By Barry Janoff
August 1, 2014: NBA legends and former players with the Los Angeles Lakers turned out in force on Tuesday (July 29) to officially welcome former teammate Byron Scott as the 25th head coach in franchise history.
Scott showed that although he has not worn a Lakers uniform since 1997, he still bleeds purple and gold. "This is still Lakers Town," he said.
Considering the team's 2013-14 season — 27-55, the Lakers' worst record and first non-playoff year since 2004-05 (34-48) — it was small wonder that former center and Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said during his intro, "It's great that L.A. takes care of its own like this . . . Hopefully this is the point where things start to turn around."
Earvin "Magic" Johnson was just as confident that the team's recent downturn would be reversed.
"We are here to support our brother and former teammate and champion, Byron Scott, and also to support the Lakers organization," Johnson (pictured above, far left, with Scott, Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes) said. "This is a great day for all the former Lakers as well as Laker fans all over the world. We're excited to what Byron can bring to the table and to get back to playing Laker basketball."
Left unsaid was the impact that a poor season had, and the hope of return to championship form will have, on the Lakers marketing partners.
Information services group Experian had its logo front and center on the backdrop during the Scott press conference. Other team marketing partners include AmEx, Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser), Chevron, Coca-Cola, Delta, Denny's Gatorade, Kumho Tire, MGM Resorts, Nike, Papa John's, Panini, Staples, Toyota and Verizon.
Despite their support, there was not much joy in Lakerville last season.
Players on the Los Angeles roster last season missed 319 games due to injury, tops in the league, according to the NBA. That included Kobe Bryant, who played in just six games after returning in December from a torn Achillies tendon incurred the previous season and then suffering a lateral tibial plateau fracture in his left knee.
The Lakers decline also coincided with the rise of the Los Angeles Clippers, co-tenants in Staples Center and a team that not only contended for top honors in the Western Conference last season but also helped to step on the Lakers, accentuated by a 48-point win March 6 (142–94), which was both the most one-sided win in Clippers' franchise history but also and the most one-sided loss in Lakers history.
None the less, Scott was confident that the Lakers were still the toast of the town.
"This is still Lakers Town," Scott said. "It has not gone to the Clippers. This is a great rivalry. [But] we have (16 championship) banners and they have none."
The search for a new coach had been on-going since Mike D'Antoni left after the season, but despite several candidates linked to the team in the media, GM (and former teammate) Mitch Kupchak said that Scott was their main man all along.
"I want to thank Byron for his patience during this process the last six or seven weeks," said Kupchak. "It was always clear to us that Byron was our first choice."
"This is still Lakers Town. It has not gone to the Clippers. This is a great rivalry. [But] we have (16 championship) banners and they have none."
Scott, a native of Inglewood, Calif., was a starter on Lakers championship teams in 1985, 1987 and 1988. During his 14-year NBA playing career — which also included stints with the Indiana Pacers, the then Vancouver Grizzlies and a one-season return to the Lakers — Scott scored more than 15,000 points and had more than 2,700 assists.
After two seasons as an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings, he had 416 wins in 13 seasons as head coach with the New Jersey Nets (2000-04), New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets (2004-09) and Cleveland Cavaliers (2010-13). He led the Nets to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003, losing to the Lakers and San Antonio Spurs, respectively. He was named NBA Coach of the Year in 2007-08 NBA and is a two-time NBA All-Star Game head coach (2002 Eastern Conference, 2008 Western Conference).
"I don't see (rebuilding) as a long process," said Scott. "This is Los Angeles. A ton of great players want to be here."
He also gets to coach Bryant for at least the next two seasons, the length of Bryant's current deal. Newcomers to the team include Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozier.
"Kobe and I have a great relationship," said Bryant. "He has to be patient. But it is going to be fun."
And in reference to the glory days when Magic, Abdul-Jabbar, Scott and others ruled the NBA, Scott said, "This will be go time, if not Showtime . . . If you think about losing, you lose. If you think about winning, you win. When I played here we hated to lose."
Photos courtesy Los Angeles Lakers