The neighborhood where Byron Scott was raised-104th and Crenshaw- is a gritty little place of low slung rentals and barbershop windows next door to take out chains. At night there is the musical but annoying hum of helicopter blades to serenade the sleeping. Most people who grow up here stay here and marry here and pray to God here and die here. Most don’t cross Imperial Highway into El Segundo, the land of Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss and the offices of the Los Angeles Lakers.
A long time ago Byron Scott left behind this side of Inglewood. He left behind his fatherless friends. He left behind the streets east of Market Street and downtown Inglewood and east of the DMV on La Brea Ave, this holy world of boys desperate to make something of themselves.
Byron once told the story of not lending money to a friend. The next day the friend was killed. It is this very oppression that marks Byron’s past and makes his present so very possible as well as so very complicated. It is why it does not get under his skin too much, these multiple trips into El Segundo. The fighter in Byron is fighting now for the one thing he always wanted. To coach the Los Angeles Lakers.
Byron’s critics-and there are many- know nothing about the boy living in a world with security bars. They focus on the man. His stubbornness is portrayed as his primary weakness, as what makes his coaching style an unacceptable fit for the Lakers. There is no denying Byron has a particular dogma that he sticks to, a my-way-or-the-highway sensibility that makes his presence complicated for fragile players. You see it when he speaks on Time Warner Cable, it is in his face, his tight jaws and lips, his rigid voice, his eyes that dart back and forth. Byron is serious about what he says. A disciple of Pat Riley who pushed his players to the brink of mental and physical exhaustion, Byron Scott leads by toughness. He digs out perfection even as he is far from perfect himself.
For all of his Lakers successes as a player Byron Scott has had a lot of lean years. Play north of 11 years and there will be suffering. There was the post-Magic Johnson drudgery of putting one foot in front of the other. Magic was Byron’s best friend and best friends fight each other’s battles except what Magic was fighting for Byron was a stranger to. Against his will, Magic was dragged into retirement. Byron continued with his career but it wasn’t the same sort of basketball game anymore. But he endured because Byron Scott knows only one way to do things and that is to do it the Inglewood way- go hard.
Byron Scott played with a bunch of mediocre players once the Showtime era was buried in the rubble. Byron played with Irving Thomas and Rory Sparrow and Corie Blount. He played with Kenny Williams and Haywoode Workman and Duane Ferrell.
On Wednesday, Byron Scott had his third interview with the Lakers who are also mediocre. They seem to be disinterested in the normal way to hire a coach. They keep bringing Byron back again and again and again.
Byron’s critics are passionate in their dislike of him as the next Lakers coach even as they understand the pull of nostalgia and the pull of a community that watched Byron grow up and make good on his promise to live a life of integrity and pride.
But his critics don’t trust his offensive game plan or his record as a coach. He has had losing seasons 8 out of his 13 years as a coach (1 in New Jersey, 4 in New Orleans, 3 in Cleveland). He has won less than 25 games four times. Perhaps that is what the dragging of the Lakers feet is all about. How good a coach is Byron Scott?
He has had a good relationship with two Hall of Fame Players: Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul. He had a terrible relationship with Jason Kidd which isn’t saying much. Kidd seeks power and ruins whatever and whomever is in his way so his disaffection for Byron Scott is just one of those Jason Kidd things. Baron Davis and Byron Scott are not bosom buddies either. Can you see Bryon’s grimness fitting in with Nick Young’s casualness? Creativity is not his strength. He is a square peg in a square hole kind of guy.
The NBA is a talent delivery system. Without talent no one can win. But what does it say about you if you have talent and still lose? Byron coached a Chris Paul/David West/Tyson Chandler team to a losing season. He coached a Kryie Irving team to a losing season. (But then so did Mike Brown.)
All of these Byron Scott interviews feel like a bad B movie where you know the ending. There is a perception that the Lakers, unable to be decisive, have commitment issues. It furthers the narrative of their incompetence.
The past is never dead. William Faulkner said that and the Lakers are living it. Yesterday’s mistakes are hanging over their head with such a negative whirlwind they can’t get things done. So much has gone sideways for the Lakers on the coaching front which is their own fault but self inflicted wounds still hurt. Consider their past 10 coaches. Magic Johnson. Del Harris. Kurt Rambis. Phil Jackson. Rudy Tomjanovich. Frank Hamblin. Phil Jackson. Mike Brown. Bernie Bickerstaff. Mike D’antoni.
During the past three years it has been musical chairs. Coaches did not fit. Players did not develop. Systems were tossed aside. Players were devalued and marginalized. So this hire is the hire that matters. This coach simply has to work out.
Byron Scott, because of his connection to Los Angeles, because of his history to the Lakers greatest era, because he took a team to the NBA Finals twice, because Magic Johnson is his best friend, because Kobe Bryant is a defender of his, because he has mentored the greatest young guards of the past 20 years, because he is the Inglewood fighter- the boy who did good, all of these things make him the betting favorite to be the next Lakers coach.
Look at Byron and you see Showtime. You see the past. Look at Byron and you see Inglewood. You see a success story. Look at Byron and you see the Nets. You see a team losing twice in the Finals. Look at Byron and you see the Cavs winning 19 games. You see a disaster. Look at Byron and you see his toughness and will and the theater of the stubborn.
The Lakers have been looking at Byron for three months. They are still undecided.