VICE Sports Q&A: Lakers Coach Byron Scott
Lakers coach Byron Scott discusses his young team, the criticism surrounding his handling of D'Angelo Russell, and his relationship with Kobe Bryant.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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On July 28, 2014 Byron Scott was named the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. He returned to the team for which he played ten seasons and helped to win three NBA Championships. Scott's first Lakers' team won 21 games and this season, Kobe Bryant's finale, the Lakers were looking even worse.
On March 6, 2016, the Lakers sported a 12-51 record when they went into their showdown with Golden State at Staples Center. The Warriors record was 55-5, but the Lakers dominated the NBA champs and won the game 112-95. The Lakers win percentage was under .200 going in and the Warriors win percentage was .900. Some have called it the biggest upset in NBA history. But what about Scott?
VICE Sports caught up with the Lakers' coach to discuss the victory over the Warriors, the team's young core, Bryant's farewell tour and more:
VICE Sports: I set up this interview with you a few weeks ago. Little did I know that when we got a chance to talk, the Lakers would have back-to-back victories, with one of them being a win over the NBA champion, Golden State Warriors. Some people are saying, Byron, that because of the Lakers' struggles this season, the victory over the Warriors was worth more than one win to this team and this organization. How do you see it?
Byron Scott: I see it as just one win, but it can definitely catapult you to a different level. That's the thing that I challenged our guys with the day after that win. Are we going to just take that one win, exhale, and feel like we have accomplished everything or are we going to take that one win and say, "Man. We did some great things. The reason we won that game was because we played so hard and we got back in transition. We were flying all over the place on the defensive end and, offensively, we ran the ball. We moved the ball. We set screens and we had great spacing. Can we do that again and again and again?" That is the challenge with young people. So. To me, it is just one win, but it is definitely a win that can catapult young guys into believing that they can be a much better basketball team than we are right now.
Okay. So, you are Byron Scott. You're the head coach of the Lakers. You are on the sidelines and you are taking on the NBA champions. What is going through your mind as you are standing there and seeing things start to click for your young players?
You have got a smile inside your body because you are saying, "Now they are starting to get it. They are starting to get all the talk that they have heard every day about transition, the hustle drill, defensive rebounding, and sharing the ball. They are starting to get it and that makes you feel pretty happy about the situation because you realize that these young guys are paying attention and they are working hard and they are starting to reap some of the benefits."
For me, watching that game and being on the sidelines, it just brought a big smile to my face because I was finally saying, "Our guys are starting to comprehend all the stuff that we are putting in front of them."
Sometimes people don't understand how much stuff we throw at these guys and they are 19 and 20 years old. Sometimes, it is just a lot to take in. Sometimes, you just have to cut things down and give it to them in bits and pieces. That's what we have done in the past couple of months, just to try to make it more condensed. Once they get it, let's move on to something else. It was very gratifying for me, that night, to see our guys starting to get.
The word on the street, Byron, is that you better stop this winning stuff, because if you don't, you're going to screw up the Lakers' 2016 draft situation (the Lakers have a top-three protected pick, but only get a first-round choice if they land 1, 2 or 3 in the lottery) and mess things up for the next head coach of the Lakers.
I keep hearing all those things. (Laughs) .
You know my makeup. I am not going to go out there to try to lose games to protect the draft pick. That's just not me! I can't do that. I am still going to go out and coach these guys and try to win as many games as possible. I'm just trying to make sure that we put the foundation out there and I think we've got a solid foundation with the young guys that we have. Obviously, we have to add a few more pieces to the puzzle, but I think the future is looking really good for the Lakers. Hopefully, when this thing turns around in the next few years, I will still be here.
Right after the Lakers beat the Warriors, they went out and beat Orlando and you got strong performances from your young guys. D'Angelo Russell had 27 points. Jordan Clarkson put up 24 and Julius Randall had 23 points and 11 rebounds. Their progress has almost seemed like a "no-win" situation for you. There are people who look at those performances and say, "Why didn't Byron play them more earlier in the season?" There are other people who look at that game and say, "Byron has handled them perfectly. He brought them along slowly and now they're ready." How do you win in a situation like that? How do you handle it?
I don't worry about what other people are saying. I've got to stick with my gut feeling and do what I think is best for that player and the team. For me, earlier in the season, benching D'Angelo and benching Julius was the best thing for them. I thought they felt like they "deserved" to be a starter in the Lakers' organization and I didn't feel as though they were working hard enough to keep that job. Sometimes, humility is the best teacher. When they got back in the starting lineup, you could see a change in them on the court and off the court, in their attitude and the way they looked at practice and the way they viewed us as coaches.
I think the one thing that I got from them was a whole lot more respect from letting them know that, "This ain't going to be a piece of cake. If you think that I am the type of coach that is going to just let you get away with everything, you've got the wrong guy."
Are you a litte too "old school"?
(Laughs) I don't think so. I really don't. "Old school" means hard work! What I get from this generation now is that they just want everything given to them. I grew up, and you grew up the same way. You don't get nothing for free. You have to work for everything that you get in this life. You have to work hard and there is still no guarantee that you are going to get it. I'm trying to explain that to my young players and I think, to be honest with you, most of these guys are starting to understand that, "You know what? I think coach is right. He's not going to give us anything, so we are going to have to work our butts off to get better."
How often do you bring up the Lakers' championship teams of the 1980's when you are running a practice or talking to the team? Do you mention the good old days or "Showtime" or the way "we used to do it" or do you bite your tongue and try to stay current?
I never really bring it up. I really don't. Now, you might have some players who will bring it up and say something like, "Hey. I watched training camp in New Orleans and they talked about your "Pat Riley practices", but I don't bring it up. I'm just trying to run practice and teach these guys and preach to them about what this game is all about, so I never bring up the glory days.
Now, if a player brings it up, then they have opened up a conversation and I might go ahead and elaborate on it a little bit (smiles) and talk about our great days and the team we had. I will even get into it with some guys and tell them that they couldn't have played on our team back then. (Laughs) "You couldn't have played in our era because it was so much more physical and you had to be a little bit tougher. We played defense and we had five guys on the court who all knew how to play basketball. You didn't have these specialty guys like you do now."
So, we get into some of these little arguments and we have fun with it, but I never, never go back to what "we used to do", or what "I used to do", in the 80s. Most guys don't want to hear that. They want you to talk about now and I try to stick to just getting guys better now.
In the two years that you have been the head coach of the Lakers, has there ever been a time when you just took a step back and said, "Man. I wish I'd never taken this job?"
Never! Never! This has always been my dream job and I knew when I stepped into it, after talking with Mitch (Kupchak) and Jimmy (Buss) that it was going to take two or three years for this thing to kind of get turned back around. I was okay with that because I knew that if they had the patience to understand that it was going to take some time, then I had the patience to deal with it. I also knew that if I could put out the right foundation with the players that we have and teach them the right way, that everything would work out beautifully. I still think that it will.
Back in 2010, you got the head-coaching job with the Cleveland Cavaliers and just a few days later, Lebron James decided to leave Cleveland and move to the Miami Heat. Do you ever allow yourself to look back and say, "What if?"
I think I might have one time and I came to the conclusion that, if Lebron had not left Cleveland, I wouldn't be here in Los Angeles. When I got into coaching. When I was in New Jersey and then in New Orleans, I always had the Lakers in the back of my mind. "Wouldn't it be great to coach in the organization that I have so much love and respect for?" So, I look back every now and then and I think, "If Lebron had not left Cleveland, I wouldn't be in L.A. and I think I like it better here."
It really is a great story. I mean, you grow up in Inglewood, not far from the Forum, and you attend Morningside High School. You play for the Lakers and then you come back to coach the team. It would seem as though the only thing that would make your story better, would be for you to coach this organization to a championship.
Absolutely! I think we are on the right path. Obviously, this summer is very big for us when it comes to the free-agent market. This season has been big for us with those three young guys (Russell, Randle, and Clarkson) developing and we should not forget to mention Larry Nance in that same breath. That young man has developed into a basketball player and I think he is going to get better. Same thing for Anthony Brown. The foundation is there with the young people that we have. We just have to add a couple more veterans that we feel can come in and help us turn the corner.
You've had to play kind of a balancing act this season as you try to showcase Kobe Bryant in his final year in the NBA and yet bring your young guys along at the same time. How have you juggled those different dynamics?
I think it has worked because Kobe has been fantastic. He was thinking that this was going to be his last year and we talked about it. I told him, "I've got to play you about 28 to 30 minutes per game and then I'll need to cut that down around the All-Star break to get these young guys out there and get them developed even more. There was never one peep out of Kobe about it. He said, "Coach. I understand. Do whatever you want to do."
He has made it so much easier than people think. Everybody thinks, "Well. As long as Kobe is around, it is going to make it that much harder." No. It really hasn't. It's been really pretty easy to do and the one thing that is really helping those young guys is Kobe's presence. The way he plays the game. How hard he plays. He is showing these guys, at 37 years old, that he is getting up on screens and fighting through everything. When young guys see that, they have no choice but to fall in place. They talk to him on the bench and get the benefit of his knowledge and his experience, so he has been a blessing to have here. When he's not playing, I consider Kobe as one of our coaches because he is staying in guys' ears, talking to them and encouraging them. That is something that a lot of people don't see.
I have seen Kobe play since he came into the NBA and so have you. You played with him on the Lakers and now you're his coach. I don't know about you, Byron, but I couldn't believe the change in Kobe after he announced his retirement. It was almost like the "happy Kobe" showed up. Where has he been all these years?
The "other" Kobe, not that happy one, was such a competitor. It was all about championships for that Kobe. He told me that I was the first person that he told about his retirement and he told me during a game. We were about to start the third quarter in Portland and I told him, "K. B. I'm going to have to cut your minutes this half. I played you a few too many minutes in the first half." Kobe said, "It's okay coach. I am going to announce my retirement after the game."
I said, "What?" He just laughed and said, "You're the first person I've told."
This is during the game?
This is during the game! For the next two quarters, I was in a fog. I'm looking at them out there playing and I'm thinking about the twenty years that I have known him. I am thinking back to his rookie year and all the way up to the present point.
Once he made the announcement, the thing that I saw in Kobe was an inner peace. You could see that it was like a weight lifted off of his shoulders. He was at peace with his decision. He had done everything that he could possibly do in this league and I think that he was at peace with the understanding that, "You know what? I know I'm not going to get a chance to compete for a sixth NBA championship and I'm okay with that. I have accomplished a hell of a lot in my career."
I think it also gave the fans and everybody else a chance to celebrate his career. Everywhere we have been this season, it has been a celebration. I think he deserves that and I'm glad that he is getting that.
I don't think Kobe knew how much the fans appreciated him during his career. That may be because of the way he presented himself, but once he opened up, it seemed as though basketball fans across the country opened up to Kobe.
Yeah! He considered himself "the villain" every time he walked into opposing arena and he loved it! He loved being the villain. He loved breaking people's hearts. Now to go into all of these arenas on the road and see all of these number 8 and number 24 jerseys and the love and support that these people are showing him.
I think that in his heart of hearts, Kobe has been fulfilled big time because I don't think he had a clue how many fans love him and adore him and respect him for the way he played this game for twenty years.
Let's go back to that 1996-97 season. You came back to the Lakers from Vancouver for your final NBA season. By the way, Byron, those Grizzlies uniforms were horrible and you looked terrible in them. Sorry to break it to you.
I agree. I think it may have been the worst uniform that I ever put on. That is why, after that season, I said, "I can't take it anymore. Can you guys release me so I can go back to Los Angeles and try to play with the Lakers?" That was the year that Kobe and Shaq joined the Lakers. Those uniforms may have been the ugliest uniforms that I have ever seen!
So, you get back to L.A. for your last season and it is Kobe's first season in the NBA. I covered the Lakers back then and I remember watching you on the court. There were several times when you would go over to Kobe during a free throw or a break in the action and put your arm around his waist and just try to slow him down a little bit or give him some advice. I think he considered you a mentor back then. What was that relationship like between you and Kobe way back when?
It was great! I saw a young eighteen year-old who had unbelievable talent and an unbelievable desire to be great. In one of the first real talks that we had, I asked him, "What do you want to accomplish in his league?"
Kobe looked me dead in my face and said, "I want to be the best player in this league." We kind of stared at each other for a few seconds and I said, "Man, the way you work, you will be." He did not let me down. He went at it every single day and he was great to talk to. He was always asking about the '80s. He was real big into NBA history and learning about other players and what they did. He was so much farther advanced and the 18-year-old that I had ever seen, so I knew that there was something special inside him.