The Los Angeles Lakers officially introduced Byron Scott as their head coach on Tuesday morning, nearly three months after the position became vacant with the resignation of Mike D’Antoni. Scott, a former head coach with the then New Jersey Nets and New Orleans Hornets along with the Cleveland Cavaliers most recently, was welcomed by former Lakers legends who he won multiple championships with in the 1980s. He’s already been embraced more than any Lakers head coach not named Phil Jackson or Pat Riley and despite the fact that it took a few months to officially hire him, he was actually the organization’s top choice all along.
“I just want to thank [Byron] for his patience,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said. “Over the last six or seven weeks, it was always clear to us that Byron was our first choice, and we did multiple interviews and stayed in touch. But in this business, when time plays out and things linger, I know there’s some uncertainty and tension and testing of patience. Here we are, introducing Byron Scott as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, so thank you for sticking with us and being patient over the last six or seven weeks.”
The Lakers’ hesitancy undoubtedly stemmed from their past failures in hiring a head coach, not because Scott lacked the qualifications or didn’t jump out as the most natural fit from day one.
Lakers President of Basketball Operations Jim Buss has been one of the lead shot callers for the better part of the last decade. Throughout that time, the organization has gone from the lottery to winning back-to-back championships. Although he rarely seeks out praise or recognition for the moves he’s had a major say in – like the drafting of Andrew Bynum and trade for Pau Gasol to name a couple – he’s caught the bulk of the criticism for failed head coaching hires. Rudy Tomjanovic, Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni all flamed out in dramatic fashion after receiving his endorsement.
Buss really came under fire for choosing D’Antoni instead of Jackson after firing Brown early in the season. However, in an excerpt from his latest book, even Jackson said he understood the reasoning behind the move. After working with him for the last five years, nobody was more familiar with the health issues Jackson was having than Buss. With a young superstar center in Dwight Howard in place to potentially bridge the gap from the end of the Kobe Bryant era to the next Lakers championship team, Buss and company wanted a long-term solution in place at head coach. Jackson was looking at the job as more of a one-year gig, which would have been really tough for him to implement his system during – especially on the fly mid-season.
D’Antoni didn’t work out at all and Howard ended up leaving that next offseason, but at worst Buss went with the second-best candidate overall, and the edge he had over Jackson was that he looked like he could be the better fit long-term.
The Lakers wanted stability, not a short-term fix.
With Scott, they may finally have it.
“The one thing I will say is that this has been a dream of mine for so long,” Scott said. “It’s a dream come true to be here sitting and talking to you guys today and be introduced as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. As I told Mitch and Jim in our meetings, the passion and the love that I have for this organization is second to none. The only thing I regret is that Dr. Buss isn’t here today. He’s somebody who showed a lot of love and confidence in me back in the day, and a guy that you could call any time, a guy that could call you any time and you could talk to him about anything. Like, basketball, money, anything. I just wish he was here today. But as I told Jim and Jeanie, I’m going to do everything in my power to make those guys proud, the Buss family proud, and do everything I can to bring this team back to where we know it should be. This organization is all about championships. Period. We don’t look at Western Conference finals, Western Conference championships. We look at championships. We know we have some work ahead of us, I’m excited. Just thrilled to death. I’m eager, and just ready to get to work. I know it’s going to be a challenge, but I look forward do it. I love challenges anyway, so this is going to be fun.”
It’s going to be challenging indeed because unlike Brown or D’Antoni, Scott is taking over a team that is stuck in the middle of the pack. On paper it looks like this team, at best, could compete for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference. But, as far as competing for a championship as he stated above, that’s going to either take one of the best coaching jobs we’ve ever seen, or some further tweaks to the roster. The Lakers do have a stock of expiring contracts, a 2015 first round pick heading their way from the Houston Rockets and some intriguing young talent in rookies Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. So, there is some potential for some shake ups in the future as the Lakers are still aggressive in their pursuit for another star after losing Howard last offseason and coming up just shy of signing Carmelo Anthony this summer. For now, though, Scott is going to have to work with what he has.
“I told Mitch and Jim at our last meeting was that I thought they put a roster together that will be very competitive,” Scott said. “The main thing I have to do right away is establish ourselves as a defensive basketball team. These three gentlemen that’s sitting in this front row, the first that Magic taught me when I got in this league is that we win championships by defending every single night. That’s the one thing we can control. Offense is going to come and go. You’re going to miss shots, you’re going to make shots. But the one thing you control every single night is your effort on the defensive end. So we have to obviously get that back in the plans. Guys have to understand that that’s what it’s going to take and they have to be held accountable for that. But I like the roster that Mitch has put together. It’s a little bit of some youth and some experienced guys and I’m looking forward to working with them.
“They don’t [defend], I’ll take them out the game. It’s pretty simple, Jim. I mean, again, you get beat on the defensive end, and I’ve done this my whole career, guys, they understand that you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do out there, there’s consequences. And the only thing that you can really control with players is their minutes. That gets their attention. So 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, then I’m going to have to find other guys that will.”
Throughout his coaching career so far Scott has had the luxury of having All-Star point guards run his offense. In New Jersey he had Jason Kidd, in New Orleans Chris Paul and in Cleveland Kyrie Irving. Steve Nash is certainly deserving of being mentioned with the likes of those players when you’re talking about the best point guards since the break of the new millennium, but his contributions are probably going to be greater off the court as a mentor and unofficial assistant coach than on the court given his age and injury issues. As of today, Jeremy Lin is at the top of the depth chart at the point guard position, and while he may not stack up well to the point guards Scott has had in the past, he sees great potential for him in his offense.
“The thing I like about Jeremy, is that he’s feisty,” Scott said. “He’s tough. He competes. I’ve played against him, as far as coached against him, in a number of games, so I know how he is. He’s a competitor. The point guard position in this league today, on the defensive end, is vital. You’ve got to have guys that are — they don’t have to be great — they don’t have to be great one-on-one defenders, but they have to go after you. They have to just continue to be persistent at that end of the floor. I think Jeremy is like that, and offensively, obviously he can shoot the ball. He can push the ball up and down the floor. He gets to the basket. He’s a very, very intelligent basketball player, so again, after coaching against him for a few years, it’s going to be fun to coach him.”
Scott will have one All-Star caliber player on his roster next year in Kobe Bryant, who he mentored when he first came into the league and has kept a close relationship with since. Bryant has a reputation for being difficult to coach and stuck in his ways, but if there’s anyone who can connect with him it’s Scott and he’s already making it clear that he’s open to collaborating with his former pupil who is now an all-time great.
“I just think Kobe is an unbelievable basketball player that just has an unbelievable mind for the game of basketball,” Scott said. “And I see us conversating a lot over things that we should do on the basketball court, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. Like I said, when I came in the league and had to play with this man over here on his side, listening to him talk about the game was amazing to me, the way he saw the game, so as a coach, there’s certain things that I’m going to see on the floor, and there’s certain things that he’s going to see, and at times, I’m going to go with some of the things he sees, and I’m going to go with some of the things I see. So I don’t think that’s going to be a problem whatsoever.”
The search for a long-term solution other than Jackson has yielded poor results, but the Lakers finally took their time, vetted the market and found the candidate most likely to last longer than a couple of seasons in Scott. They’re going to have to be patient with him and realistic with the expectations they’re setting given what he has to work with. While Scott understands how the Lakers truly define success, he has one main goal for next season right now:
“Play hard every single night, and we’ll come ready to defend,” Scott said.
That alone would be a good step in the right direction given what the team went through last year.
Grizzlies Hire Ed Stefanski: Memphis Grizzlies General Manager Chris Wallace announced today that the team has named Ed Stefanski as executive vice president of player personnel.
“We are pleased to welcome Ed Stefanski to the Grizzlies and the city of Memphis,” Wallace said. “Ed is an established NBA executive and excellent talent evaluator who has had success with multiple organizations. Together, with our ownership, front office and coaching staff, we will continue to work to realize our collective vision of hosting a championship parade down Beale Street.”
Stefanski comes to Memphis following upper management positions with the New Jersey Nets (1999-2007), Philadelphia 76ers (2007-11) and, most recently, Toronto Raptors (2011-13), where he served as executive vice president of basketball operations.
Prior to that, Stefanski spent four seasons as president and general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, where he guided the team back to the playoffs three times after it had not qualified for the postseason in the two seasons before his hiring. Stefanski helped rebuild the 76ers by re-signing key players such as Andre Iguodala and using mid-first round draft picks on young talent such as Marreese Speights (16th overall in 2008), Jrue Holiday (17th in 2009) and Nikola Vucevic (16th in 2011).
Before joining Philadelphia, Stefanski spent nine seasons with the Nets where he oversaw the team’s basketball operations and was heavily involved in player personnel matters. He was promoted to general manager in 2004 after serving one season as senior vice president of basketball operations and four seasons as director of scouting.
Stefanski was instrumental in helping build the Nets’ back-to-back Eastern Conference championship teams (2002 and 2003). He had a significant part in drafting Kenyon Martin with the first overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft, as well as a draft night deal in which the Nets acquired Richard Jefferson, Jason Collins and Brandon Armstrong from Houston. Martin, Jefferson and Collins would develop into starters for the Nets’ 2002-03 Eastern Conference championship squad.
In 2004, Stefanski played a major role in the trade that moved All-Star and current Grizzlies wing Vince Carter from Toronto to New Jersey in 2004. Carter and Jefferson rank second and third, respectively, in Nets franchise history in points scored.
A 1976 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton School of Business), Stefanski played three seasons for Penn, where he was coached by Hall-of-Famer Chuck Daly. He was a member of two Ivy League Champions (1974 and 1975) and helped the Quakers reach the NCAA Tournament in both of those seasons. Stefanski was drafted by Philadelphia in the 10th round of the 1976 NBA Draft.
While in college, Stefanski founded and secured funding for the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s Inner City Basketball League, which provided a structured basketball environment for hundreds of boys and girls living under the Housing Authority. The Housing Authority later celebrated his efforts with a special recognition award, commending his contributions to the youth of Philadelphia.
Stefanksi also enjoyed a 20-year run as a color analyst for Big Five basketball and ESPN’s Atlantic 10 basketball coverage.
Mavericks sign Ivan Johnson: The Dallas Mavericks announced today that they have signed free agent forward Ivan Johnson. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Johnson (6-8, 255) started all five games for the Mavericks at the Las Vegas Summer League and averaged 7.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.0 steal and 20.8 minutes per game.
Johnson spent the 2013-14 season playing for the Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls in China, where he averaged 26.0 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 2.9 steals and 32.8 minutes per game in 24 games.
The 6-8 forward began his professional career in the NBA Development League in 2007-08 with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and Anaheim Aresenal.
Johnson was signed by the Atlanta Hawks on Dec. 9, 2011 after impressing the club in a 2011 mini-camp and earning an invite to training camp. He appeared in 56 games for Atlanta in 2011-12 and averaged 6.4 points and 4.0 rebounds in 16.7 minutes per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field and 72.0 percent from the foul line. Johnson was named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for April. He ranked third among rookies in field goal percentage.
Johnson re-signed with Atlanta on Sept. 18, 2012. He averaged 6.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 15.0 minutes per game in 69 games (five starts) for the Hawks in 2012-13. Johnson holds career averages of 6.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 15.8 minutes per game in 125 NBA games (five starts).
Johnson finished up his collegiate career at Cal State San Bernardino in 2006-07, where he averaged 15.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the field. He earned All-California Collegiate Athletic Association First Team honors as a senior, and was named Second Team All-West Region by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.