Byron Scott’s recent rebuilding project didn’t go so well. He was hired in 2010 by the Cleveland Cavaliers and two weeks into his tenure watched as the reigning MVP decided to leave for Miami. On the night of “The Decision,” Scott drove home along streets mobbed with angry fans who burned jerseys and tore down billboards.
The city of Cleveland rioted, but Scott didn’t panic.
“If he came back, we had a chance at a championship,” the new coach of the Lakers said last week. “If he didn’t, (Cleveland management) told me I’d have time to rebuild this team, so I felt at that particular time that I was kind of in a win-win situation.”
But in three seasons, all the Cavaliers did was lose. Scott was fired in 2013 after his best season in Cleveland, a meager 24-58.
“What I learned from there is that sometimes life isn’t fair,” Scott said, “and you just move on.”
Now, James is back in Cleveland and Scott, after a year working as a studio analyst on Lakers broadcasts, is back in the NBA, faced with another uphill battle.
The Lakers went 27-55 last season. Their best (healthy) player, Pau Gasol, left in free agency. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are old – at least by NBA standards – and both missed most of last season because of serious injuries. Despite positive rehab reports on each player, no one knows at what level they will be able to perform.
The Lakers held off hiring a coach before building the roster, drafting Julius Randle and finding short-term solutions such as Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin.
In interviews with Jim Buss and General Manager Mitch Kupchak, Scott said, the Lakers executives wanted to know if he was up for a multiyear process.
“I said, ‘Yeah as long as I know we’re going in the right direction and as long as I know that I’ve got the support of you guys and that we’re all in this together,’” Scott said.
While the Lakers don’t open training camp until the end of the month, Scott said has been busy getting himself entrenched within the organization he retired from as a player in 1997. He has made the publicity rounds, throwing out the first pitch at a Dodgers game, but also preparing to implement new offensive and defensive schemes.
While Kobe Bryant has been training with players including Wesley Johnson and Nick Young, and Steve Nash has been at the practice facility each day for morning training sessions, Scott has been huddled with his assistants. While the Lakers haven’t officially named Scott’s coaching staff, expected assistants, including Jim Eyen, Paul Pressey and Mark Madsen, have been working with players.
“You start implementing your offense and your defense and things like that,” Scott said, “so you have a good idea in your mind when training camp starts of what you want to do.”
While the Lakers never had a problem scoring points the past two seasons under Mike D’Antoni, the freewheeling system often led to poor defense. Scott said his will be a more controlled, read-based offensive system.
“There’s not a whole lot of restrictions as far as the things we want to be able to do,” he said. “We want players to just be able to flow and not think about it, just react to the defense and I think that’s the best way you can get players to be free and just play good basketball.”
Scott said his offense will have elements of the triangle offense, which Phil Jackson used to win five titles in L.A., while the secret to good defense is “making everybody believe it’s the key to winning.”
“I think we’ve got a guy that believes that,” Scott said, referencing Bryant.
As a Time Warner Cable SportsNet analyst last season, Scott carefully watched the Lakers, and anticipates some of the eight returning players will fit better in his system.
“Some of the things I like to do,” he said, “I saw guys on the team last year that I think are going to be good in it.”
As for the struggles of players last year, Scott said, “I don’t look at last year’s team because that has nothing to do with what we’re going to do this year.”
After D’Antoni’s attempt at a return to a “Showtime” style of play failed miserably, fans are no doubt excited for a reboot of X’s and O’s. But that isn’t necessarily Scott’s first priority.
As a member of the Showtime Lakers, Scott believes the organization should always be thinking championships, something he plans to impart to his players at the start of camp.
“The first order of business for us, for me as a coach and for my staff,” Scott said, “is to get our guys thinking on that level again.”
In a loaded Western Conference that includes the defending champion Spurs, the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Houston Rockets and the Clippers, it seems unrealistic to pencil in the Lakers for a playoff berth, while a championship is years away.
“I don’t know if we can reach all those things or not,” he said, “the one thing we know is we want to aim for them. That’s the biggest thing, we want to feel that we’re going to go after those things each and every day and we want to get better as a basketball team.”
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