INDEPENDENCE – Byron Scott didn’t talk to LeBron James before taking over as head coach of the Cavaliers, but he’s confident he’s going to be speaking to the two-time reigning MVP a lot in the coming years.
“At the end of the day, he’s going to make the right decision,” Scott said of James during his introductory press conference Friday at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “He’s going to be here in Cleveland the rest of his career. His legacy of winning championships in his hometown will be like nothing he’s ever seen before in his life.”
The Cavaliers’ negotiating team of owner Dan Gilbert, general manager Chris Grant, Scott and perhaps assistant GM Lance Blanks will meet with James and his representatives today at 11 a.m. – the Chicago Bulls will follow – at the IMG Building in downtown Cleveland.
Scott, an Inglewood, Calif., native who won three championships as a player with the Los Angeles Lakers, will be able to tell James firsthand what the experience of winning at home is like.
“There’s not a greater feeling from a sports standpoint,” said Scott, who signed a four-year contract for $18 million, plus incentives. “I’ve been there, done that. It was fantastic.”
James, an Akron native, is also weighing offers from New Jersey, New York, Miami and the Los Angeles Clippers, but the Bulls and Cavaliers are considered the front-runners.
“I’m excited to have the opportunity to coach LeBron,” said Scott, who led the Nets to the NBA Finals in 2002 and ‘03 and was named NBA Coach of the Year with New Orleans in ‘08. “I’m putting all my trust in (Grant) and (Blanks) to get the job done.”
Asked what he planned to tell James today, Scott said, “I’ve won some championships (as a player). I’ve been there as a coach. I have a pretty good idea what it takes at this level.
“That would be one of the first things I’d tell him. The other is I think this is the right time.”
If the 25-year-old James re-signs with Cleveland, he will be playing for a coach who plans to run the Princeton offense, which relies on passing and cutting, but loves to fastbreak more than anything else.
“I still can’t let go of my roots,” said Scott, a shooting guard for the Showtime-era Lakers. “I want to run.”
Obviously knowing James also likes an up-tempo game, the 49-year-old said the small forward has many of the same qualities as former Lakers teammate Magic Johnson, but is a better shooter.
“Both are demanding, they both want to win and they both are passionate about the game of basketball,” Scott said. “All those elements put into one, you’ve got a chance to win right away.
“That young man is obviously one of the top two basketball players, if not the best, in the NBA right now.”
The only rival to that throne is the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant. When asked the difference between the two players, Scott said “five rings.”
“I think LeBron’s more talented, but Kobe’s been put in a great position,” he said. “He took his lumps as well early in his career.
“It’s just taken LeBron a little longer, but I’m telling you, LeBron is going to get there. He’s going to win a championship – a few of them.”
Prior to walking into the LRMR offices in the IMG Building today, Scott’s only previous face-to-face meeting with James will have been at Chris Paul’s camp in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Paul, James’ closest friend in the NBA, got along great with Scott during their time together in New Orleans, and told his former coach the Cleveland superstar wants to be coached.
Scott admitted he made some mistakes handling another superstar, Jason Kidd, during his coaching stay in New Jersey, but said he learned from them and is confident he can make James a better player.
“He can take it to a higher level,” the Cavaliers coach said. “The ceiling right now has not been tapped as far as LeBron’s talent. We know how great he is as a basketball player with consecutive MVPs, but I still think he has room to grow as a player.
“He’s going to continue to get better for as long as he’s willing to put in the work. From what all indications are about his work ethic, that what he’s willing to do.”
There were some questions about Scott’s work ethic as a coach, particularly during his time with the Nets, but he said a burning desire to get back on the sideline is what prompted him to leave his job as an analyst for ESPN.
Scott also said he never wanted to wait to see what happened between Phil Jackson and the Lakers – Jackson announced on Thursday he would return to the bench – or how James’ free agency played out.
“I didn’t feel like there was a need to wait,” he said. “I felt like this was a great opportunity. … This felt like the right place for me. … I really feel like we have a chance to win a championship right away.”
Earlier in the week, even Scott thought the Cavaliers were going to hire Lakers assistant Brian Shaw. But then Scott got a call from Blanks saying Cleveland officials wanted to talk more and he “got excited again.”
Grant also downplayed the Cavaliers’ courtship of Shaw, saying his first coaching search went great because the team ended up with “the right guy.” Earlier, Cleveland was turned down by Michigan State coach Tim Izzo, who was offered a five-year, $30 million deal.
“The thing that was extremely important to us was (finding) a person who’s a winner,” said Grant, who took over as GM when Danny Ferry resigned. “Byron’s been a winner as a player and coach at several different locations.”
Scott has not completed his coaching staff, but Paul Pressey, who worked for him in New Orleans, is already on board as his lead assistant. Pressey, interestingly enough, was a “point forward” under Don Nelson in Milwaukee, a role James could adopt if he returns to Cleveland.
Scott plans to talk to several of the assistants on former coach Mike Brown’s staff. Chris Jent, who has developed a solid relationship with James, is the most likely to be retained.
Scott likes to delegate a lot of responsibility to his assistants and favors having positional coaches, with one for guards, another for small forwards and another for big men.
Cleveland’s new head coach values winning above all else, however, and re-signing James is the key to doing that.
“Obviously, as a coach, one of my main goals is to win a championship,” Scott said. “I shouldn’t say championship. It’s championships – more than one.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or email@example.com.
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