It took the Los Angeles Lakers three long months to name their new head coach, but the final result was hardly a surprise. As long expected, Byron Scott is the team’s new sideline leader.
ESPN's Ramona Shelburne was the first to report the news on Saturday:
Now it’s time to get down to work, and that means putting together a coaching staff. The Lakers have already gone through the NBA draft, free agency and Las Vegas Summer League. And while fall training camp may still seem far off, the time will pass quickly—some of the players are already working out at the team’s El Segundo training facilities.
A coach’s support staff is like a spider web of essential lifelines, including player development assistants, advance scouts, training staff and the all-important assistant coaches who often have particular areas of focus.
League rules mandate that there can be no more than three assistant coaches alongside their boss on the bench’s front row, plus an athletic trainer. For the Lakers, that trainer is Gary Vitti, now entering his 30th season with the organization. Other assistants and bench personnel sit in the second row.
What will that all-important coaching staff look like?
“Scott plans to have four assistant coaches, according to a league source familiar with his thought process,” wrote Mark Medina recently for the Los Angeles Daily News. “But the source maintained Scott has kept an open mind on candidates.”
Four assistants isn’t considered a large number in today’s NBA, but Scott will also have a guy named Kobe Bryant who will serve as his main voice of conscience.
Per Shelburne for ESPN LA, Scott spoke late Sunday about the importance of defense, discipline and Laker pride, and how Bryant will be key to getting the message across:
You always need one of those type of guys. In this situation, where it's just Kobe—who really understands what it means to be a Laker—and myself, who understands what it means to be a Laker—you’ve got two guys coming from two different perspectives, but delivering the same message. That's important. That's important for Swaggy P and Wesley Johnson and Ryan Kelly who need to understand what it means to put that purple and gold on.
This will be a familiar role for Bryant, who has always been known for his intensity and unrelenting drive. But while he’ll relish the tough-love leadership role, there’s no denying the importance of an actual coaching staff. It will likely be a homegrown unit with personnel who have prior working relationships with the Lakers and/or Scott.
One of the most obvious candidates is Mark Madsen, who was hired as head coach for the Los Angeles D-Fenders last summer but wound up being promoted to Lakers development coach before the season began. He was also one of two associate head coaches for the Lakers’ summer league team earlier this month.
Known as “Mad Dog” during his days as a power forward, Madsen was drafted by the Lakers in 2000, winning titles in 2001 and 2002. He played the next six seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves before becoming an assistant coach for his alma mater, Stanford, as well as the D-League’s Utah Flash. Madsen has a genuine passion for defense, which could stand him in good stead with Scott.
Another strong contender is Larry Lewis, who spent 20 years playing pro ball in the CBA and Europe before becoming a player development coach for the D-Fenders under Eric Musselman. Lewis was Madsen’s co-associate head coach in Vegas as well as a fellow player development coach for the Lakers last season. The two have a close working relationship which could provide for a smooth transition onto Scott’s staff.
An intriguing recent rumor comes from Gery Woelfel for The Journal Times who believes Hall of Famer Gary Payton—the former All-Star SuperSonic, one-time Laker and current commentator for Fox Sports 1—could be in line for a job on Scott’s staff. Payton was one of the fiercest defensive point guards to ever play the game and would bring a fiery presence to the team.
Another probable hire is Scott’s son, Thomas Scott, who was an assistant coach for the D-Fenders last season and, prior to that, spent two seasons as lead assistant coach for the D-league’s Canton Charge. Scott was assistant video coordinator for the New Orleans Hornets and a player development coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers, both under his father.
While many of the above names represent a youth movement, longtime NBA coaching experience also has its place, especially when it comes to the lead assistant position. These are the consiglieri of the league, typically sitting between the athletic trainer and head coach, and imparting sage wisdom.
One such candidate is Paul Pressey, who had a 10-year NBA playing career, pioneering the point forward concept under Don Nelson with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Golden State Warriors, later segueing to the sidelines as an assistant coach with the Warriors, the Boston Celtics and as Scott’s lead assistant with both the Hornets and Cavaliers.
Also in the mix is Johnny Davis, who was an assistant coach for the Lakers last season under Mike D’Antoni. Davis, a former player during the 1970s and 1980s, has head coaching experience with the Philadelphia 76ers and the Orlando Magic, and was most recently an assistant coach with the Memphis Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors before joining the Lakers.
Will all six of these coaches make the final cut for Scott’s staff? Perhaps not, although one or more of the younger candidates could remain in player development. After so much transition and turnover in recent years, the Lakers would like to finally see some stability and continuity. There’s a lot of common history with the above group, and it’s a pretty safe bet that most will be employed by the Lakers next season.