- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- It was the kind of feel-good moment that has eluded the Los Angeles Lakers for the past couple of seasons. As Byron Scott sat down to be introduced as the Lakers' new head coach, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes walked out from a side entrance and surprised the assembled media by standing beside their former teammate.
"This is a great day for all the former Lakers as well as Lakers fans all over the world," Johnson said. "We're just excited for what Byron will bring to the table and get back to playing Laker basketball."
As Johnson spoke, Jeanie Buss could be seen looking down on the proceedings from her office, her head peaking over the 10 Larry O'Brien trophies lined against the window.
This was a moment Dr. Jerry Buss had hoped to see before he passed. Johnson said that in 2010, three years before Buss died, Buss told him he would love to see Scott come back to coach the Lakers one day. Scott had led the New Jersey Nets to the NBA Finals twice, won coach of the year honors with the New Orleans Hornets and Buss viewed him as the perfect replacement whenever Phil Jackson left.
"I haven't even told him this yet," Johnson said. "Dr. Buss was going to make Byron the coach when Phil didn't know what he was going to do, but Byron took the Cleveland job, but he took it too early. I called him and said, 'B, you took that job too early! Dr. Buss wanted you to be the coach.'... This is a great day for Dr. Buss, even though he's not here."
The more Johnson and the former Lakers spoke, the more it became apparent that Scott wasn't hired because he was the best coach for the future of the Lakers, but because he was the most popular coach to win back the support of a frustrated fan base that includes former players such as Johnson, who regularly bashed former coach Mike D'Antoni in the media.
"We knew the support in the city would be there," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said when asked about Scott's hiring. "Certainly getting off on a good step is a factor, and we knew that would be the case bringing Byron back to Los Angeles."
After hiring two outsiders with no Lakers ties in Mike Brown and D'Antoni, the Lakers didn't want to make the same mistake again. Neither coach really got a chance to succeed. Brown was in the thankless position of having to replace Jackson, and D'Antoni basically was put in the exact same position when the Lakers passed on bringing back Jackson in favor of hiring D'Antoni during the season. Both coaches were doomed before they even coached a game.
Scott is being placed in the exact same boat.
It might not seem that way now or for the first couple weeks of the season, as his old Lakers teammates come out to support their old teammate and tell stories about the "Showtime" days when they regularly won championships, but it will. The shadow now looming over Scott might not be Jackson, but it's of the unrealistic expectations of living up to the "Showtime" era he played in and is constantly asked about.
"I'm going to do everything in my power to make those guys [Johnson, Wilkes and Abdul-Jabbar] proud, to make the Buss family proud and do everything I can to bring this team back to where it should be," Scott said. "This organization is all about championships, period. We don't look at Western Conference finals, Western Conference championships, we look at [NBA] championships."
The championship-or-bust quote drew smiles and head nods from the former Lakers players in attendance and no doubt every Lakers fan listening and watching him from afar, but it's not really based in a reality the Lakers will be in the next season or two.
After going 27-55 last season, the most losses suffered in a season in team history, the Lakers have lost Pau Gasol, Jodie Meeks, Jordan Farmar, Chris Kaman, Kendall Marshall, Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks and added Carlos Boozer, Jeremy Lin, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Ed Davis. They're also hoping that Kobe Bryant, who turns 36 next month, and Steve Nash, who turns 41 during the season, will be able to give them something after being sidelined for much of last season.
Even if everything goes the Lakers' way and they improve last season's record by 14 wins -- a big if -- they're still a .500 team that's on the outside looking in at the playoffs. In a top-heavy West where the Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Rockets, Blazers, Warriors, Grizzlies, Mavericks and Suns all pushed for 50 wins last season and likely will again this season, not even a 20-win improvement on last season's record would be enough to get the Lakers into the postseason.
This isn't Scott's fault. He has been handed a bad roster, far worse than what Brown and D'Antoni were given, but he is still banging on the same championship drum that his predecessors were forced to play.
Nothing short of championship banners are acceptable for the Lakers, but at some point they will have to accept the reality that those expectations don't fall in line with the team's current roster. Maybe they will one day, and maybe Scott may even be around to see that day. But that day is not today.
1hMichael C. Wright