The eulogy over Byron Scott being deposed as head coach of the New Jersey Nets still isn't over. Everywhere I turn, someone is decrying how unfair it is that Scott lost his job. How can that be?
At last glance, the Nets were 13-0 since Scott left without making another significant change. (Hubert Davis fans, objection duly noted.) They never had that kind of winning streak in 3½ seasons under Scott's command. They went from being a team muddling along to a bona fide Eastern Conference contender again.
Is Scott a classy guy who had a stellar playing career? Sure. Did directing the Nets to two NBA Finals appearances warrant a little more rope than a 22-20 start? I thought so, but I'm not around the Nets every day. General manager Rod Thorn is and he didn't, so I'll defer to his greater insight and expertise.
Bottom line: There were no indications the Nets would be where they are had Scott remained. I don't buy that the move should be deemed a mistake if they don't reach the Finals for a third consecutive season, for the same reason that, if the family car isn't running the way it should, I don't want Pops waiting until it breaks down in the middle of nowhere to get it fixed. The Nets clearly weren't operating at full capacity; now they are.That's all the validation I need that the necessary part was replaced.
Or are you in the camp that believes, as even Scott has suggested, that Jason Kidd sabotaged his reign as some sort of inexplicable personal vendetta? That means Kidd selectively -- since the Nets had their share of winning streaks -- lost games this season with the express purpose of getting Scott fired. The Kidd I know doesn't like to lose at anything at any time, no matter what the circumstances. Besides, a player could willfully play hard in some games and not in others, but that still wouldn't assure a certain outcome.
Why can't it be, as has been indicated from various sources in and around the team, that the lines of communication and trust between Scott and the team in the heat of battle had deteriorated to the point that he couldn't reach them anymore? The difference between winning and losing is certainly minute enough that that missing element easily could have been the difference between riding high in the lowly Eastern Conference and muddling along at .500. And why can't Scott be held at least partly accountable for allowing that deterioration to happen? Talk of problems had been floating around for well over a year before his dismissal. Rick Carlisle, for my money, got thrown under the bus by the Detroit Pistons with far less warning than Scott. And I know this -- just from watching games -- there's more communication between Frank and his players during one quarter than there was between Scott and the Nets in entire games.
But let's set aside the why and wherefor and consider what can be learned from Scott's dismissal, Lawrence Frank's subsequent success and the seeming proliferation of coaches who are the coaching equivalents of gym rats -- Frank, Kevin O'Neill, Mike D'Antoni, Tim Floyd, Gregg Popovich, the Van Gundy brothers, Eric Musselman, Jeff Bzdelik and Flip Saunders. The trend suggests three things.
One, that the value of having been an NBA player when it comes to NBA coaching is vastly overrated. (Maurice Cheeks, Paul Silas, Doc Rivers and Terry Porter are former players who clearly understand that they were starting from scratch in developing their rep as coaches. One guy who clearly lost his way in that department is George Karl, who in his last years in Milwaukee began challenging his players as if he were one of them again.)
Two, that massive hours coaching pros, be it in the CBA or Europe or as an assistant coach, should not be underrated.
And, three, there's no harm in being a lousy dresser, for while Scott took a page from Pat Riley's sartorial book, none of the gym-rat coaches mentioned above did.
The wardrobe indifference, combined with an otherwise strict attention to detail, reflects another characteristic all the aforementioned coaches, ex-players or not, share: a dedication to taking the game, but not themselves, seriously. I think that's where Riley -- with quite possibly Phil Jackson as next -- lost his cache with motivating his charges. The second a player suspects a coach is grandstanding or has his focus on anything other than helping that player win, a coach's ability to motivate that player has been irrevocably damaged.
As Cheeks, Porter and Nate McMillan have demonstrated, it's OK to be a coach and still look like a player.
As Scott -- by some accounts -- proved, you just can't act like one.