LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - With three Los Angeles Lakers greats looking on, newly appointed head coach Byron Scott pledged Tuesday to make defense his top priority as he bids to revive the flagging fortunes of one of the NBA’s most storied franchises.
Scott, a three-time NBA champion with the Lakers during their triumphant ‘Showtime’ era in the 1980s, also said he would look to the past as he strives to develop a “winning” mindset for a team that ended last season with a dismal 27-55 record.
“I am going to do everything in my power ... everything I can to bring this team back to where we know it should it be,” Scott, 53, told reporters after being formally introduced as coach at the Lakers’ training facility in El Segundo.
”This organization is all about championships, period. We don’t look at Western Conference Finals, Western Conference championships. We look at (NBA) championships.
“We know we have some work ahead of us but I am excited, just thrilled to death, I am eager and just ready to get to work. I know it’s going to be a challenge but I look forward to it.”
Scott, who coached the New Jersey Nets to consecutive NBA Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003, fills the gap left by Mike D‘Antoni, who ended an unhappy two-season tenure with the Lakers when he resigned as head coach in late April.
Well aware that he faces a daunting task in trying to restore the 16-time NBA champions to the giddy heights their players and fans once took for granted, Scott spelled out his initial agenda.
“The main thing I have to do right away is establish ourselves as a defensive basketball team,” said Scott, who was introduced by the team’s general manager Mitch Kupchak after former Lakers greats Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes had all paid him lavish tribute.
”The first thing that Magic taught me when I got into this league is that we win championships by defending every single night. That’s the one thing that we can control. Offenses are going to come and go.
“So we have to get that back into the plans. Guys have to understand that that’s what it’s going to take and they have to be held accountable for that.”
Scott, who has worked as a head coach in the league for 13 years in stints with the Nets, New Orleans Hornets and Cleveland Cavaliers, wants the Lakers to replicate the ‘winning’ philosophy he remembers so well from the ‘Showtime’ era.
”Get them thinking like we used to think,“ said Scott, whose appointment as head coach was officially announced by the Lakers on Monday after a search of almost three months. ”If you’re winning, it’s contagious. If you’re losing, it’s contagious.
”So you’ve got to change their mindset. The first day of training camp is all about winning. You don’t think about losing. And when you lose games, you shouldn’t be sitting in the locker room having a good time. It should hurt.
“I went through it with those gentleman,” he said while looking at Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar and Wilkes. “When we lost games, it was as quiet as could be in the locker room because we didn’t expect to lose. We’ve got to get our guys thinking the same way. We’ve got get to back to winning.”
Scott inherits a Lakers roster that he described as “a little bit of youth and some experienced guys”, with the focus firmly fixed on five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant.
The inspirational Bryant, now 35, managed just six games last season while veteran point guard Steve Nash played 15 times as both players succumbed to injury.
Though the Lakers have acquired Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer, plus Julius Randle, the seventh overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, this off-season, they have lost four-time All-Star Pau Gasol, who opted to leave for the Chicago Bulls.
“I thought they (the Lakers) put a roster together that will be very competitive,” Scott, who was the NBA’s coach of the year in 2008 after his first winning season as head coach of the Hornets. “I am looking forward to working with them.”
Scott is especially looking forward to working with Bryant, the pair having developed a close relationship since they played together for the Lakers during the 1996-97 season when Bryant made his debut in the league.
“We get along extremely well,” said Scott. “I know his drive, his will and his determination. We are on the same page as far as how we think about this game and how it should be played. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue