Now that the NBA’s Draft Lottery has finally come and gone, not only can the Lakers move forward with their plans of how to reconstruct their roster with the knowledge they’ll have the seventh selection (barring a deal) come June 26, but they can also actively continue the process of filling their head coaching vacancy. Although GM Mitch Kupchak said there was no sense of urgency to necessarily hire a coach over the next few weeks, the team has already begun interviewing candidates for the position.
Former Lakers coach Mike Dunleavy (90-92) interviewed with the team earlier in the week, and reportedly felt ‘positively’ with how the conversation went. Dunleavy has either interviewed or been mentioned in relationship to the Lakers’ head coaching position each time it has been available over the past decade or so, but the 1998-99 NBA Coach of the Year has also interviewed with the Knicks.
Byron Scott is another available coach that interviewed with the Lakers’ brass this week, and would almost have to be considered one of the leading candidates for the position given all the variables. While UConn’s Kevin Ollie may have been the candidate many felt was ideal prior to his recently signed extension to stay in Connecticut for up to five additional years, Scott brings a lot of similar qualities to the table.
Although a certain portion of the fan base may consider Scott the ideal candidate based solely upon the fact that he is a former three-time champion and Laker, that (in itself) absolutely should not be the reason for his ultimate selection. Make no mistake about it, as his familiarity with the purple and gold and city of Los Angeles are in fact significant, but Scott should actually be hired on the merits of his coaching ability and relationships with players more than anything else. Even though some are quick to point out Scott’s most recent failure with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the three seasons immediately following LeBron James’ exodus, the former Coach of the Year (2007-08) has plenty of additional evidence in his resume that would point to those dreadful seasons being more of an anomaly than the norm.
Beyond having a connection to Kobe Bryant that has spanned the future Hall of Famer’s entire 18-year career, Scott has a history of positive relationships with both veterans and young point guards in particular. Following his interview with the Lakers, Scott took to the airwaves with the guys from 710 AM ESPNLA’s Max [Kellerman] & Marcellus [Wiley] show in order to further discuss why he is the ideal candidate for the position.
“To say the least, I thought it was a perfect fit, Scott told Max & Marcellus. “I don’t know how most people feel, I don’t think I’m a very arrogant guy. And I’ve got a great relationship with Kobe [Bryant]. I know the team, I know the roster, watched them all season and I just think it’d be a great fit,” Scott said.
Scott spent the season alongside former teammate James Worthy providing halftime and post game analysis on the Lakers’ Time Warner Cable SportsNet coverage. He was very critical of the team’s lack of defensive intensity and effort on many nights; even going as far as to mention the “Laker way” in terms of a need to re-establish the organizational pride that he and other longtime Lakers tend to rally around in times of adversity. While maintaining a great deal of respect and high level of expectation for Bryant as a player, Scott knows it may be time for the team to start the process of transitioning from having such a Bryant-dominated focus, moving forward.
“Obviously, if I get the job, the first conversation is with Kobe,” Scott said. “We have to talk about the future of the Los Angeles Lakers, and then also talk about the type of game that he’s going to be playing, because he’s going to have to change his game a little bit, and I think he knows that. We gotta sit down and talk about the minutes and things like that. We just gotta come to an agreement…He knows me. I’m an ‘old-school’ type guy. I think the biggest thing is – number one – I respect the hell out of Kobe, and I think he respects me. That’s the first hurdle you gotta get past.”
Scott knows Bryant’s words still hold a great deal of weight throughout the organization, but he also understands the next coach of the Lakers will have to endure what are certain to be difficult, but honest conversations with their star veteran if they are to be successful. The phrase ‘truth to power’ has never been more apropos and necessary when it comes to dealing with the final seasons of Bryant’s career.
“I think everybody knows it’s going to be a little bit of a rebuilding year [next season],” Scott said. “You’ve still got one of the best players that ever played the game, and everybody that knows Kobe [Bryant]..I think he’s going to come back with a vengeance. Obviously, there’s a lot of holes to fill, but unlike a lot of people that think this is going to be a three or four year process, I really don’t think so. Again, this is one of the best organizations in basketball. Mitch [Kupchak] has done a fantastic job…and I think Jim really has good idea of where they want to go, and what direction they’d like to head in. I don’t think it’s going to take three or four years. I think it’s going to take a couple years at the most,” Scott said.
Whether you consider it a case of relative blind faith, resolute self-confidence, or a combination of the two along with a certain level of comfort that comes from having just spoken to the front office about their plans and goals, Scott’s overall sense of calm could bode well for the 53-year-old if he were to be hired. The reality is, while the upcoming Lakers have more unanswered questions than perhaps ever before, Scott’s assuredness also comes from the knowledge that even though the organization is coming off the worst season in franchise history, they possess the resources and ability to rebuild even quicker than potentially anticipated. Having already endured some of the toughest of times, Scott merely wants to be a part of this proud organization’s return to glory.
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