LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Los Angeles Lakers appointed former player Byron Scott as their new head coach on Monday, bringing an end to their “extensive and thorough” search for Mike D’Antoni’s replacement.
Scott, 53, was a three-time NBA champion with the Lakers during their triumphant ‘Showtime’ era in the 1980s and has worked as a head coach in the league for 13 years, most recently with the Cleveland Cavaliers
He was fired by the Cavaliers on April 18 last year after compiling a record of 64-166 during his three seasons in charge, and has since worked as an analyst for the Lakers’ television broadcast partner, TWC SportsNet.
“After an extensive and thorough search, we’re proud to welcome Byron back to the Lakers family as our next head coach,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement.
“Byron has proven himself at the highest levels of the game as both a player and a coach in his almost 30 years of NBA experience. His leadership skills and track record for success make him the ideal person to lead this franchise forward.”
Scott, the NBA’s coach of the year in 2008 after his first winning season as head coach of the New Orleans Hornets, has been signed by the Lakers to a multi-year contract, though no financial details were revealed by the team.
“I am ecstatic to once again be a Laker and to have the opportunity to work alongside Mitch and the Buss family,” said Scott.
“I know firsthand what it takes to bring a championship to this city, and as someone who both grew up in L.A. and played the majority of my career here, I know how passionate and dedicated our fans are.
“I will give everything I have to fulfill the championship expectations that our supporters have for us, and that we have for ourselves.”
Scott had been given a ringing endorsement by the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, a five-time NBA champion.
The pair played together in Los Angeles during the 1996-97 season when Bryant made his debut in the league, and he described Scott as a “rookie mentor” who made him fetch donuts and run various other errands.
“We’ve had a tremendously close relationship over the years,” Bryant told reporters earlier this month. “Obviously I know him extremely well, he knows me extremely well and I’ve always been a fan of his.”
Scott, who coached the New Jersey Nets to consecutive NBA Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003, fills the gap left by D’Antoni, who ended an unhappy two-season tenure when he resigned in late April.
D’Antoni still had a year to run on his $12 million, three-year contract but the team announced that he had decided to step down after compiling a 67-87 record.
The Lakers, who clinched the most recent of their 16 NBA championship titles in 2010, limped into the playoffs in D’Antoni’s first year but finished the 2013-14 season with a dismal 27-55 record, the worst 82-game return in team history.
Scott faces a daunting task in trying to revive the flagging fortunes of one of the NBA’s leading teams as they strive to regain the giddy heights players and fans once took for granted.
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 since acquired Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer, plus Julius Randle, the seventh overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, they missed out on the chance to pick up the two biggest free agents available during this off-season, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
Spanish forward Pau Gasol, who won NBA championships with the Lakers in 2009 and 2010, opted to leave for the Chicago Bulls earlier this month and Scott’s new team desperately needs to beef up its defense.
D’Antoni was the fourth head coach in three years to leave the Lakers, with the team having fallen on hard times since the departure of Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson in 2011.
Jackson led the club to five NBA titles during his two spells at the helm before he was followed by the unsuccessful appointments of Mike Brown, interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff and then D’Antoni.
Brown was sacked after a 1–4 start to the 2012–13 campaign.
Editing by Peter Rutherford