Byron Scott's first news conference as Lakers coach was so much like a class reunion it was natural for the guests of honor to call each other by their old nicknames.
Jamaal Wilkes was "Silk." Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was "Cap." Magic Johnson, conspicuous Tuesday after having distanced himself during most of the Lakers' disastrous season — except to condemn Mike D'Antoni's coaching — was Earvin or "Buck."
The three stood on the podium behind Scott — "B" in their shorthand — in a show of support they said was more than symbolic.
"His confidence and leadership and knowledge of the game will definitely benefit this team, and hopefully this is the point where things start to turn around," Abdul-Jabbar said. "Welcome home B, we're going to be down there bothering you every night."
What a kidder.
And maybe not.
"They weren't joking," Scott said a few minutes later.
"These guys are not only my great friends, but they're great basketball players, and obviously they have great basketball minds, so there's probably going to be times, the same with Mitch [Kupchak], when I go in his office: 'What did you see? What are you seeing?' It's no different with Earvin. It's no different with Silk. It's no different with Cap."
What's different is that in backing Scott so enthusiastically, Johnson moved back into the embrace of a team whose decline he had watched with undisguised horror. Magic will be back, even if the magic of the Showtime era won't be recreated, and Scott just might have the self-assurance to benefit from Johnson's powerful presence without being overwhelmed by it.
"Byron is a tough cat," Johnson said. "Don't let that smile fool you."
Johnson, who sold his nearly 5% ownership stake in the club in 2010 but remains an unsalaried vice president, won't send in plays. Nor will any other former teammates.
"I don't have a problem every now and then talking with them about things that are going on with the team. But make no mistake, I am my own man," Scott said. "I have my own ideas and I'm going to do things the way I want to do things."
Which could include telling them to back off, if need be, though maybe not in those exact words.
"A little different language," Scott said, laughing. "And they would get that. But like they said, they're going to be there and I think a lot of it is just for emotional support."
He unquestionably had Johnson's backing, and that's significant.
"I'm not here saying he's the right man just because he was my teammate and we won championships together. He's the right man because he's been coaching in this league for 13 years. He took a team to the Finals twice. He knows what he's doing," Johnson said, noting that Scott can also capitalize on a strong, long-standing relationship with Kobe Bryant.
"If it was any other coach we probably all wouldn't be here. So that shows you the type of pride we have in Byron and also support that we want to give him. But also we love the organization. It's hard on all of us to sit here and lose like the way we lost last year.
"See, I don't mind losing if we're playing the game the right way. If we're defending. If the [other] teams are better, they're better. There's nothing you can do. But I had a hard time with the lack of effort on defense, the lack of communication on defense, and then the last thing, which is most important, is the lack of rotation on defense. ... I think you're going to see a little different story here this season with Byron."
Johnson said he had been working out with Scott the last few months and warned him how huge a task Scott would face if he got the job. Scott's biggest priority, as he repeatedly emphasized Tuesday, will be to bring a plan and some pride to the sadly neglected defensive side of the game.
Johnson also said he expects Scott to spell out roles that were left undefined.
"Coach Scott is a very disciplined man and he's going to instill that in this team. And that's what we need right now," Johnson said.
Staying in the family to hire Scott was the safe move, but it's the only one that made sense for this phase of rebuilding.
"I'm happy to see Byron as a tie to the past, but more importantly as a bridge to the future," Wilkes said.
In that case, getting advice from Wilkes, Abdul-Jabbar and Johnson will be no bother at all.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times