Eighteen years after helping guide Kobe Bryant through his rookie season as a veteran teammate, Byron Scott believes he is the right person to coach the star guard in his final seasons before retirement.
Scott, along with Mike Dunleavy, is one of two confirmed candidates to have interviewed for the Los Angeles Lakers' head-coaching vacancy. Scott sat down with general manager Mitch Kupchak and vice president of player personnel Jim Buss on Tuesday, and was confident about how the meeting went.
"I don't feel I'm a very arrogant guy, but I feel like I am the perfect guy for this job," Scott told the "Max & Marcellus" show on ESPNLA 710 Radio on Thursday. "I got a great relationship with Kobe. I know the team, know the roster. I watched them all season long and I just think it would be a great fit."
Scott said making sure he and Bryant were on the same page would be his priority.
"Obviously, if I get the job, the first conversation I have is with Kobe," said Scott, who spent last season as an analyst for Time Warner Cable SportsNet, the Lakers' television partner. "We have to talk about the future of the Los Angeles Lakers. We have to also talk about which type of direction we'll be taking and also talk about the type of game that he's going to be playing because he's going to have to change his game a little bit, and I think he knows that.
"We got to sit down and talk about the minutes and things like that. We just got to come to an agreement. But he knows me. I'm an old-school type guy. I'm an old-school type guy and I want him to understand that and I think he does understand that. We communicate during the summer by text, and every now and then I'll run into him somewhere and we'll talk a little bit more about basketball. But I think the biggest thing is, No. 1, I respect the hell out of Kobe and I think he respects me. That's the first hurdle we got to get past, and then other things, we'll be able to solve all those little issues."
Scott, who won three championships with the Lakers in his 11 seasons with the team (1983-93, 1996-97), said his history with the franchise makes him uniquely qualified for the position.
"I think it's the best organization in all of basketball," Scott said. "It would mean a great deal to me, just because of that, No. 1, that I've played for that organization. I know what it is all about. It's all about winning championships, and No. 2, for Dr. [Jerry] Buss, who was a guy who defended me when I was coaching. He called me all the time, especially when I got fired from a couple jobs, he was the first one to call me and tell me, 'When you come to L.A., let me know so we can hang out and watch a game together,' and things like that. Those two reasons alone is one big reason why I want the job so badly."
Scott, 53, has a career record of 416-521 in 13 seasons as a coach. He was fired by the Cleveland Cavaliers after going 24-58 during the 2012-13 season but had major success before that, guiding the then-New Jersey Nets to back-to-back NBA Finals in 2002 (when they lost to the Lakers) and 2003. He was the NBA's coach of the year in 2007-08 for guiding the then-New Orleans Hornets to a 56-26 record.
James Worthy, a teammate of Scott's during the "Showtime" era and his colleague at TWC SportsNet, endorsed Scott for the job to ESPNLosAngeles.com earlier this week, calling him a "defensive kind of genius."
Scott promised to bring a defensive focus back to the Lakers after they ranked 29th in the league in opponents' points per game (109.2) and 28th in defensive efficiency, allowing 107.9 points per 100 possessions.
"That's what I was taught when I came to the Lakers, that defense wins championships," said Scott, who was coached by Pat Riley in L.A. "I think Kobe knows that. I think Pau [Gasol] knows that, because they won championships with that formula. And I think that's the first thing we got to get better at, the defensive part of basketball. Then we got to get better at the rebounding. So, it's something that we would do on a day-to-day basis. You got to work on that every day, and it has to be a team's identity and a staple."
ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported that Scott and Bryant have been in contact throughout the past several months. Perhaps that is why Scott is so bullish about Bryant, who is coming off two major injuries to his left leg and will be 36 and starting his 19th season this fall.
"You still got one of the best players that ever played the game, and everybody that knows Kobe, especially myself, I know his work ethic," Scott said. "I know how he is about going about his business and getting ready for a season. He has six months to get ready for this upcoming season, and I think he's going to come back with a vengeance. Will he be the Kobe of old? I don't think anybody expects him to be that guy that can just dominate a game. But I think he's going to be pretty close to it."
While Scott conceded that next season should be a "bit of a rebuilding year" for L.A., he does not believe the Lakers will take long to rebound.
"Obviously there are a lot of holes to fill, but unlike a lot of people who think this is a three-, four-year process, I really don't think so," Scott said. "Again, this is one of the best organizations in basketball. Mitch has done a fantastic job, and I think Jim really has a good idea of where they want to go and what direction they want to head in. So I don't think it's going to take three or four years. I think it might take a couple of years at the most to get right back where they need to be."
While Kupchak told reporters Wednesday that he does not expect to settle on a coach in the next two to three weeks, Scott sounded like he already has one foot in the door.
"The thing that I thought was most important was I felt very comfortable and I think they felt very comfortable with me in our conversation," Scott said. "I left the room feeling pretty good about the way it went."