Byron Scott may not have had Lawrence Frank’s longevity, Chuck Daly’s career resume, or the stunning blazer/shirt combinations of Kiki Vandeweghe, but he’s done one thing that no other franchise coach has been able to accomplish, or even come relatively closing to accomplishing: he brought the Nets to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances.
Granted, the players had a lot to do with that – namely Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson and Kerry Kittles. But Scott, despite his questionable divorce from the Nets organization, may go down as the most successful coach in franchise history, provided Avery Johnson and/or his inevitable successors can’t put together a winner in Brooklyn a few seasons from now.
What always made Scott stand out to me was his demeanor and his work ethic. He knew coming in that it was an uphill climb with the Nets, and given that it was his first head coaching gig in the league, there was always an assumption that the team and Scott were there to grow up and learn from each other.
”What I always admired in him,” (Rod) Thorn said of Scott, ”even in the first year when we weren’t very good, was there was a calmness and an equanimity in him. He never gave up. The glass was always half full. He always expected to have success. He’s one of those guys who always had it. He’s got a way about him. He expects to be successful; there’s something to be said about that.”
The problem with Scott came when the Nets were ultimately successful and – rightly or wrongly – he never changed his approach with his players. After a 45-point shellacking at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies in December 2003, Kidd reportedly ripped the coaching staff to shreds, claiming the hardcore practices and shoot-arounds were more befitting of a team coming off a horrendous losing season in 1999, not back-to-back appearances in the NBA’s “big dance.”
The Nets played better, but it was short-lived; after another losing streak he was fired in early 2004, leading to the Lawrence Frank era and the all-time best 13-game kickoff win streak in NBA coaching history. The team had seemingly left Scott in the dust, yet when the chips were on the table, the Nets sputtered in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Detroit Pistons that spring, and they never came close to sniffing the NBA Finals again.
Scott would of course get his revenge down the line when his NOLA Hornets ripped apart the aging Kidd’s Mavs, but that’s very far and away beyond Nets history. However, it would prove that maybe Scott was on to something but always approaching his job super seriously, despite the on-court success of his team. Frank ended up being more well-liked by the players, especially Kidd, but clearly wasn’t the better coach. And as we saw in the Kiki era, letting the players run the ship, call their own plays, and basically do whatever they wanted with no repercussions because you never wanted the job in the first place, was an absolute disaster.
Under Avery Johnson, the Nets seemingly have that task-master, disciplinarian back in tow. But time will tell if the organization will ever have another coach quite like Byron Scott.