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An older and wiser Byron Scott is still all business

An older and wiser Byron Scott is still all business
Lakers Coach Byron Scott looks on during an exhibition game against the Utah Jazz on Oct. 16. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

No matter what happens between now and April 15, the presumed end of the Lakers season, Byron Scott won't wall himself off.

He left that behind more than 20 years ago, when he and James Worthy had to assume the unofficial roles of team spokesmen after Magic Johnson was diagnosed with HIV.

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It was a crushing time for Scott, and the Lakers franchise, and he didn't initially react well to the extra attention as one of the few remaining holdovers from the "Showtime" era.

To avoid reporters, he would duck out a side door near the locker room after games at the Forum. A Lakers official soon started intercepting him: Sorry, Byron. You've got to talk.

Reluctance eventually became acceptance, and the player eventually became an NBA coach who has no problem communicating with players, his assistant coaches and the media.

"Growth. I've just grown as a person," Scott said. "When I played, I just wanted to play. I didn't want to be bothered by anybody, the media, things like that. As I got older, I started to realize how important it was to communicate with people."

As Scott, now 53, enters his first season as the Lakers coach — his fourth stop as an NBA coach — he's maintained at least one characteristic from his playing days.

He's all business, something the present-day Lakers discovered quickly this month in training camp, right around the time they were panting and wheezing from series after series of unyielding sprints.

Kobe Bryant declared it his most difficult training camp ever. Heavy legs and short shots were evident by the third exhibition game. If players were grumbling, Scott wasn't listening.

"I wouldn't have changed it if [Bryant] said, 'Coach, this is just too much.' I would have said, 'Well, Kobe, you've just got to get in shape,' " Scott said. "We can't lose games because teams are in better condition than us."

Scott received feedback from one player.

"I heard from Kobe," he said. "And he said he loved it."

All Scott has to do now is turn around a team that lost a franchise-record 55 games and was out of playoff contention with a month left in the regular season.

Lakers followers are all too familiar with what happened in the second and final year of the Mike D'Antoni era, the numbers falling out of the sky with the same painful impact as green-and-white ticker tape in June.

There were Lakers records for most one-sided defeat (48 points to the Clippers) and biggest losses, to San Antonio (34 points) and Minnesota (36 points). There were nine non-sellouts at Staples Center, an almost stunning number that went hand in hand with a ratings drop of about 55% from the previous season on Time Warner Cable SportsNet.

Rudy Tomjanovich, in his short tenure as Lakers coach, used to joke that replacing Phil Jackson was like following Frank Sinatra on stage. This might be harder than that, even though expectations are extremely low this season.

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"I know it's a tough task. I know there's pressures that go along with this job. It's in my DNA to hit it head on," Scott said. "Did I think it was going to be easy? No. But do I think we have an opportunity this year to be better than we were last year and to get better the next year and the following year? Absolutely."

Scott has taken gambles in the past that didn't pay off.

Four years ago, he accepted the job as Cleveland's head coach one day after LeBron James became a free agent. James' talents, as everybody knows, went to Miami a week later.

"I knew it was a gamble because if he doesn't come back it's going to be tough. But I've always looked at the glass half-full, not half-empty," Scott said.

He does not defer to All-Stars, something he is not ashamed to acknowledge, even though it cost him in his first pro coaching spot because he did not back down from Jason Kidd, who had one big problem with Scott: too tough.

Scott lost that power struggle and was fired halfway through the 2003-04 season. Seven months earlier, he had taken the Nets to a second consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

With the Lakers, Scott needs to win over a team that has only eight holdovers from last season. Actually, that might not be a bad thing.

But he'll have to do it in the ridiculously talented Western Conference.

It starts with defense, a tenet of his first month with the team. The Lakers gave up an embarrassing 109.2 points a game on average last season and experienced their worst three-game defensive stretch ever, allowing an average of 136 points in March losses to the Clippers, Oklahoma City and Denver.

He's got some backers, if not believers, from unexpected corners.

"I was happy for him. I think that for the first time in a long time, the Lakers brought back somebody that was kind of in the family," said Denver Nuggets Coach Brian Shaw, who interviewed for the Lakers job after Phil Jackson retired from coaching in 2011 but left the franchise after Mike Brown was hired.

"I think he's a good coach, he had success with the organization [as a player] and he's a local guy, being from Inglewood. You see it happen in other places, so it's nice that it happened there."

Shaw wasn't alone among coaches who endorsed the hiring of Scott. Phoenix Coach Jeff Hornacek played against Scott in the late 1980s and into the 1990s.

"He just played the game. I didn't ever hear any talking or any of that stuff," he said. "That team was the best in the league for a long time, and he was a big part of that."

Regardless of his personality, there are things Scott can't control — age and injuries.

Bryant, 36, played six games last season, and Steve Nash, 40, will sit out the whole season because of recurring back problems.

Nick Young will be sidelined until at least late November because of a torn thumb ligament, and Xavier Henry, his assumed replacement as the Lakers' sixth man, is out indefinitely because of a sore knee.

Not that Scott had any sympathy for the gregarious Young, making him run sprints with the rest of the team within days of getting a hard cast on his hand.

The victories aren't expected to come in droves. Lakers followers won't want to hear it, but they might be as infrequent as last season. Every player, though, will know where they stand with Scott.

"I'm a straight shooter," Scott said. "Guys respect that."

Times staff writer Broderick Turner contributed to this report.

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