Six weeks from now the reclamation project begins. It starts with Lakers training camp and two-a-day practices. It ends who knows where. Without looking too far ahead, Lakers coach Byron Scott spends his last days of summer (and some nights), fine tuning the details. He doesn’t need reminding how much it matters; he gets the enormity of the Lakers. The only hard part-and the exciting part too- about the Lakers situation, from where Byron happens to sit, is the piecing of it all together.
In an interview with Lakers.com, Byron Scott spoke about his vision for the upcoming season including how he envisions personnel, defense, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers versatility. It was the first glimpse of Byron Scott, the coach, who is someone entirely separate from Byron Scott the local star so many are proud of.
“I’m pretty demanding”, he unapologetically said. “I want it done a certain way and I want guys to compete every night and get after people.” His rigid tone is a world apart from last year and so are the specifics. “There are three ways we’re going to guard side pick and rolls”, Scott explained. “We’re going to down it, hard show or red it (trap). If you do it from day one, guys get better at it because they’re working on it every day at practice.”
Anyone who watched Byron last season on Time Warner Cable SportsNet saw his visible frustration with D’antoni’s defense. Sometimes his face looked like it was going to crack. “There were games where they (Lakers) were playing defense one way and other games where they played it differently.” It’s a familiar Mike D’antoni criticism: consistency.
He doesn’t feel shame. Byron is an old school kind of coach, one that teaches through repetition and who punishes mistakes. Without a rim protector he admits a lot of responsibility is going to come by way of the team defense he will start teaching in training camp.
As for training camp itself he admitted he really won’t know much about the team and the individual player’s heart and desire until he sees them in the pressurized environment that first week when most of the players are fighting for positions. Until then he will have no idea of Julius Randle’s competitiveness. “You have to understand your players, be able to read them and what they need.”
Although it has been 16 years since he has been a player he hasn’t forgotten what the fatigue is like. He won’t practice on back to back days and will adjust the practice schedule to the team’s schedule. “I’ve been there myself. I understand that your body gets tired and you need to be away from the gym.”
When asked about Julius Randle who he had recently seen work out he admitted that Randle needs to get in shape but that he sees him earning a chance to play a lot of minutes. “We know he’s a rookie and needs to develop and a lot of that will come in training camp and in practice.” The last thing Scott or the Lakers want is Randle to come into training camp out of shape. That reduces his ability to participate in camp and will drastically limit his time on the court once the season starts. Not to mention it will give Randle a reputation as a lazy player.
But Scott is impressed by Randle’s size and power and competitiveness. “He has great feet and great quickness for his size and he’s strong as a bull. You can tell that he wants to get better. He doesn’t mind banging in the post but he’s also capable facing up from 15 feet and either going around someone or pulling up.” It’s the sort of versatility that makes a coach’s job easier because he can design multiple sets for Randle’s skill set.
As for the power forward battle, Byron is intent on letting Randle and Carlos Boozer slug it out in camp. Byron isn’t opposed to playing them together because Boozer is vocal out on the court which would benefit Randle. But Ed Davis has been a fixture at the Lakers practice facility and is very serious about his workouts. He may play with Randle too.
In the back court the presence of Jeremy Lin is an opportunity for Byron’s offense to slash to the rim. He was excited about the possibilities Lin brings to the team. “Jeremy is a guy I like. He’s not afraid of the moment. He’s very gritty, tough and intelligent.” Steve Nash on the other hand is a question mark. “The clock is ticking”, Scott said. But he did admit that Nash looked great in workouts and was pain free for the first time in almost two years.
A team possessing so few dominant players, Byron isn’t afraid of using Lin and Nash in the backcourt and Kobe at the 3 if Wesley Johnson doesn’t have a good camp. He sees Nick Young primarily as a back up. “I love Swaggy coming off the bench. I love his firepower.” Unlike his other coaches, Byron values Nick’s energy and how he wants to win and the impact he has on the fans. “He changed his whole persona, what people thought of him. I’d never seen him play defense before.” Who would have guessed tough guy Byron would be a Swaggy convert?
Perhaps Nick Young will play with Kobe. But maybe not. The challenge of Kobe is different than everyone on the team because of Kobe’s experience and Byron’s implicit trust of him. Unlike Mike D’antoni, Byron doesn’t appear to be intimidated by Kobe’s accomplishments or his personality or his withering death stares. Scott referred to Kobe by his rookie nickname Showboat when recounting a conversation in Kobe’s rookie year. “Showboat, what do you want to do in this league”, Byron once asked. Kobe responded like Kobe would respond. “I want to be the best player in the NBA.”
Kobe is hard on coaches, even harder on himself and his teammates but if Byron has an advantage it is their pre-existing relationship. “I think Kobe respects my opinion and my experience in this game and in this league. We feel the same way about this roster that we have. We know a lot of people aren’t going to give us a chance but we feel we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”
Player/coach trust is primary for any team to succeed. “I care about him that much” Byron confessed. “I’ve known him for 17 years and I know what kind of player and what kind of person he is. He knows me as well. He knows he can come up to me and tell me anything.”
But the rest of the Lakers lack Kobe’s resume. They are trying to disprove a negative. They are still young enough in their careers where their reputations are still being determined. To them this season matters a lot and the challenge of that, of bringing them along developmentally as well as institutionalizing a culture where winning is important, is one of Byron Scott’s priorities at training camp. Once upon a time he was a young player people doubted so he understands.
It was as if he remembered that particular thread in his own history, “I like to give my player’s a lot of freedom”, he said.