The Cleveland Cavaliers were technically in the playoff race with just over one month to go this season by complete accident. Despite the fact that I'd have celebrated an over-achieving run towards first round elimination, even at the expense of a lottery pick, I never really thought they'd actually get there. I picked the Cavaliers to win 23 games before this recently concluded season began, and at the time that prediction was viewed as optimistic. Some people had them winning a little as 12 games, and most people had that total in the high teens. Regardless of number, expectations were deservingly low across this season with good reason. Next year they shouldn't be though.
Byron Scott preached playoffs this year anyways, however, for as long as he could without sounding completely ridiculous. After using just about ever press conference two seasons ago to specifically distance himself from the record setting mark for ineptitude his team set in 2010, I appreciated the fact that he put himself out there to a degree by doing the opposite this time around. He said his goal was to make the playoffs, pushed his team as much as he could in that direction this year, and his team made progress moving forward as a result. It wasn't obviously his fault they ended up completely tanking and finishing with the third worst record in the League in the end, but the fact that he somewhat put himself out there was important I think.
Heading into next year though, he needs to put himself out there again. Next season's Cavaliers, in year two of the Kyrie Irving Era, should be talking and thinking playoffs from day one. Whether they get there or not remains to be seen, but there should be no more reason to think tanking. Opportunity for dramatic improvement exists in this June's Draft, and from there Byron Scott should have some pieces to work with as his third season in Cleveland begins. Which is why I didn't find it too cool or encouraging to read what he said about the playoffs last week at his end of the season press conference.
That part being the the note Bob Finnan from The News-Herald highlighted on Sunday, where Byron said that he actually didn't think the Cavs would be a playoff team next season:
"There were a few curious comments to come out of the Cavaliers' news conference on Friday at Cleveland Clinic Courts. None were as strange as when Coach Byron Scott, unprovoked, said he didn't expect the Cavs to make the playoffs next year.
Excuse me? The sales staff at Quicken Loans Arena is probably having a tough enough time trying to sell tickets for next year. Even if you think that way, why not keep that to yourself?"
What makes this almost ridiculous to me is that Byron doesn't even know who will be on his team next year. Say lightning strikes twice and the Cavaliers end up with Anthony Davis or Micheal Kidd-Gilchrist for crying out loud, they could be a 6-seed possibly. Even if they ended up with Bradley Beal or Harrison Barnes, I see no reason why they can't at least compete for playoffs. Why could they not at least have the same goal that they did for most of this past season with Anthony Parker as the starting two-guard and Ryan Hollins getting rotational minutes? I'm not asking anybody to go Joe Namath on a playoff run next season, just don't tell me it's impossible quite yet. There's no reason for that.
I realize that losing Antawn Jamison's offensive production will be harder to replace than most people realize next season, but still. I gotta think a couple first round picks, a healthy and experienced Kyrie Irving, an improving Tristan Thompson, and a healthy Anderson Varejao could make up for that loss of Jamison, right? Is the Ramon Sessions loss, coupled with a possible Anthony Parker retirement that devastating really?
I'm not going to go as far as saying Byron should lose his job next year if the Cavaliers don't make the playoffs, but there's no way things should just be totally cool if he lets them lose like this again next year. I know one more lottery could be beneficial too long-term, but how many lottery picks do you need actually? Kyrie and Tristan's rookie deals will be ticking away into year three by the time 2014 comes rolling around, with two more first round picks heading into their second year. Byron needs to be accountable for wins and losses at that point. It's his team, his Princeton offense, and at some point it needs to start winning. Or at least stop thinking it's impossible to win, because it really won't be by then.