Magic Johnson: Jerry Buss wanted Byron Scott to coach Lakers
Magic Johnson was on hand on Monday when the Lakers welcomed his former teammate, Byron Scott, as the Lakers’ next head coach.
Had Scott not taken the Cleveland Cavaliers job in 2010, he might have been hired by then-owner Jerry Buss after Phil Jackson retired after the 2010-11 season.
“Dr. Buss was going to make Byron the coach when Phil didn’t know what he was going to do” in 2010, said Johnson. “Byron took the Cleveland job, and he took it too early. I called and said: ‘B., you took the job too early. Dr. Buss wanted you to be the coach.”
With Scott tied up with the LeBron James-less Cavaliers, the Lakers hired Mike Brown in 2011. Brown was let go early into the 2012-13 season, replaced by Mike D’Antoni -- who in turn resigned in April.
Scott had three dismal years with the rebuilding Cavaliers before he was let go in 2013. Brown replaced Scott in Cleveland, but lasted just a season after a 33-49 record. Buss died in February 2013 after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Scott lamented that Buss wasn’t around to see him coach the Lakers, but acknowledged that he never discussed taking over the position with Buss. The two did talk after Scott was fired in Cleveland, but the Lakers’ position wasn’t open.
"[He] asked me when I was coming home,” said Scott, who grew up in Inglewood. “I came to a couple of games and we stayed in contact, but never really talked about me coaching the team. He asked me my opinion of the team, but never talked about coaching the team.”
The timing between the Lakers and Scott has finally meshed, although Scott may have a challenge with a less-than-perfect roster.
Meanwhile, Johnson also said he tried to convince Carmelo Anthony to leave the New York Knicks in an hourlong phone conversation. Ultimately the high-scoring forward chose to re-sign in New York.
Johnson noted that he spoke at length with Pau Gasol, who chose to leave for the Chicago Bulls instead of staying with the Lakers.
“We had a great conversation but I think the way he was treated last season, kind of hurt him,” said Johnson. “Here’s a guy 18 [points] and 10 [rebounds], shooting over 50% and you want to bench him? You want to mess with this guy? He could never get over that.”
Last season, Gasol averaged 17.4 points and 9.7 rebounds, starting 60 games while shooting 48.0% from the field. D’Antoni and Gasol struggled at times to see eye-to-eye, especially throughout the 2012-13 season with center Dwight Howard.
The Lakers also fielded trade offers for Gasol over the last few seasons. While they never triggered a deal, the weight of the rumor mill seemed to wear Gasol down.
Johnson was optimistic that the Scott signing is a step in the right direction for the Lakers, despite no Anthony and no Gasol.
“The team is better than what we had last season, because we have more guys who can do more things than just shoot three-pointers,” said Johnson. “If I don’t see another three-pointer from a Laker team, I’ll be happy.”
Last season, the Lakers won just 27 games in an injury-plagued season that saw Kobe Bryant play in just six games (knee and Achilles’ injuries).
While Johnson still holds the title of vice president, he is no longer a Lakers owner or on the team’s payroll. Instead, the Hall of Famer is part owner of the Dodgers.
“The Lakers are still the No. 1 team in the city,” said Johnson. “The Dodgers second. It’s always going to be like that until somebody wins some championships.”
Johnson acknowledged his happiness is still tied to how well the Lakers play.
“It messes up my whole year when the Lakers are not successful,” he said.
The Lakers may have a difficult time in the Western Conference this season. Perhaps having a former Showtime Laker in Scott may make it slightly more palatable -- but that will only go so far.
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