It all started here. Here he was a boy. Here he was a man. Here he was a champion. Here he was a mentor. Here he was a leader. If things break right for Byron Scott it will be here one more time. Here the coach of the Lakers. It hardly seems possible that the kid traded thirty years ago is the coach the Lakers trust. In some ways, Byron Scott has done it all. He was drafted #4. He played in the NBA Finals. He was a cherished member of a beloved team. He played with a great point guard. He played for a determined and tough coach. He led Jason Kidd. He nurtured Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving. All that is good. But if he gets the Lakers job Byron Scott has to do the one thing he has never ever done. He has to test his will upon the greatest will of all. He has to coach Kobe Bryant.
Kobe will be Byron Scott’s greatest asset. And of course Kobe will be his greatest challenge- the minutes, the temperament, the skill, the competitiveness. They were last together when Kobe was 18. Both men have changed, are smarter, are more driven. Byron, the 3 time NBA champion, Coach of the Year, Pat Riley disciple, Inglewood native can solve the Kobe Bryant puzzle because he is halfway there. He knows it is about desire. Do you want to win as much as Kobe does? Are you willing to sacrifice? With the bright lights of confidence guiding him, Byron is not shy about saying he is the best man for the complicated job of Lakers head coach. If hired his goal is to restore glory to the legendary but struggling organization and rebuild their reputation. Yesterday when interviewed by Max Kellerman and Marcellus Wiley on 710ESPNLA he said of his commitment to the Lakers organization, “I bleed purple and gold.” It was a simple truth very few coaching candidates can say: I love the Lakers.
For the old school Lakers crowd, last year was a tough year to swallow. They could forgive the pace. They could forgive the casualness. They could forgive the multiple lineups. They could forgive D’antoni’s awkward moments with the media. They could forgive the perimeter shooting offense. But it was the defense that was a stab to the heart. Byron reminisced about his 1980’s teams. “We came out every single night with a game plan on the defensive end to shut people down. We were committed to winning on the defensive end and that’s what it took every single night for us to be successful.”
Byron has coached for over a decade. He has coached over 900 regular season games. He has coached 57 playoff games. His first team was the New Jersey Nets. They won 26 games and their defense was ranked 22nd in 2000. Their rebounding was ranked 28th. Their two best players were Stephon Marbury and Keith Van Horn. The next year the Nets won 52 games after they acquired Jason Kidd. Their rebounding was 8th in the league and their defense was ranked 5th. They lost to the Lakers in the NBA Finals. In 2002-03 the Nets defense was ranked second and they lost in the NBA Finals to the Spurs. Byron’s last year in New Jersey the Nets won 47 games. Their defense was still very good, ranked 4th, but their rebounding was at the bottom of the league. Byron lasted 42 games. It was the first time he was fired.
His next job was with the New Orleans Hornets. His first year he won 18 games. His best player was Baron Davis who was traded at the deadline. The Hornets defense was 10th but scoring 88 points a game was not going to win many games. The next year Chris Paul was a rookie. The Hornets already had David West on the roster and the Paul/West combo had great chemistry. The Hornets won 34 games with a 12th ranked defense. But they still couldn’t score enough points. The next year they added Tyson Chandler. It would be another playoff drought year before the Hornets made it onto the big stage. They lost to the Spurs in the second round in 7 games in 2008. Byron Scott was Coach of the Year.
This is what loyalty is. When Byron was fired nine games into the 2009-10 season the first person who called him was Dr. Jerry Buss. Byron hadn’t been a Laker for 12 years but for Dr. Buss family was…family. The phone call begging Byron to come to a Lakers game and sit in Dr. Buss’ box confirmed what Byron already knew. Lakers take care of Lakers. Dr. Buss never forgot or gave up on one of his own. Ever. One of the reasons Byron Scott wants to coach the Lakers so badly is because of “Dr. Buss and what he meant to me.” Byron declined Dr. Buss’s invitation to come sit in his box once the Hornets fired him but he did talk to him on the telephone. Now, Dr. Buss is gone, his memory hangs over the franchise and over Bryon Scott too. It was Dr. Buss who started it all. In 1983 he gave the green light to Jerry West to trade popular Norm Nixon. Taking Nixon’s place was an unheard of, unproven, unwanted by the rest of the players, Arizona State shooting guard. In Byron’s world, the way he sees it, he owes the Buss family for everything they did for him.
“I know what it means to be a Laker”, Byron said on Thursday afternoon. He and Kobe’s relationship which began when Kobe was a rookie has grown over the years. “I respect the hell out of Kobe and I think he respects me and that is the first hurdle you gotta get past and then the other things- you’ll solve all of those other issues.” Other things like minutes, Kobe’s willfulness and competitiveness. “I’m an old school type guy.” It’s hard to interpret what that means. His track record is that he is tough and players have to be accountable. His teams pay attention to defense. Some players, like Jason Kidd and Baron Davis, found him annoying after awhile. Byron doesn’t tolerate mistakes or laziness. He is a product of Pat Riley. And yet, regardless of his offensive and defensive schemes, regardless of how he plans to fix this broken ship, regardless of his short term plan, all that mattered was what Byron Scott said next. It was the most important thing he said in the fourteen minute interview. “I played in purple and gold.” His voice was bold and almost echoed. “I know what it means to wear it.”