He won three championship rings as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers' "Showtime" team the 1980s and turned the New Jersey Nets -- official punching bag of the NBA -- into a title contender. There's no question that Byron Scott has been a winner as a player and coach, yet, like seemingly every other NBA coach, he knows that coaching at the top can be a very fleeting experience.
In discussing these and other subjects one September afternoon in his office in Westwego -- before the start of training camp and the end of Jamal Mashburn's season was announced -- the 43-year-old Scott was every bit as mild-mannered as the Lakers were flashy. (More than one observer has used the phrase "wrapped a little tight" to describe him.) But with that comes a laser-like logic and self-assuredness that he (and fans) hopes to translate into calm waters as his team negotiates the choppy waters of its new environs, the Western Conference.
Q: I believe you were once asked as a rookie what player best mirrored your game, and you responded: "Magic Johnson. Except I'm quicker and can shoot better from the outside." Does that sound familiar?
A: Yup. That sounds familiar. I was wrong. (Laughs.) I was quicker and could shoot better, but man, he was so good it was unbelievable. And you never know until you finally get a chance to play against him or play with him, how talented at 6-9 he was. And man, when I got a chance to play with him after watching him for about three or four months, I was like, "Man, I'm nowhere near close to this guy. This guy's in a different world." There's good and then there's great. He was great.
Q: Do you think the NBA will ever enjoy a rivalry that will compare to the Celtics-Lakers rivalry of the 1980s? Given the salary cap, free agency and the influx of young and European players, is that possible?
A: I don't think it'll ever happen again. I just think with all the things you just mentioned and these guys getting traded after three or four years, the loyalty to stay with an organization isn't the same as it was in the '80s. With the salary cap and the restrictions that they have, I just don't see where you're going to have those types of rivalries anymore. And I think that was the best time for basketball. It was unbelievable, with us and the Celtics, with the Pistons and the Celtics and the rivalry that they had, you just don't see those types of rivalries anymore.
Q: Why do you think they're important for the game?
A: Well, I think people can identify with them. I really think it's important because you get a bunch of people that really ... one of these two teams, they hate. Just like everywhere I go, there were people that were Boston fans, and they said, "Man, we hated you." And I loved that, because it showed they had a passion for their home team. And when you have players who have been there six, seven, eight, nine years, in that community, they form relationships with those fans. And you just don't have that today. Players are there one, two, three years, and then they're talking about how they want to leave, they want to go here ... they just don't have the same type of loyalty. So the fans are a little disconnected now with teams, unlike they were in the '80s.
Q: You're not an old man, but is it harder for you to relate to that notion of the players being a little more about the money and being a little bit less about an NBA title.
A: I think it's all about the money now. And I don't think it's nowhere near where it was in the '80s, where our philosophy was to win championships and everything else would take care of itself. I think the players today, their philosophy is, "I want to get paid on the first and 15th (of the month). Forget everything else. Whatever happens after that is gravy. But I think the philosophy for us compared to today's players is totally different. We thought about the game, we thought about winning, because we felt that once you won, you were going to get paid, you were going to get all this other stuff.
Q: How does that translate both to the practice court and to the playing court, with you as the coach finding this weird balance between being a firm coach but also someone who has to sell a player your philosophy, your substitution principles?
A: You have to wear maybe 10 to 15 different hats as a head coach. You've got to be a mother, a father, a psychiatrist, a lawyer, a doctor...
Q: A CPA?
A: Yes. (Laughs.) You've got to be a little bit of everything when you're a head coach in the NBA, and when you're a head coach in any division. And I think it's always to your best interest if you can wear those different hats because you can relate to the players a little better.
I'm not saying these guys today are all selfish and money-hungry and things like that, because a lot of them are just looking for direction. And if you're a coach that can give them that direction, then they're going to play the game the right way. They're going to do the right things that it takes to win basketball games.
Q: Were there strong egos that had to be checked at the door in L.A.?
A: Everybody has an ego. When you make it to the NBA you have to have a little bit of an ego. If you don't, you won't make it. So we're just saying as a team back then in the '80s that once we walk out on that basketball court as a group, whatever egos you have are out the door because you are here as a group for one reason, and that's to win championships. We don't care who scores what. We don't care who has that many assists or that many rebounds. The bottom line is to win the basketball game to win championships.
Q: When you were in New Jersey, did you talk to (then-Lakers Head Coach) Pat Riley much on the phone?
A: We would talk during the season. We talked when I made it to the [NBA] Finals with the Nets -- both years. We talk during the summertime. He's a mentor. He's a guy who I knew I could pick up the phone and get a hold of, and if I needed advice he had no problem giving it to me. If I just needed to talk about basketball in general just to pick his brain, he had no problem (with me) doing that with him.
Q: What were some of the most salient things you got out of those conversations?
A: (Sighs.) Aw, man, with Riley it was so many things. I'd say half the time we wouldn't even talk about basketball. We would talk about life. He had a great way of intertwining the two. Talk about life and then once you got off the phone you realized that what he was talking about kind of relates to basketball as well. And if you put the two together, you could see it. I think most of the time that with his messages to me, I was able to say, "Wow, I understand exactly what he's talking about." And a lot of it was very simple. It was about the team. It was about the organization. It was about your pride, your confidence. He just gave me a lot of wisdom that I needed at times where I really needed it.
Q: How does arrogance or self-confidence, depending on how you want to draw that line, help you as a coach and how can it work against you as a coach?
A: Well, I think it can work against you when people start saying all of a sudden, "He's not confident. He is arrogant." I think that's when it works against you, because most coaches, yeah, they are confident in what they do. They believe in their ability to get a team from Point A to Point B. They believe that their system is about as good as anybody else's system. They believe that they can get 12 guys together and get those guys to places they've never been. So is that arrogance or is that confidence? I look at it as being very confident.
I'm a very confident person. And not just as a coach; I'm a very confident person. So whatever challenge that I feel is ahead of me, I feel I can conquer it. It might take me some time, but I feel that I'm a very patient person and that it's going to take me some time, but I'm going to keep knocking at the door until I get it open.
Q: For years the New Jersey Nets were one of the laughingstock franchises of the NBA, and then came you and Jason Kidd. And Eddie Jordan, your top assistant. Considering the predictions for the Hornets in the West this season, how did your experience in turning around the Nets help prepare you for this challenge?
A: First of all, I haven't seen any predictions. I don't know where we are predicted (to finish) in the West.
Q: It's not good.
A: Well, I know that. But that's people's perception. Everybody has their own ideas of where every team should finish. I didn't know too many that picked Detroit to beat the Lakers, either. So that's just everybody else's perception. My perception of this team is that we are a lot further along than the team I had my first year in New Jersey. We're much better off. I'm much better equipped with talent here right now than I was my first year in New Jersey. So I don't look at this as a starting-over process. I look at this as a team in place that has some very good pieces. If we can stay healthy, I think we can surprise a lot of people in the West.
Q: That's a huge "if," though.
A: Yes. It's a huge "if" for every team in this league to stay healthy.
Q: But when one of your all-star players has the knee concerns that Jamal has, what can you do about that except prepare the other players the best you can and hope for the best?
A: You prepare like he's not going to be there. And if he's there it's just a pleasant surprise. We've got David West, Rodney Rogers. P.J. Brown's been there a long time. We know how good he is. We have three or four players we know right now that can get the job done. Are they Jamal Mashburn? No. We don't have anybody like that. There's not a lot of teams in this league that have a Jamal Mashburn. So we just have to make sure we prepare these guys to be able to fill the role of what Jamal Mashburn would do.
Now, it might be a combination of three guys that have to play a lot or give the same type of numbers with those three guys that the one guy would give us. And if we can do that we'll still be OK.
Q: Almost every media source I found on the Web pointed to what sounded like a player mutiny during last season, though you were quoted as saying you thought your relationship with Jason Kidd was solid. At the same time, the life span of an NBA head coach these days is very short. Having said that, what does it say about today's NBA atmosphere when a coach who turned around a losing franchise and took it to the NBA Finals in consecutive seasons is shown the door the next season?
A: I don't know. In my opinion, obviously the NBA probably has a short leash with coaches. Coaches go, players stay. It's always going to be that way. I don't know what it says, to be honest with you. Do you have coaches that are all on short leashes? It's obvious that there was a trend the last couple of seasons where you're not giving a guy much of a chance, or if he goes to the Finals two straight years, the next year they get off to a little rocky start and that leash is whipped out pretty quickly. Jim O'Brien in Boston was pretty successful, Randy Ayers in Philly lasted 40 games or whatever the case may be. So the patience, the tolerance is a lot less than it used to be, where coaches or general managers or presidents would say, "Well, this is my guy; I'm gonna stick with him, and we're gonna see what happens." And that's not happening anymore.
Q: I want to read this passage from an article, quoting Rod Thorn, the Nets general manager: "Sometimes a team needs a new voice," said Thorn, who said Kidd -- who previously questioned Scott's coaching on several occasions -- never discussed the decision with him. "Byron [was] in his fourth year here. It happens at different times to virtually every coach, that your message just isn't received and taken on the court and done as you would like." Rod's basically suggesting NBA coaches have a four-year window to win it all. Do coaches talk about this?
A: No, a lot of coaches don't talk about it. I think that most coaches know in the back of their mind that the window of opportunity is pretty narrow and that you do have a certain length of time, depending on what the president or GM is looking at, to perceive how your team should be in those three or four years. If they think your team should be a championship-caliber team and win a championship in that time and you don't, you're probably going to be shown the door. If they perceive your team to be a team that could just steadily incline up that ladder in those four years and you can prove that each year they've gotten better, then you might be able to stick around a couple more years.
Q: A couple more years.
A: Yeah, a couple more! (Laughs.) Instead of three to four, my goal is five to six! Something like that. It's a tough job, it's a tough business. Nobody's denied that. Bill Walton, when I first took the job (in New Jersey), he said, "No. 1: Coaches are hired to be fired." And said, "Let me tell you something else. No. 2: Congratulations on taking the job. Now start looking for your next job."
Q: He told you that when you got hired?
A: Yeah. And Bill and I are great friends.
Q: Never one to sugar-coat it, is he?
A: No, he never does. (Laughs.) And I just started laughing, I said, "You're somethin' else." But now that you've been in that situation, you really do understand where he's coming from.
Q: Have you rationalized that? Have you made peace with that?
A: You know what? I haven't rationalized that, and I haven't made peace with that, and I don't care about that. It's something I don't even think about at the present time. When I took this job, I didn't take the job and say, "You know what? Three years, I'm probably going to be looking for another job." That's just me. That's not how I react to things. When I take a job, I sign my name on a contract, I plan on fulfilling that contract, and doing the very best I can. And I think I can do a world of good here in New Orleans, and I think these guys can be very happy when it's all said and done.
Q: If I'm looking to criticize a coach, can't I find equal fault with a coach who's considered a micro-manager and one who delegates, as you did at various times in New Jersey?
A: And they did. The first year, that's how it was. I was all hands-on, I did everything. And we won 26 games. And the next two years, I said, "We're going to change it up. I want to give my assistants responsibilities to do certain things because I don't want to try to take all this on. You guys are here for a reason. Let's work together. You're going to do this, Eddie (Jordan). Lawrence (Frank, Scott's successor), you're going to do this. Mike (O'Koren), you got these big guys, you're going to do this." And it worked. We had two successful seasons.
But now, in the process of doing that, I'm not doing enough coaching. First year, I'm doing too much coaching. The next year I'm not doing enough. So, yeah, you can criticize me either way. If they want to find a way to criticize a coach, they're going to find a way.
Q: I asked the same question of Tim Floyd last year in this office -- Floyd, who went through hell in Chicago -- is there one thing you could point to in that experience in New Jersey that if you could do it differently you would?
Q: Not one thing?
Q: No conversation you could've had, no team meeting you could've had, no change in the way you could've handled your assistants?
A: Mmmm, nope. Then I'll be second-guessing myself.
Q: Doc Rivers, the new Celtics coach, said if he had to do it over again in Orlando he might have communicated with Tracy McGrady in a different way. If someone says, "You know, this isn't working with this guy," how complicated is that flow of communication between a player and coach to make sure they're on your side?
A: I don't think when we're coaching we're trying to make sure they're on our side. I think we're trying to make sure we're all on the same page. We've all got the same common goal, coaches and players. Now, players might look at coaches and think that we're all crazy because we do certain things. But the bottom line is, I don't play or not play guys that can help me win just to not play them. There's not a player on my team that I've ever had a grudge against or felt that I hate this guy so I'm not going to play him. In fact, if I could bring my mother in and put her on the court and she could help me win some basketball games, I would play her.
Q: Can she D up?
A: Nah. She can't do that. (Laughs.) But what I'm saying is, the communication part, I understand, and once you start talking about that, that's probably the one thing that I would have changed in Jersey, is have better communication with all the players. I thought I had good communication with some, not too good with others. And the thing that I tried to change since I've been here in New Orleans is that each and every one of these players have heard from me three, four, five times this summer. So that is the one thing that I did learn, so I will take that back. My communication with these guys has to be a little bit better, and not just one or two, but with everybody. As a whole.
Q: What would you say was the biggest concern you raised with General Manager Allen Bristow, in order to win?
A: I just said we need to get more athletic, and we have to get younger. "Those are my two major concerns, Allen. We have to get more athletic and we have to get younger."
Q: It doesn't get much younger than (first-round pick) J.R. Smith.
A: That's true. Drafting him brought it (the average age) down a little bit.
Q: He's one of the players who could say he actually saw you coach as a kid.
A: (Laughs.) You ain't kidding. And (Bristow) understood that, and we went throughout the draft and free agency, we took a look at the guys we were able to bring in, and we definitely were able to do both of those things.
Q: You were quoted as saying you admired the Hornets ownership's commitment to winning. What examples of that commitment to winning did you see before deciding on New Orleans, and what examples of that have you seen since you've been on board?
A: I saw it when Mr. (George) Shinn and Allen and when (now-retired General Manager) Bob Bass was here at the time, when they brought me in here, [Shinn] talked about everything as far as just making sure, he wanted to give this team the best opportunity to win. He wanted to change the perception of what people thought of the New Orleans Hornets and of himself.
And at the time it was all words, because I didn't know Mr. Shinn at the time. So spending a little time with him and then talking to one of my father figures, Mr. (Jerry) West (former Lakers general manager and current Memphis Grizzlies GM) about this whole deal, [West] said, "No. 1, from what you just told me, it tells me they are committed this year," and that's all I needed to hear from Mr. Jerry West about that. So I knew then that Mr. Shinn was committed to bringing a championship-caliber team to New Orleans. And what he's done since I've been here, he brought in Willis Reed for vice-president of operations, who we were just kind of able to get away from the Knicks and bring him back home -- he's a real good friend of mine -- and that made me feel comfortable even more so. We were able to bring in Darrell Walker and Jim Cleamons as assistant coaches. We were able to hire Jeff Bower as our assistant GM. All the front-office moves [Shinn] was making, or allowing us to make, prove to me that he was serious about what he said in our first conversation.
Q: Is your mentor Jerry West's plan in Memphis -- building on youth, depth and athleticism -- the template for the future in the NBA?
A: I think so. Our players are getting so much more athletic that I think this is the way it's going right now, where everybody is trying to get nine, 10 good players. The Detroit Pistons -- Ben Wallace is the only All-Star and he's not making the All-Star team because he's scoring 100,000 points. They are a team. I think Memphis' 10 players might be the 10 best players in the league. They have 10 very good, solid basketball players. No All-Stars, but they got 10 players who won 50 games in the West, and that's remarkable.
What we're trying to do here is the same thing; we're trying to put together 10 players, 12 players that are just as good, that are very good basketball players and not just very good athletes, but very good basketball players as well as very good athletes. And I think we can be successful.
Q: You've also said that you want to "hammer home the importance of defense." That's easier said than done these days. What's the challenge of making this a strong defensive team?
A: Getting up from ninth to fifth defensively. And it is going to be a little bit of a challenge.
Q: Is your scheme different from Coach Floyd's?
A: A little different.
Q: How so?
A: It's different on pick-and-rolls. They used to jump out a lot. I like to try to force everything baseline, keeping everything on one side as much as possible, not allowing their guard to turn the corner. I use some different schemes that they used last year, but the thing about last year was they were always very physical. I want to continue to have that. But I want to just be better on the defensive end as far as blocking out, rebounding, challenging shots. Then obviously when we get the ball, getting up and down the floor.
Q: The Hornets finished 17th in team offense last year (out of 29 teams), and ninth in team defense. How will the offense be different, beyond there being more motion?
A: It's still the Princeton offense, like we ran it in New Jersey.
Q: As with Eddie Jordan, is there an assistant who you feel is a good person to convey that offense to the players?
A: Not yet, not yet, but I think Jim Cleamons will have a much better handle on it than everybody else because he was in L.A. where they ran the triangle (offense), so they're similar. That's the thing Jim and I have been doing, is just knocking heads and going over all the different options that we can put on the floor, out of what I do, and what they did in L.A. So we can combine the two, and I think that will make us a little more effective on the offensive end.
Q: What do you like about it so much?
A: I like the movement. I like the motion. I like the fact that you've got five guys playing. You don't have two guys over here playing and three guys in the parking lot.
Q: You can't have a fast break without rebounding, and with Jamaal Magloire and P.J. Brown. you have one of the better center-forward combinations in the East. And now you're going into the land of Yao Ming ... it's a long list.
A: Yao Ming is a center, but what power forwards? You're basically talking about one player (for one team each) -- you've got Yao Ming for Houston, you've got Kevin Garnett for Minnesota, one guy on each team. And we've got Jamaal Magloire, who's an All-Star, we've got P.J. Brown -- who I think has been the most underrated power forward in this league for I don't know how many years. Now, combination-wise, we still think we have two of the best. Now we know Yao Ming is gonna be a monster because he's 7-5 and getting better and better. Kevin Garnett's the MVP. Chris Webber's coming back off a knee surgery, so we don't know how Chris is. Dirk (Nowitzki) is an All-Star. Tim Duncan we know is all-world. Amare Stoudemire, good player.
Q: So you feel like your two gives you the balance to go against all the other teams' one All-Star-caliber player.
A: I still think our center-power forward combination is one of the best in the league.
Q: You don't see that much change in the level of competition in the West in terms of the interior players specifically. It's just the quality of the West in general.
A: It's the quality and the quantity. You can go down the list of every team in the West and they've got somebody on their front line who's pretty damn good. That's just a given. And our two guys are going to have to play well, and we're going to have to have a third guy up front who will have to step up as well. It's a challenge, there's no doubt about it. And I'm going to challenge our guys. Because everybody's already saying we're going to win 36, 37 games. That's a challenge. And our guys can look at it as a big-time challenge.
Q: Is it fair geographically for New Orleans to be in the West?
A: No. That's probably not fair. There are going to be some times when we'll have back-to-back games where we'll get in here at 4 o'clock in the morning when we have to play the next night. There's probably not too many teams besides maybe Denver every now and then that have to deal with that type of situation.
Q: The drafting of J.R. Smith marks the first time either Hornets or you have drafted a high-school player.
A: Actually, there's a correction: We drafted Kobe Bryant when we were still in Charlotte. Which I wish we still had. (Laughs.)
Q: It's become the norm in the NBA, but what are the expectations for such young players in their first season, and what's the key to developing them for the long run? You're working on two, potentially mutually exclusive things here.
A: You are. I think that the first thing with J.R. is to make sure he continues to work and develop. You have to ... it's almost like that carrot that you put in front of the horse and he just keeps trying to catch it. You have to put that little bit of something out there; you've got to give him a little bit of playing time to keep him interested, to keep him working. Because the one thing I don't want to do is break his spirit. You don't want the guy to just sit there on the bench the whole year. Some guys can take that, some guys can't. Kobe had a chance as a rookie to play a bit, Kevin Garnett was in a totally different situation. He was in a situation with a team where it didn't matter. They could throw him out there in Minnesota at the time because they had a losing team. Tracy McGrady had to wait a little bit in Toronto. They all got a chance to play. And the one thing with J.R. is not to bury him on the bench, but he has to earn that right.
Q: There's this ongoing debate with younger players. Do you earn your minutes, does the coach give them the minutes anyway? Some coaches believe the player has to show it in practice first. Is there a time where you're going to say, "You know, he didn't quite earn it, but I'm just gonna give him a few more minutes on the court. Maybe that'll turn the light on." Isn't that a weird dance you have to do?
A: It is a weird dance. And they earn their minutes through practice, preseason games, then you're going to get a really good look at what this kid can do -- and if he's ready. You want to get your young guys out there and give them some playing experience. You got your veterans, you don't worry about them. The regular season depends on how well he does in the preseason.
With me, he has to earn his minutes. This kid (Smith), I've seen. I had him here in June. I've worked him out. I think this kid's gonna be an unbelievable basketball player. Forty-four-inch vertical (leap), jumps out of the gym, can shoot it from four-point range if they had one of those out there. Extremely athletic and has a great work ethic. I want him this early in his career to learn one position, and that's going to be guard right now in our offense.
Q: Isn't New Orleans one of worst possible places to bring an 18-year-old kid?
A: (Laughs.) Well, you know what? His dad is staying with him, making sure that he stays on track as far as coming to practice and getting all his work done. The Big Easy is a very good city, is a very nice party city, with gambling and Bourbon Street and all that stuff. It can definitely swallow you up.
Q: I'll throw out a name, and you tell me what you know about them, but also what you noticed that you might not have noticed before. And we'll start with Baron Davis.
A: Oh, man. Great kid. I didn't know that about Baron. I didn't know that he was such a good person. He's a leader. He's a guy that wants to lead this team and wants you to understand that he can lead this team. He's a guy that wants to win. He's a very competitive person.
Q: What do you make of what happened earlier when his agent suggested he might be looking for a trade when Baron hadn't said that he was looking for a trade?
A: Again, we're in a different era where agents are talking for players. I was always under the assumption that the agent worked for the player. I didn't think it was the other way around most of the time. But I really didn't make anything out of it. I talked to Baron a couple of times. We didn't talk about that; we talked about totally different things, about me and him, our relationship, about what I expect from him when he gets here for training camp.
Q: Some of his critics like to say that this is a guy who can shoot his way into and out of a game. When he's hot, there are very few point guards who can heat it up like he can. How do you alleviate the other half of that equation?
A: I think some of that downside of him shooting his way out of a game is just bad shot selection. I think he has to just learn what good shots are and what bad shots are because bad shots are not only bad shots but they lead to easy baskets for the other team as well. Just for him to get to understand our offense, that he's going to have a lot of good shots, a lot of good looks. He's going to also have a lot of opportunities to hit guys on what I call "roll and replace" plays. So this offense, I think, is tailor-made for him and it will alleviate some of the bad shots.
Q: As good a defensive and rebounding combo that you have with Jamal Magloire and P.J. Brown, and as much as they have improved offensively, is there more pressure for them to be a little bit more productive inside?
A: I wouldn't say more pressure. But I'm going to ask them to do more, no doubt about that. And I've talked to P.J. a couple of weeks ago about that, that what I'm asking of him is not what he's been doing here the last four or five years.
Q: How do you get more out of him?
A: Well, I think the offense we're running is really going to help both those guys. It's going to give P.J. a chance to use that 15-foot area where he can knock down some shots and get some post-ups as well.
Q: Finally, if there's one thing you think the fans need to know about you, that you don't think they know about you, what would it be?
A: I think most fans when they see me look at me and see a guy who's always poised and cool under pressure and all this stuff. But most of the time I'm going crazy inside, and they just don't know it. I'm just like everybody else. I get a little nervous when things are not going well. I get a little excited. And I keep it all in, but I'm not as cool as most people think I am. I get a little scared and nervous out there when I'm watching my team go through some things as well.
But I think the biggest thing I'd like them to know about me is that, normally, what you see is what you get. I'm pretty straightforward, pretty honest with people, and I'm pretty respectful of other people as well.
- New Orleans Hornets
- New Hornets coach Byron Scott is optimistic about his team's chances in the more competitive Western Conference: "I don't look at this as a starting-over process. I look at this as a team in place that has some very good pieces."