NEW ORLEANS – Five years ago, there was a coup underway to run Byron Scott out of his job with the New Jersey Nets, and we were talking together late after a practice near the end. He had delivered the franchise to back-to-back NBA Finals, but Jason Kidd wanted him out, his staff had thrown loyalty to the superstar over their boss and Scott understood it was a matter of time until Rod Thorn fired him.
“Everyone else in your business thinks someone is out to get him," I told Scott that day. In his case, they really were, so I asked him: “Why don’t you fight back? Why do you just take this?”
"It isn't who I am," he said. "I'm at peace with who I am, with how I've done this job. I won't lower myself."
Kidd had barked to ownership to get rid of Scott, challenged him in the locker room and, at times, stopped running his play calls. It was nasty and vicious and ultimately a stain on Scott's reputation. For the Nets, it was as though the back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals never happened. Results counted for nothing in New Jersey, where Scott didn't make it to the 2003 All-Star break after those two Eastern Conference championships.
Now, Scott meets Kidd again, the New Orleans Hornets and Dallas Mavericks playing Game 1 of the Western Conference playoffs Saturday. Scott's the coach of the Hornets, the favorite to win the NBA's Coach of the Year and he no longer has to defend his ethic, his acumen, his competence to those who trashed it on the way out of Jersey.
In a private moment at the Hornets practice facility, Scott stopped for a second and thought about a question asked of him that it seemed he had never asked himself: Had he forgiven Kidd?
"I don't know if you ever quite let it go, but in your heart of hearts, our heavenly Father says you must forgive," Scott said. "But human nature is to hold onto things when you were done wrong, to have some negative feeling about the person, or persons, that have done those things to you."
Mostly, he says, he never looks back. There's truth there. That's how Scott lives. He always thinks life is just going to work out for him because it always does. There is an innate peace of mind, a serenity about Scott that Kidd has never found. Much of his life has been chasing wanderlust, believing something else – someone else – was always better than what he had. For Scott, he's had an innate ability to make things happen for himself.
The Clippers drafted him, but the Lakers made a trade to get him. He was delivered Kidd with the Nets and Paul with the Hornets. His style has been to trust his assistants with different sides of the ball. He let Eddie Jordan incorporate the Princeton offense in New Jersey but eventually found that was held against him. He couldn't win. Larry Bird had come and gone as the Pacers coach, reached an NBA Finals with one assistant (Rick Carlisle) running his offense and another (Dick Harter) his defense.
No one called him lazy, incompetent. "He was a delegator," Scott said, laughing. "When I did I was …"
He didn't finish the sentence. At this point, there's no need. Coaching isn't about the hours watching tape and controlling every motion on the floor. Too many guys coach to impress other coaches, believing credit will come with control.
"I've been in basketball all of my life. I can watch a tape, look at the offense and defense one time. I don't need to watch it seven or eight times. I always look at those guys who say they work 20 hours a day and think maybe they don't know a whole lot about basketball then.
"There are a lot of coaches who are so paranoid, they think everybody is after their job. They're paranoid to a point where they don't let their assistants do anything. They've got to do all the work, the scouting, the preparation for the game. One of the criticisms in Jersey was that I let the assistant coaches do all the work.
"Well, what do you have assistant coaches for if you're not going to allow them to work and learn?"
Coaching is far more psychological than tactical. Scott's X's and O's have grown through the years, but his gift has been getting players to play hard for him. So much of his success as Hornets coach has come with the poise, the presence, to keep the Hornets together through Hurricane Katrina and the moves back and forth to Oklahoma City and slews of injuries.
Even so, the Hornets won 56 games this season, beat San Antonio, Dallas and Houston for the Southwest Division championship. Jason Kidd comes back into Byron Scott's life in these Western Conference playoffs, Game 1 on Saturday night in New Orleans. Whatever happened, the coach is still standing.
- Byron Scott