As the Cavaliers descend to the bottom of the standings in the final days of another depressing season, questions have mounted about coach Byron Scott's future.
No doubt, he's in trouble.
And while there are plenty of excuses -- injuries and a lack of talent are atop the list -- for Cleveland's awful record, Scott's not using any of them.
But one day after Cleveland was embarrassed at home by Brooklyn for its 10th straight loss, second-year Cavs forward Tristan Thompson decided it was time to defend Scott, who is just 62-160 in three seasons and may not be back for a fourth.
"All the rumors about coach Scott and hot seat and all that crap, that's bogus," Thompson said following Thursday's practice. "It's up to us to come out and compete and play hard because we're the ones out there. When he was out there playing, he won championships. So it's up to us to come out there and play."
The Cavs regrouped following Wednesday's ugly loss, when they fell behind by 30 points at halftime and were throttled by the Nets, who were missing two starters but pushed around a Cleveland team that appeared to have called it a season with two weeks left.
Following a game that looked like many other losses this season, Scott couldn't explain why his young team had played with little energy or effort. And for the first time, Scott was asked the uncomfortable question of whether he was worried about losing his job.
"Not really," he said. "I've always had the attitude, `Whatever happens, happens."'
With eight games left, there's no telling what could happen in the weeks ahead. Scott is under contract for next year after the club picked up his option for 2013-14 in October.
General manager Chris Grant has not publicly commented on Scott's future.
Owner Dan Gilbert, too, has been quiet on the subject.
Scott was handed a difficult situation when he was hired in 2010, taking over the Cavs shortly after they were ousted from the NBA playoffs and before LeBron James decided to leave Cleveland as a free agent. Scott was charged with rebuilding a young team around point guard Kyrie Irving, but to this point, progress has been minimal.
Injuries to Irving, Anderson Varejao and Dion Waiters have made things infinitely more challenging, but Scott's critics argue that the Cavs don't play defense, his substitution patterns are scattered, and if the team isn't playing hard, that's a reflection on the coach.
For the most part, Scott has chosen not to assess blame.
"I don't think I necessarily need to defend myself to the public -- or especially in the papers," he said. "I know what type of job I'm doing here. I know what I've been given and what kind of situation we're in. I don't feel I need to defend myself. It's as simple as that."
Scott, who was part of similar rebuilding projects in New Jersey and New Orleans, said it's impossible for him to evaluate the job he's done in Cleveland.
"I haven't had all my pieces," he said. "I can't even grade myself right now. I'd probably give myself a `C' or incomplete. It's been tough. I expected it to take 3 to 5 years. It's still on that timetable. There have been times it's been tougher than I expected.
"If it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger."
Scott said he couldn't sleep following Wednesday's game, waking up at 3:33 a.m. with "some things on my mind."
The 52-year-old wouldn't reveal what was bothering him, but it's safe to assume he was troubled by his team's continued inability to play consistently. There have been some positive moments even during the 10-game losing streak, but those have been concealed by Cleveland's home loss to Miami when the Cavs blew a 27-point lead in the third quarter, a 38-point loss at Houston and three other losses by at least 18 points.
Before preparing for Friday's game in Boston, Thompson said the Cavs held an "in-house" meeting during which players and coaches spoke up. Scott was encouraged that one of his younger players raised his voice about the team's recent slide.
"If guys don't fear or hate losing as much as I do, we're going to keep going through what we're going through," Scott said. "You have to be to the point where you hate losing. In the `80s, we hated losing games. It was gut-wrenching. I don't know if we've gone through that. I have. I don't know if they have."
Thompson wouldn't say if he was the one who addressed his teammates during the meeting. But the 22-year-old made it clear that he's tired of losing, and that he and his teammates are at fault -- not Scott or his staff.
"They've done what they needed to do for us to be successful," he said. "It comes to us as players, coming out and competing and playing like men. We need to come out there and be men and be pros and compete. They can't control that. That's
up to us. Whatever you're saying about coach Scott, he's doing his part and all the coaching staff is doing their part.
"We've got to step up as men and play."