Kobe Bryant Makes Byron Scott the Right Choice for Los Angeles Lakers Coach

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 25, 2014

CLEVELAND, OH - MARCH 29:  Byron Scott of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at The Quicken Loans Arena on March 29, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

It's hard to imagine anyone being cut from the same cloth as Kobe Bryant, but Los Angeles Lakers coaching candidate Byron Scott seems to be at least made up of the same material.

The two formed a bond during the 1996-97 season—Bryant's first and Scott's last—and their tie remains as strong as ever.

As Scott explained to USA Today's Sam Amick, there's a mutual respect between him and Bryant rooted in history, transparency and a similar appreciation for the way the game should be played:

Kobe knows all about me and what I'm about. He knows that I'm an old-school coach who's very demanding on the defensive end and knows that defense and rebounding wins championships, so I think from that point of view we see eye to eye.

Our relationship is great. We talked over the summer. We text each other. His ideas on the game of basketball and my ideas on the game of basketball are a lot alike, so we share a lot of the same views when it comes to the way the game should be played. So to me, it's going to be fun.

Scott can check off several boxes on the Lakers' coaching wish list, including experience with the profession and a commitment to the defensive end. Of course, L.A. could find those qualities in another candidate, like former Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins or NBA lifer Mike Dunleavy.

What L.A. cannot recreate with another applicant, though, is that relationship with Bryant. That's kind of a big deal, considering general manager Mitch Kupchak already detailed the importance of the franchise's next coach connecting with its brightest star.

Nick Ut/Associated Press

"We have to make sure that whoever we hire as a coach can really get the most productivity out of him, whether it's scoring the ball or playmaking or the threat that he may score," Kupchak told reporters. "That's probably of primary importance right now."

Bryant's status as L.A.'s most important player might feel like a formality. After all, he's one of just three players holding a guaranteed contract for next season, along with Steve Nash and Robert Sacre.

Yet Bryant's position won't change regardless how the Lakers fill out the rest of their roster. Not with the $48.5 million headed his way over the next two seasons, via ShamSports.com.

Someone will need to earn the trust of a 35-year-old who has secured five world titles and appeared in 14 All-Star Games for doing things his way. Scott, however, has already cleared that hurdle.

NEW ORLEANS - FEBRUARY 16: Kobe Bryant and Byron Scott of the West All-Stars talk during the West All-Stars Practice on center court at NBA Jam Session presented by Addidas at the Earnest N. Morial Convention Center February 16, 2008 in New Orleans, Louis
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

That's why it comes as little surprise that he "has emerged as the leading candidate" for the position, as sources told ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne. Chris Broussard of ESPN has also heard similar things about Scott's standing in this race:

While Shelburne notes that the process still isn't far enough along for the two sides to talk financial figures, there seems to be a consensus that Scott is the clubhouse leader at this stage.

Considering the relationship he already has with Bryant, Scott is holding that favorable position for a reason.

If the Lakers have any shot at competing for something of substance during Bryant's twilight years, it will start with maximizing the Mamba's production. The Lakers need him to be elite for them to enjoy a similar status.

That might seem like a stretch considering where he's at in his career. He's had to endure a pair of serious leg injuries (first a torn Achilles, then a knee fracture), which cost him all but six games last season.

However, in 2012-13, he was still one of the NBA's premier producers. He averaged 27.3 points on 46.3 percent shooting to go along with 6.0 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 1.4 steals. He finished that campaign in the top 10 in both player efficiency rating (23.0, tied for ninth) and win shares (10.9, tied for eighth), via Basketball-Reference.com.

He'll need his body to cooperate in order to post numbers anywhere close to those levels, but if it does, he could reclaim his spot among the game's greats.

That's what the Lakers have to be hoping for. Even if they had other motivations behind handing him that massive contract extension, they'd still love to see his production validate that cost.

While Bryant still has a shot at putting up notable numbers, he'll likely need to continue to evolve as a player to keep building those box scores. He can't get back the physical tools he's already lost to Father Time. He'll need his strength and smarts to help replace the speed and explosiveness he used to unleash.

Some might recognize that need sooner than Bryant. That could lead to some potentially awkward conversations, the kind that are far easier to have between friends than coworkers.

Scott isn't afraid of having those uncomfortable talks. He's already sent a challenge Bryant's way despite not officially grabbing the coaching seat:

Scott could step in and immediately have some pull with Bryant. Mike D'Antoni spent nearly two full seasons with Bryant and never seemed to build that bridge.

Scott isn't just Bryant's buddy, though. He's a well-qualified candidate in his own right, with a resume that speaks for itself.

"Scott had some success in his first head coaching gig, taking the New Jersey Nets to two straight NBA Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003," NBC Sports' Brett Pollakoff noted. "He then coached five full seasons in New Orleans, peaking with a run to the second round of the playoffs in the 2008 season."

By his own admission, he's demanding. That's exactly what the Lakers need after last season's unsightly 27-win performance.

"I'm not a screamer, I'm intense and I'm a perfectionist," Scott said of his coaching style in 2000, via Thomas Bonk of the Los Angeles Times.

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

An intense perfectionist? Yeah, that certainly sounds like Bryant's style.

If Scott is such a great fit, why hasn't a contract offer been extended yet? Frankly, there's no need to rush.

The Lakers have a roster to build, starting with the seventh overall selection in Thursday's draft. They have the cap space to fill their remaining ranks however they see fit and need more pieces in place before determining whether Scott is the right man to steer the ship.

He'll wait for them to make that call. He spent 11 of his 14 seasons as a player with the Lakers, so grabbing the coaching reins would be nothing short of a dream job.

With the knowledge that his relationship with Bryant gives him a leg up on the competition, his wait might not be as stressful as it would seem. Not when both he and the Lakers know how important it is for Bryant to approve of the next head coach.


Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.


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