EL SEGUNDO – As one face from the past emerged into the Lakers present, so too did a few more. Out of a side door at the team’s El Segundo practice facility strolled Magic Johnson, Jamaal Wilkes and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar.
“Baby B!” Johnson exclaimed to the man sitting at the table in front of him.
Later, while posing for pictures with his arm around new Lakers coach Byron Scott, his former teammate, Johnson said, “Showtime is back, baby.”
Somewhere, Mike D’Antoni was maybe rolling his eyes, less than two years removed from a news conference of his own where he was introduced as the Lakers coach, and said, “We would love to be able to play Showtime basketball.”
D’Antoni’s tenure was a disaster, often criticized by Johnson and punctuated by an injury-filled 27-55 campaign last season, the worst record since the team moved from Minneapolis. Last year, the Lakers ranked third from the bottom of the NBA in defense.
And so while the Lakers leaned on Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar and Wilkes at Tuesday’s introductory news conference to hammer home the point that Scott is part of the family, the Lakers new head man drove home a point of his own. It was one that resonated with the Lakers’ front office during several interviews and, no doubt, with a fan base that clamored for grittier efforts last season.
His Lakers will not try to simply outscore their opponents, the fundamental tenet of the D’Antoni school. They will be known for their defense, Scott said.
In Scott’s mind, that was the true defining characteristic of the Showtime-era Lakers, whom he helped to three NBA titles in the ’80s.
“The first thing Magic taught me when I got in this league is that we win championships by defending every single night,” said Scott, who was drafted No. 4 overall in 1983 by the Clippers but traded to the Lakers for Norm Nixon. “That’s the one thing we can control.”
While talk of championships seems wildly premature for a team whose biggest offseason splash was plucking Carlos Boozer off waivers, Scott said the Lakers’ return to prominence will not take as long as most doubters expect.
“We don’t – at least I don’t – see this as a long process,” Scott said. “This is Los Angeles. This is still one of the best organizations in all of sports. You still got a ton of people that would love to play for this organization.”
Despite his first day on the job being defined by nostalgia and kind words, Scott did not conceal his well-known toughness, which was instilled early and developed by former Lakers coach Pat Riley.
“If you’re not out there and you’re not playing defense the way I think you’re capable of playing, or the way we should play defense,” Scott said, “then I’m going to have to find other guys that will.”
When he coached the New Jersey Nets to back-to-back NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003, his teams ranked No. 1 in points allowed per 100 possessions. The results have not always been so affirming, however. In his three seasons coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers, 2010-13, none of his teams ranked higher than 26th.
Scott, however, was complimentary of the team General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss assembled before his hiring, even though the Lakers missed out on the top names available in the class of free agents.