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Let’s Appreciate a Laker: Byron Scott, a player ahead of his time

Byron Scott is worth remembering for far more than just his Lakers coaching tenure.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Boston Celtics Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

Editor’s Note: For as long as the NBA season is stopped, we’ll be taking an almost daily look back at players from Lakers history that we can’t stop thinking about. Today, we remember Byron Scott.

Longtime visitors of this website know that our little band of blog boys (and girls) has not always had the most positive things to say about Byron Scott. Which really sucks, if you think about it.

Scott may have the second-worst winning percentage of any coach in Lakers history (first among coaches to last more than 39 games), but that was not entirely his fault. Sure, he didn’t do a ton to help the situation and his tenure in the lead chair isn’t going to be remembered fondly by anyone, but those rosters didn’t help, and he is also a lot more than just his time leading the team, even if it’s sometimes hard to discuss one without the other anymore.

After all, Scott wasn’t just a Lakers coach. He is also one of the best players in the history of the franchise. Sound like hyperbole? Maybe, but Scott is also 10th all-time in win shares for the Lakers, ninth in VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) and fourth in both steals (1,038) and threes made (595).

Those last two things are what stand out the most, especially in juxtaposition with the most memorable things about Scott’s Lakers coaching tenure being his open hatred of threes and analytics. If Scott was transported into the modern NBA, he’d be an advanced statistics darling, a staunch defender who also shot 37% from three, the prototypical “three-and-D” wing, even if his coaching sensibilities ironically flew in the face of his skillset as a player.

And as good as he was with the Showtime Lakers, he’d probably be even more highly valued today. In case anyone forgot or wasn’t around to see it, Scott could play:

Scott came to the Lakers as a rookie, and famously faced plenty of cold shoulders from the locker room because the team traded the well-liked Norm Nixon for him. He described the situation in his autobiography, “Slam-Dunk Success: Leading from Every Position on Life’s Court,” detailing how Kareem Abdul-Jabbar mainly spoke to him to tell him to get him water, and how Magic Johnson and Michael Cooper were pushing him around and throwing extra elbows at him in training camp until Scott finally snapped.

“All right, that’s it, next time any of y’all throw an elbow at me, there’s going to be a fight,” Scott — who would (in)famously later worry that none of his Lakers players had ever been in a fist fight — recalled saying in the book.

“Oh, it’s like that?” Cooper responded.

“Yeah, it’s like that,” Scott remembered saying back.

He wrote that Johnson later admitted that they were just testing him to “see if I had any heart.” He evidently passed the test and won the team over, and the Inglewood native became an integral part of those Showtime squads, helping Johnson win three more rings as a Laker.

Scott’s defense, toughness and infusion of youthful athleticism galvanized the group and helped them extend their reign, and we can’t let recency bias make us forget that far more important part of Scott’s Laker journey, too. He and Cooper formed a hellacious wing defense tandem that helped kick-start the Showtime fast break attack, and Scott’s shooting skill gave the team spacing on both those run-outs and in the half-court.

Scott was released by the Lakers in the summer of 1993, and played a few years with the Indiana Pacers and Vancouver Grizzlies before coming home to Los Angeles in 1996. Scott had to fight on a non-guaranteed contract to make the team in training camp, but he did, and ended up serving as a valuable voice in the ear of a young player on the roster by the name of Kobe Bryant.

“He was my rookie mentor when I first came into the league,” Bryant said in 2014 when Scott was hired as his final NBA coach. “We’ve had a tremendously close relationship throughout the years. So, obviously I know him extremely well. He knows me extremely well. I’ve always been a fan of his.”

Seattle Supersonics vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Byron Scott was one of Kobe Bryant’s first mentors in the NBA.
Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Now, Bryant obviously in all likelihood would have been a great player no matter what, but Scott still deserves some appreciation for helping guide him on a team where the younger Bryant wasn’t always the most welcomed voice in the locker room.

And if that was the end of Scott’s Lakers journey, it would have been picture-perfect: Him coming full circle, an originally unwelcome rookie who became a fan-favorite and valuable contributor mentoring a young star in a similar spot.

Unfortunately real life doesn’t work like that. But just because Scott’s coaching tenure with the Lakers was legendarily bad doesn’t mean we can’t remember the good times, too. No one is perfect, and we can’t be defined by just our mistakes, even if they happened more recently.

Scott will always be a Lakers great, no matter how things ended, and as his time coaching the team gets more distant, we should try to shift back to mostly remembering his far more important ups, instead of his downs on a team that wasn’t going anywhere anyway. Not all of us can stick the landing, and Scott will always be a Laker worth appreciating regardless because of how high the peak of his leap was.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.

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