after LeBron James departed, a number of veterans scoffed at the idea the Cavs would crumble without him because there was a culture of winning within the locker room. The team had been elite for so long, they simply knew how to win.
Those days, of course, are long gone. But Scott doesn’t believe the franchise has been infected with a losing culture.
“We still have a bunch of young guys we’re trying to integrate into the system,” he said. “We’re trying to teach them what it takes to be a professional. Losing is going to happen for another month or two months or another year, I really don’t know.
“I know we’re headed in the right direction. When we’re healthy and have Kyrie [Irving] and Dion [Waiters] out there, we’re not a bad team.”
The Cavs are 1-9 since losing Irving and 0-5 without Irving and Waiters. Scott said before the loss Saturday to the Detroit Pistons there is a chance Irving, Waiters or even both players could return for Tuesday. In order for that to happen, however, they must participate in practice today. The team had Sunday off after playing a back-to-back.
Scott likes the leadership guys like Anderson Varejao and Daniel Gibson provide, particularly since both endured the Cavs’ historic 26-game losing streak two seasons ago. The youngsters, Scott said, shouldn’t be too affected by all the losing because they simply don’t know any better.
“All of us want it to be a lot faster than it is,” Scott said. “Sometimes you have to take your lumps. Right now, that’s what we’re doing. In the long run, we’re going to be fine.”
League fines Scott
Scott was fined $25,000 by the league on Sunday for comments he made about officiating after the Cavs’ loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday.
Scott was asked about the disparity in free throws. The Timberwolves went to the line 35 times, and the Cavs shot just nine free throws.
”I’m trying to figure out a way to say this without getting fined. It was that bad, it really was,” Scott said. “I understand we’re playing in Minnesota, but 35-9? We went to the basket just as much as they did.”
It’s the second time in his coaching career Scott was fined. The league fined him $35,000 for blasting the officials his first season with the Cavs.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.