Byron Scott makes ridiculous optimism sound reasonable

44 Comments

When he used to sneak into The Forum to watch Jerry West, Byron Scott believed he’d grow up to join his hometown Lakers.

He did, starting for three championship teams in the 1980s.

When the Lakers dropped him in 1993, Scott believed Los Angeles was still where he belonged.

He returned, signing in 1996 for another season – Kobe Bryant’s rookie year – to retire a Laker.

When he began coaching, Scott believed he’d lead the Lakers someday.

That day is here.

“This has been a dream of mine for so long,” Scott said. “It’s a dream come true.”

Introduced as the Lakers’ newest coach, Scott made clear his passion for the franchise has only grown stronger with age. Even as the Lakers dragged their coaching search weeks longer than any other team, Scott didn’t worry.

“I’m a little arrogant when it comes to that, because I think I was the best decision and the right decision,” Scott said

How should a Lakers coach be judged?

“This organization is all about championships. Period,” Scott said. “We don’t look at Western Conference finals, Western Conference championships. We look at championships.”

And how close are the Lakers to contending for a title? Scott, asked specifically whether team could reach that level during the final two years of Kobe’s contract, said he didn’t want to establish timelines.

Then he couldn’t resist giving one more indication of his confidence.

“I don’t think long,” Scott said while trying to contain a smile.

The Lakers are nowhere near championship contention. They went 27-55 last season, their worst record since moving from Minneapolis. They added no impact free agents, and Kobe’s high salary will make it difficult to add other stars.

But if any team has the right to feel optimistic, it’s the Lakers. When the goal seemed distant, they’ve always found a way to reach it quicker than anyone expects.

And if any coach feels optimistic, it’s Scott who keeps living his dreams.

But there’s a fine line between optimism and denial.

Is Kobe still a big-time star just because Scott said he is?

Can Jeremy Lin become a pesky defender just because Scott said he could?

Was Julius Randle a top-three prospect in the draft just because Scott said he was?

Scott can’t just will the Lakers over the hump, though at times today it seemed that easy.

Flanked by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes, Scott looked like a winner. It was easy to forget he went 24-58, 21-45, 19-63 and 3-6 in his last four seasons as coach.

But Scott says his experience with the Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Hornets and New Jersey Nets was nothing like this.

“It’s kind of hard when the guys in the organization haven’t been to a Finals or haven’t won anything, for them to tell you how to get there when I’ve been there,” Scott

Scott believes he knows the championship recipe, and it’s hard to argue with résumé as a player. He was the glue – never talented enough to be an All-Star – every title team needs. As a coach, his record is spottier, though it includes back-to-back Finals appearances with New Jersey.

But as Scott will be quick to remind you conference championships don’t count here. In Los Angeles, the goals are set higher.

At least they will be.

Facing a question he surely never imagined while dreaming of this day, Scott was asked about reclaiming attention from the Clippers.

“I don’t think L.A. has gone to the Clippers yet, anyway,” Scott said. “This is still a Laker town. Period.”

Still, Scott expressed his respect for the rivalry and adding a dig worthy of true competitiveness.

“We have two teams now – one that has about 17 banners and one that doesn’t have any yet,” Scott said.

Actually, the Lakers have just 16 championships. Maybe Scott, stuck on that question about adding a title during Kobe’s next two years, was already counting the near future.

Optimistic or delusional?

I know the answer is delusion, but back with the Lakers, Scott makes his optimism sound so realistic.

LeBron James, Dion Waiters’ son engage in a little trash talk

Leave a comment

“Yeah, right.”

That was Dion Waiters Jr.’s response to pretty much everything LeBron James during the Lakers’ practice on Saturday before Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

LeBron was getting up some corner threes and told Waiters Jr. he would make 100 straight.

“Yeah, right.”

When LeBron missed one, “I missed that on purpose.” 

“Yeah, right.”

“I missed that on purpose, so you’d think I’m human,” LeBron joked.

Got to love Dion Waiters Jr. — he’s got some of his dad’s spunk.

Families have been allowed in the bubble for teams for a couple of weeks, although LeBron’s sons are not there, with LeBron saying it’s not a great place for kids (he’s right, for anyone over about 7 or 8, there would be little to do).

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

Boston Miami
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game on Saturday night.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

Ja Morant thumb
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

Gordon Hayward return
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.