How does someone ask a living legend to, ahem, sit out some games and rest? Very lightly, it turns out.
Byron Scott approached Kobe Bryant by reminding him of their relationship. How long it had lasted. And how much longer it would continue.
“Before I even said, ‘I would like for you to sit out a couple of games,’ I had to always go back to, ‘You know how much I love you, you know how much I care for you, you know I’ve always got your best interests at heart,’” the Lakers coach said Friday. “Then I had to hit him with, ‘I think you need to sit down a couple of games.’”
Bryant sat out a third consecutive game Friday so he could rest. The Lakers lost to Dallas in a surprisingly close one, 102-98.
The initial talk with Bryant was the hardest, Scott implied. It came after Bryant missed 22 of 30 shots in a 108-101 loss to Sacramento.
“The thing that I was so happy about, the first time I brought it up to him, he just said, ‘Coach, whatever you want to do, I’m with you 110%,’” Scott said. “And that made me feel good because I knew how competitive he is and for him to trust me like that, it just let me know that our relationship is as strong as it’s ever been.”
The Lakers (9-21) are fraught with foibles but the rapport between star player and coach is one of few things that doesn’t need critiquing. Outside analysts are picking up on it too.
“No other coach the Lakers could have hired in this world, no other coach I believe could have gotten Kobe to sit down,” TNT’s Chris Webber said while providing commentary for Thursday’s Lakers-Chicago game. “Not only did they hire his coach, they hired his old head, his mentor, his ex-teammate who he knows has his best interest at heart.”
Phil Jackson could have surely convinced Bryant to sit, but Webber’s point hit most of the target.
Scott, 53, has tried to blend humor with toughness in his first season. Quick with a one-liner while talking to reporters, he is also perfectly willing to call a player out through the media.
The losses are piling up. Scott’s confidence isn’t wearing down.
“I know that this is a process and it’s going to take time and I have to be as patient as anybody. Obviously, the people that have to be the most patient is the Buss family,” he said before referring to executives Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss.
“When I took the job and when I talked to Mitch and Jim, they said, ‘This is going to be a process, it’s going to take some time.’ They asked me if I was OK with that. The question from me was, ‘No, are you guys OK with that?’
“I always have that in the back of my mind, that this is going to be fine.”
Basketball was in high demand on Christmas, including the Lakers without Bryant.
TNT’s broadcast of Lakers-Bulls averaged 3.9 million total viewers, the largest audience ever for a Christmas prime-time game on cable. It was followed on TNT by the Golden State-Clippers game that drew an average of 3.1 million viewers. Both figures were supplied by TNT via Nielsen Media Research.
ABC said the ratings for its marquee game were up 19% from a year ago as an average audience of 9.3 million watched Miami beat Cleveland.