Byron Scott sees swift title contention for Lakers
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — Byron Scott was a key component of the Los Angeles Lakers’ Showtime teams, a smooth shooting guard with sizzling competitive fire. He believes his purple-and-gold championship pedigree makes him the ideal coach to return the struggling 16-time champions to NBA contention.
“This organization is all about championships, period,” Scott said Tuesday at his introductory news conference. “We don’t look at Western Conference finals, Western Conference championships. We look at (NBA) championships. And we know we have some work ahead of us, but I’m excited. ... I love challenges anyway, so this is going to be fun.”
Scott’s fellow Lakers greats are already backing that notion. Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes surprised Scott before he was formally named the 25th coach in franchise history, standing behind him in a towering show of support.
In fact, Scott hadn’t even said a word before Magic took the microphone and praised his longtime backcourt mate.
“We wish we could put the uniform on for you and help you, but we will support you,” Johnson said. “Congratulations to the Lakers organization. You chose the right guy.”
The Lakers’ sparkling history is both the strength at Scott’s back and the specter looming over his shoulder.
The Lakers are coming off their worst season in Los Angeles, and their hodgepodge roster is built around soon-to-be 36-year-old Kobe Bryant, who is coming off major injuries as the NBA’s highest-paid player. Title contention seems distant to most pragmatic folks, particularly in the tough Western Conference.
But don’t tell that to Magic, Kareem or even Scott, who has three championship rings.
“I don’t see this as a long process,” Scott said. “This is Los Angeles. It’s still one of the best organizations in all of sports. Still got a ton of people that would love to play for this organization, and you’ve got (former Lakers) sitting in the front row that are very adamant about that. They’re all advocates for this organization, so I don’t think it’s going to take long.”
Scott and Bryant have stayed close since they played together in Bryant’s rookie season. Scott acknowledged Bryant “has to be a little patient,” a quality that Kobe has never possessed in any measurable quantity.
Scott floated the idea that Bryant could play point guard for the Lakers on occaision, also saying his club will run an offense that blends elements of the Princeton schemes, the triangle and other sets.
“I think the first thing you’ve got to do is get them thinking like we used to think,” Scott said. “If you’re winning, it’s contagious. If you’re losing, it’s contagious. So you’ve got to change that mindset. ... When you lose games, you shouldn’t be sitting in the locker room having a good time. It should hurt.”
The Lakers finally hired a new coach almost three months after Mike D’Antoni’s resignation on April 30. General manager Mitch Kupchak opened the news conference by thanking Scott for his patience: Los Angeles first interviewed Scott two months ago, but kept him waiting through the draft and the unsuccessful free-agent signing period.
“I think it was clear, at least it was clear to us, that Byron was always our first choice,” Kupchak said.
Mike Brown and D’Antoni were respected veteran coaches with no Lakers connections, and neither lasted two full seasons. Johnson and his fellow Lakers greats took turns savaging D’Antoni’s coaching style on social media and television broadcasts, a treatment Scott is likely to avoid.
Scott has been a head coach with New Jersey, New Orleans and Cleveland, but the Lakers have always been the ultimate for the Inglewood product who grew up sneaking into the Forum to watch Jerry West.
“This has been a dream of mine for so long,” Scott said. “It’s a dream come true to be here today and to be introduced as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. The passion and the love that I have for this organization is second to none. The only thing that I regret is that Dr. Buss isn’t here today.”
According to Magic, late Lakers owner Jerry Buss wanted to hire Scott in 2010 when Phil Jackson was waffling on a return for a potential three-peat. Jackson stayed, and Scott took over the Cavaliers eight days before LeBron James left for Miami, consigning him to three losing seasons in Ohio while the Lakers job became a revolving door.
Scott is grateful he finally got the chance to walk through it.
“You have a lot of people down on us right now,” Scott said. “I think that’s something that can really drive us going into the season.”