In the end, as is usually the case, Kobe Bryant got what he wanted. We hope he’s happy.
The Los Angeles Lakers are in negotiations to bring Byron Scott back into the Laker family as head coach – ESPN was the first to report the interest, which Marc Spears discussed here. The 53-year-old won three championship rings as a Lakers shooting guard during the 1980s, and his final season in the NBA was on a team that featured Bryant in his rookie year. Since then, Scott has had an up-and-down career as a head coach, with some wondering if his final season with the Cleveland Cavaliers would be the last we see of Scott as a leading man.
Patience paid out, apparently, as Scott and the Lakers had shown mutual interest and engaged in several interviews in the weeks since Los Angeles and former head coach Mike D’Antoni decided to part ways on April 30. Byron had been on Los Angeles’ radar, but it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not he took it as a slap to the face that Lakers general manager (and former Lakers teammate) Mitch Kupchak waited nearly three months to make a formal offer.
It’s not Scott had much choice in the matter. He spent three disastrous years with the post (and pre)-LeBron James Cavaliers, years that saw the team’s young players show little in the way of player development, running one of the league’s worst defenses along the way. It’s true that he was asked to coach a team in rebuilding mode – even if the Cavaliers owner and general manager at the time refused to go into such a mode following James’ departure – but the abject lack of movement up the standings wore on Scott’s critics.
Scott was well-liked by his players, though, as reportedly he eased off the Pat Riley-styled practices that marked his time as coach of the New Jersey Nets and the then-New Orleans Hornets.
After several years as an assistant, Scott started his head-coaching career by making the daring move of establishing a Princeton-like offense in New Jersey despite the presence of the ball-dominating Jason Kidd. Flanked by a solid core of assistant coaches in Eddie Jordan and Lawrence Frank, Scott’s Nets thrived defensively, making two NBA Finals at the lowest ebb of the Eastern Conference’s bad 15 years off.
Kidd and Scott eventually clashed, and with the Nets working with a mediocre record midway through the next season, the team replaced Scott with Lawrence Frank, who rebounded nicely in New Jersey with the addition of Vince Carter the following season.
Byron was off to New Orleans next, where he worked two miserable years (and the team’s partial relocation to Oklahoma City for a season following Hurricane Katrina) before turning things around with Chris Paul at the helm. After a surprising playoff run in 2008, Scott was awarded the Coach of the Year, but injuries and poor long-term planning turned the Hornets into a middling team before long, and Scott was let go in 2009.
Cleveland gobbled him up just days before LeBron left, and we know how that turned out. Los Angeles, at the moment, offers about as much promise.
The Lakers are in a year-long holding pattern, waiting out 2014-15 in order to hopefully pounce on a veteran free agent to pair with Kobe Bryant as he enters the winter of his career. After missing out on Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James this offseason, the Lakers made a point to trade for (Jeremy Lin) and sign (Carlos Boozer, while Ed Davis and Jordan Hill have player and team options for next summer) contributors who won’t have to be on the books past next season. This isn’t dissimilar to what Dallas has been dealing with over the past few offseasons, but the Lakers’ core isn’t nearly as inspiring in spite of Kobe’s presence.
Scott has no idea what he’ll get from point guard Steve Nash this season, or even if Nash will be around when the season starts, as the Lakers could still use the stretch provision on his contract (as it would potentially limit the team’s cap space next season and in 2016, it isn’t likely). Lin has never found a comfortable long-term setting in his nascent NBA career, Boozer is fading, and Bryant can’t possibly be the same player he once was at his age and after playing just six games in the previous 18 months as he enters 2014-15.
On the surface, Byron Scott seems like an uninspired pick, especially as the team reportedly chose the former Laker over a more celebrated candidate in George Karl. Scott could be a retread who has some success with good players, one that might not be the best coach for Bryant at this point in Bryant’s career, as he looks to protect his aging and surgically repaired legs. Kobe’s a competitor, though, and he’s getting older – and older players want someone they’re familiar with, even if Byron is going to put Bryant through his paces.
Maybe that’s what Kobe Bryant needs at this point in his career, and the glass-half-full outlook could tell you that year and a half off was a needed tonic for his ancient wheels. Maybe Scott, a Lakers legend, has learned quite a bit since his ouster from Cleveland. Maybe he’ll unleash some stellar young assistant who can make a difference. Maybe there’s some magic to be developed between the veteran trio of Bryant, Nash and Boozer, with a dash of Julius Randle’s fantastic potential tossed in.
Or, it could be another snoozer of a season. The Lakers may finally have their coach, but we’re about to relearn that it’s always about the players.
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