Byron Scott once had a magic touch. Every coaching job he got turned to, well, maybe not gold, but turned to success.
Scott retired from playing in the NBA in 1997. He was (mostly) Laker sharpshooter in the glory days of Magic and Kareem; Scott had a big name and a good name. He was a coaching natural.
By 2000, Scott was head coach of the New Jersey Nets, a traditional woebegone franchise, and in Scott’s first season, the Netropolitans went 26-56. But in summer 2001, the Nets traded Stephon Marbury for Jason Kidd, a heist if ever there was one, and New Jersey became relevant.
More than relevant. The Nets won back-to-back Eastern Conference titles. Scott was a rising star as a coach.
But sometimes, blessings turn into curses. In Kidd’s third year in New Jersey, he turned against Scott, and you know how that goes in the NBA. The superstar always wins. Scott was fired in mid-season, with a 22-20 record. In the 11 seasons since Scott was fired, the Nets have won four playoff series, and never more than one in a particular postseason. That’s fewer playoff advancements than Scott had in his final two years with New Jersey.
As you would expect, Scott was hired quickly. Oklahoma City’s old pal, George Shinn, hired Scott to coach the New Orleans Hornets in summer 2004, and Scott’s first Hornet team was awful — 18-64. That team had starters like Lee Nailon and Dan Dickau. It wasn’t in the business of being competitive.
But in summer 2005, the Atlanta Hawks, picking second in the draft, took North Carolina’s Marvin Williams. Then Utah, selecting third, grabbed Deron Williams. The Hornets scooped up Chris Paul.
In August, Hurricane Katrina swamped New Orleans, and not too long into September, the Hornets had hung out a shingle in Oklahoma City. Scott became an OKC icon. He was a sharp, honest coach who didn’t cut his players much slack. He was a good-looking guy who made the ladies swoon. And his pitiful team suddenly had a pulse.
That first Hornet team in Oklahoma City stayed in playoff contention all season before finishing 38-44. The next year, as Paul became a superstar, the Hornets again were relevant, going 39-43. When the Hornets went back to New Orleans full time, Scott went back as a clear coaching star.
The Hornets were good back in the Big Easy. They went 56-26 in 2007-08 and reached the Western Conference semifinals, losing in seven games to the Spurs. But in 2008-09, the Hornets slipped to 49-33 and they were eliminated by the Nuggets in a five-game playoff series.
The honeymoon was over, and when the Hornets started 3-6 in 2009-10, Scott was fired.
And the good timing was over. The timing that landed Kidd and Paul in his lap dried up.
Scott was hired by the Cleveland Cavaliers in summer 2010, but not long thereafter, LeBron James took his talents to South Beach. And the Cavs went from NBA contenders to NBA outcasts. Cleveland went 19-63 in its first year without LeBron, and though another sensational point guard (Kyrie Irving) arrived for Scott’s tutelage, it didn’t produce the magic of Kidd or Paul. The Cavs went 21-45, and in 2012-13 the season was worse, 24-58.
Scott was fired, having the dubious distinction of coaching the Cavs three of their four non-LeBron years.
And last week, Scott’s unfortunate timing continued. He was hired for his dream job, coaching his hometown team, the franchise for whom he starred. The Lakers hired Scott, but this isn’t the Lakers of Pat Riley or Phil Jackson.
This Laker team seems as putrid as the post-LeBron Cavs. Kobe Bryant is old and cantankerous. And the roster is full of journeymen. Carlos Boozer, Kent Bazemore, Ed Davis, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Jordan Hill, MarShon Brooks, Nick Young.
The Lakers drafted Julius Randle and traded for Jeremy Lin, but this regal franchise is destined to win less than 30 games.
Byron Scott knows what that’s like. But the turnarounds he enjoyed at New Jersey and Oklahoma City doesn’t seem likely to be repeated in LA.
The coach with impeccable timing has lost that fortune.