Coach Byron Scott talks with guard Mo Williams during an exhibition game. Scott is expecting Williams to be a strong performer.
Al Behrman / AP Enlarge
CLEVELAND - Like anyone with a stake in the outcome, Byron Scott sat glued to his TV on July 8 and watched as superstar LeBron James announced he was packing up and leaving Ohio for Florida.
Once "The Decision" was official, Scott made a choice of his own.
"I turned it off," the Cavaliers' first-year coach said, "and started getting ready for practice."
And for his first season in Cleveland - a season without the NBA's best player on his roster.
James, the two-time defending MVP who resurrected pro basketball in Cleveland, is gone to Miami but hardly forgotten in a city still bitter after being left at the alter of an NBA championship.
LeBron broke millions of hearts.
Scott's wasn't one of them.
"I wasn't emotionally attached," Scott said. "It was easy for me to move on."
Scott's challenge is to keep the fire lit with Cleveland hoop fans, who have become somewhat spoiled by success after James led the Cavs to more than 60 wins in each of the past two seasons but fell short of a title. It's not going to be easy, but Scott wouldn't have it any other way.
"I look at our team and I hear what people are saying, 'LeBron is gone and this team might win 30 or 35 games,' " Scott said. "I kind of like that. I like that people are doubting us. We have a guy in Mo Williams who was an All-Star. We have a guy in Antawn Jamison who has been an All-Star. I love Anderson Varejao. I love how hard he plays and the passion he plays with. We have a bunch of young guys who have something to prove.
"To me, all the pieces are being put in place."
The Cavs haven't been gutted, but they certainly have been transformed.
In the aftermath of their disappointing loss to Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Mike Brown, the most successful coach in franchise history, was quickly fired - a move made by owner Dan Gilbert to try and convince James to re-sign. Brown's ouster was followed by general manager Danny Ferry's decision to part ways with the organization.
Gilbert then unsuccessfully chased Michigan State coach Tom Izzo before the Cavs decided to hire Scott, who had been out of the league since he was fired by New Orleans nine games into last season.
On July 2, Scott, who twice took New Jersey to the finals, was introduced as Cleveland's coach. He accepted the job with no guarantee he would ever have James.
"I felt in my heart it was the right job," Scott said. "I felt that way whether LeBron was going to be here or not."
Scott, who could pass for much younger than 49, has been given little chance to succeed. Along with his immense skills, James took nearly 30 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists per game to Miami, numbers the Cavs will be hard pressed to fill.
Scott has heard the gloomy forecast, but he believes his team will surprise.
"I love the underdog theory," said Scott, who plans to use an uptempo offense. "Being a guy who came in and was put in the same situation, I can relate to it. I know it's a very motivating factor for a lot of players. As much as possible, I'm going to keep bringing it up. I don't want them to forget what people are saying and writing about them. If that's the thing to keep them motivated and playing at a high level, I'll say it every single day."
In Williams, Jamison, and Varejao, Scott does inherit a solid core to build around. He also feels guard Daniel "Boobie" Gibson and forward J.J. Hickson, both of whom benefited from James' on-court benevolence, could be on the verge of breakout seasons. Ramon Sessions was acquired from Minnesota and gives Scott backcourt depth.
Williams, who averaged 15.8 points last season and is expected to carry a larger portion of the scoring load, was hit hard by James' choice to join the Heat and briefly considered retirement in the days after the announcement. But Williams reported to training camp energized and ready to accept a greater leadership role.
"You can't control where you're heart is at," said Williams, slowed in the preseason by a groin injury. "Like the average fan that goes to work every day, I felt the same exact pain that they felt. I feel the same love for this organization and this team as they do. So yes, it was a time where I felt their same pain. ...You get to turn things around and start something new."
Scott doesn't view Cleveland as a rebuilding project. And he has taken lesser-talented teams deep into the playoffs.
"I did it with mirrors," he said. "Really, I just did it the way I thought it needed to get done."