In yesterday’s “While We’re Waiting”, Rick posted a link to an article by Fox Sports Ohio’s Sam Amico in which he laid out the case for why current Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott would be a prime candidate for the Los Angeles Lakers’ likely vacant coaching seat. He also said something that probably made some Cavs fans uneasy, particular those fans who appreciate the work Coach Scott did last season. He said that Coach Scott would almost certainly be interested in the job.
Cleveland sometimes takes a lot of grief for the passion of its sports fans, but the sports fans in Cleveland mirror the spirit of the city. They cherish qualities such as loyalty, dedication, and hard work in ways that isn’t necessarily true in all places. As a result, Cleveland sports fans often feel that need their athletes to be just as loyal and dedicated to Cleveland as they are. Sometimes this is misplaced as inferiority complex, but that’s not really the whole truth. The fact of the matter is that Cleveland is just different from a lot of other big cities. Frequently the butt of jokes from the national media, the city has been cast in such an unflattering light nationally that it’s hard to really blame Cleveland fans for taking it all so personally.
So when I first read that there might be mutual interest between Coach Scott and the Lakers, my fear was that no matter what happened, some fans would turn on the coach. I was afraid that after already losing LeBron, and then Brian Windhorst, and now potentially Byron Scott, that it would feel like those in the business of basketball were avoiding Cleveland like the plague.
But lets not get too far ahead of ourselves. First of all, as Amico laid out in his article, it would be pretty unlikely that Byron Scott would actually end up as Phil Jackson’s successor. First, and foremost, Coach Scott is under contract with the Cavaliers and thus, the Cavs would have to grant permission for the Lakers to interview Scott. Secondly, because he’s under contract, the Lakers would have to give up compensation to the Cavaliers for letting Scott out of his contract. Now, unless said compensation is Andrew Bynum, the Cavs probably wouldn’t be receiving much of value in return, but why would the Lakers want to give up anything at all when there are perfectly suitable candidates available that the Lakers can freely sign?
Having said all that, nobody wants to have an employee who doesn’t want to be there. If the Lakers’ job is Coach Scott’s dream job, and the Lakers want to consider him, the Cavaliers would have to let him at least interview for it, right? Not necessarily, it turns out. According to the Plain Dealer’s Mary Schmitt Boyer, an NBA source has told her that the Cavaliers would indeed block any interview request from the Lakers:
Scott, who won three titles as a player with the Lakers, is under contract for three more years, and the team would not grant the Lakers permission to speak to him even if they asked, an NBA source said. The source said Scott does not have an “out” clause in his contract that would allow him to pursue the Lakers job.
When Jackson contemplated retirement last year, Scott’s name popped up as a potential replacement because of his close relationships with owner Jerry Buss and star Kobe Bryant. Scott acted as Bryant’s mentor in his rookie season, Scott’s last in the league.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I kind of want to say ‘good for the Cavaliers’. He’s your coach, you have him signed for 2 more seasons, and you want to see him finish the job he was hired to do. Yet, nobody wants a malcontent to be coach. If Byron Scott’s heart and mind isn’t 100% into the Cleveland Cavaliers, then why force him to stay? Why stand in the way of his dream job?
However, the main factor here is that Byron Scott knew that this Lakers job would likely be opening up after the 2011 season. People were surprised when Phil came back for this season, and it was all but a formality that this would be the final season in his legendary coaching career. Byron Scott knew all of this. If the Lakers job was the job he really wanted, then it was unfair to Cleveland for him to hedge his bet by taking the Cavaliers job as a fallback plan.
Perhaps he felt that he would always be an underdog to Brian Shaw, who is already sitting on the bench next to Phil Jackson as an assistant. Perhaps he felt that LeBron would be coming back and that the Cavaliers’ job would be a prime job. Or maybe, just maybe, any talk of his interest in the Lakers job is exaggerated.
We’ve yet to hear any comment from the coach himself or even from sources close to the coach that give any indication that he’s unhappy in Cleveland or that he would want to interview for the Lakers job. Now, in a vacuum, I’m sure Coach Scott would love to coach the Los Angeles Lakers. He grew up in Inglewood, played for the Lakers, and won 3 NBA Championships there. The purple and gold empire means a lot to him and I don’t think any of us should struggle to understand why he might be interested.
But I’m not ready to just assume that the interest is so strong that he’s going to cause problems with Cleveland if they don’t let him interview. Until we hear from him, everything else is just pure speculation. Besides, the chances of Byron Scott coaching the Lakers next season are somewhere in the 0.1% range. He had to know what he was doing when he signed on to coach the Cavaliers, and I for one am excited to see him continue this rebuilding job. Historically, his teams always show huge leaps in his 2nd season, so here’s to hoping for bigger and better things from Byron Scott as coach of the Cavaliers.