Leading Man

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In the midst of what was easily the most turbulent offseason in four decades of franchise history, the Cavaliers had to hire a head coach who could restore one thing to a shaken city: confidence.

Byron Scott, the 18th coach in the history of the Wine and Gold, has it. He has confidence; he instills confidence. The Cavaliers won’t come into the 2010-11 feeling sorry for themselves under Byron Scott. They won’t have time between wind-sprints.

Selected No. 4 overall by the Clippers out of Arizona State in 1983, Byron Scott was traded to the Lakers and went on to play with one of the greatest teams in recent NBA history – the Showtime Era of the mid-to-late-80s. During that prolific run, Scott won titles in 1985, ’87 and ’88. During their first Championship run, he led the LakeShow in three-point shooting. When they won ring No. 3, he led them in scoring at 21.7 ppg.

In 14 seasons as a player, he reached the playoffs in 13 of them.

Scott began his coaching career as an assistant under Rick Adelman in Sacramento and, after two years, accepted his first head coaching position with the New Jersey Nets.

After a difficult first season in the Meadowlands, Scott doubled the Nets’ win total – from 26 in 2001-02 to 56 the next year. That same year, the Nets tore through the Eastern Conference to reach the NBA Finals, where they were dropped by Scott’s former squad from Tinseltown.

The next year, Scott’s Nets returned to the NBA Finals – sweeping the Celtics and Pistons to get there. But as they had in the previous season, New Jersey fell to another soon-to-be-dynasty from San Antonio.

After being let go 42 games into his fourth season in the Garden State, Scott adopted another reclamation project in New Orleans in 2004-05.

During the early years of rebuilding the Hornets, the team was forced to play their home games at as many as four different arenas in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

But once again, Scott managed to take a team from worst to first – lifting the 18-win Hornets to the top of the Southwest Division and back to the postseason. That same season – 2007-08 – Scott was named Coach of the Year.

Now, the 49-year-old Scott has a different kind of challenge on his hands – reshaping a young group of Cavaliers, transforming them into a running team and keeping them focused in their first season without a two-time MVP.

The Cavaliers coach took a minute from preparing for his first Training Camp in Independence to speak with Cavs.com Beat Writer Joe Gabriele about his supporting cast, the decision to play an up-tempo style and his relationship with Chris Grant …


First, what can you tell us about the coaching staff you’ve assembled?
Coach Byron Scott: Well, I think everybody knows Chris Jent pretty well – coaching here and playing at Ohio State. And when I watched Chris this summer and really tried to give him a good, close look – (along with the other assistants that were here) – I really loved his presentation to the players.

I think his communication skills are great. His work ethic is fantastic. I think he ‘gets it’ as far as what this league is about, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see C.J. as a head coach in the near future. But he has great drills for the guys and he implements those drills in what we’re doing on the offensive end. So I was really pleased and impressed with him during summer league and that’s why I decided to keep him.

Paul Pressey has been with me for the past three or four years in New Orleans and I know him extremely well. He’s like the wise old guy that kind of observes everything and throws his two cents in. And it’s always something that’s very tangible. He’s another guy that’s got great communication skills and the guys all respect him. He really gets along well with players.

Jamahl Mosley is a guy that we got from Denver. A young up-and-coming guy. Very energetic. Great with our big guys. Speaks his mind. But a great work ethic as well. And that’s what I love about this staff.

All these guys are willing to do whatever it takes to make our players better. And Jamahl’s the same as Chris. I think he’s a guy that’s on the fast track to being a head coach one day in the near future.

Joe Prunti is a guy we got from Portland. You know you’ve got a good assistant when you go to (an NBA) coach’s meeting and everybody he’s been with asks him how he’s doing. He’s such a great guy. He’s kind of like my technician. He’s my stat guy and he’s good on the floor working with players as well. He has a great knowledge of the game. He worked with Avery Johnson and Avery brought him from San Antonio when he got the coaching job in Dallas. Joe’s another guy who’s made our staff more well-rounded.

It’s the best staff I’ve ever had. In the first couple weeks working with them, I can see right away that we have something special.

What advantage does being a former player give you and a couple members of your staff?
Coach Scott: I think the biggest thing is that some of these guys have seen us play back in the day. And I think that gives us instant credibility and respect right off the bat. They know that you’ve been there and done that, so to speak.

You don’t have to be a former player to be a great coach in this league. But I think it helps because of the fact that you’ve been on the floor and have gone through everything that they want to go through as far as Championships. I’ve been to the mountaintop and I want to get them to understand that everything that I do in practice, everything that we do from a coaching standpoint is to get us to that level.

I always tell guys: ‘Every drill that you’re doing, I’ve already done it.’ So it’s nothing new. And I think it helps that you played and you were successful.

You’ve vowed to play an up-tempo, running style this season. Would this be your style regardless, is it based on the current personnel – or a little of both?
Coach Scott: It’s really my style, regardless. But you try to fit your style to the personnel that you have.

I think we’re young enough and athletic enough to have this style and to be able to run up and down the floor and be pretty successful with it. Now, there’s going to be a learning curve and it’s going to take the guys some time to adjust to that style of basketball. But I think we have guys who are smart enough and understand the game well enough to be able to adjust.

To me, that’s the fun part of basketball – getting out in the open floor, being creative and doing the things you’ve done since you were in junior high and high school.

I don’t think it’ll take too long for our guys to adapt to it. But it’s a style that I’ve had since I played – obviously under Pat Riley and in the ‘Showtime Era’ – so I’ve kind of adopted that style ever since I’ve been a coach.

You said earlier this summer that becoming a running team starts in Training Camp. How much will the guys dislike you by the end of this week?
Coach Scott: (laughs) They won’t like me a whole lot, no. But if you want to be a running team, you can’t be a team in practice that walks the ball up the floor and expect it to be like a light switch that you flick on during the game.

You have to practice what you preach, and obviously, in our case, there’s going to be a lot of running in these first seven or eight days of Training Camp. And then when preseason starts there’s going to be more running. We have to change our mindset and we have to get our mindset used to that type of basketball. And once we can do that, obviously the conditioning is a big part of it.

But we will be in great shape. There’s no doubt about that.

Who do you see as the new leaders of this team?
Coach Scott: Well, I see three guys that will step up and fulfill that role: Anthony Parker, Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams. Those are the guys that have to be our leaders and, again, leaders have to lead by example. And we have three great guys who can do that.

Just watching some of our pick-up games, I feel real comfortable that will materialize itself during practice. And the players are starting to find out who the real leaders are on this team.

After losing two veteran seven-foot centers, do you have concerns about the size of your frontline?
Coach Scott: What we don’t have in size, we have in athleticism and length. Anderson (Varejao) is obviously a guy who’s made his living with his hustle and his passion for the game. And I think this offense is definitely going to suit him as well.

On the defensive end, what we don’t have in height, we can use our fundamentals to the best of our ability. And that means blocking people out and rebounding the ball. And that's the toughness part – it's something I’ve always aspired to have on my teams. Guys that are willing to stick their nose in there and try to do all the dirty work that you have to do to be successful.

I feel pretty good about where we are and the direction that we’re headed. And I’m just ready to get started.

Does it help that this was already a defensive-minded team?
Coach Scott: It does. Even in Los Angeles, we didn’t get enough credit for what we did on the defensive end. Everybody just looked at the glamorous side of the basketball, with Magic making the passes and things like that. But Pat Riley preached defense and rebounding every single day. And that’s the same thing we’re going to preach here as well.

I think they have a great foundation. Mike (Brown) did a great job of putting some things in place on that end of the floor that we’ll keep. Because my philosophy is like his on that end of the floor, and we’re going to continue to stress that on the defensive end. And obviously, when the ball turns over, we really want to stress getting the ball up and down the floor.

How important is it for fans to be patient with what’s essentially a very young team?
Coach Scott: Well, we’re in a transition now. There’s no doubt about that. And I’m not just talking about LeBron being gone.

This is a transition from guys doing what they’re accustomed to doing – and that’s getting up and down the floor. So there’s going to be a lot of transition as far as the continuity of our offense. Our language is a little different on the defensive end. All those things take time.

So I would urge fans to be patient in what we’re doing, but also understand that they’re going to see guys giving 110 percent every time this team takes the floor.

As an avid golfer – and southern Californian – what are your thoughts on Northeast Ohio’s courses?
Coach Scott: I’ve had an opportunity to play three or four courses. I played at Canterberry. Firestone. And, of course, at the (Cavaliers Charities) Tournament in Westfield.

The courses here are unbelievable. I had no clue that the state of Ohio had so many beautiful courses. I was in heaven when I first got here! But I know in another month or so, the clubs go into the garage. But when I do get a chance to get out, it’s been unbelievable.

It hasn’t been a long relationship, but how would you describe yours with new GM Chris Grant?
Coach Scott: (laughs) I guess you could say we’re still in the honeymoon stage. But I’ll tell you what: since day one, getting into the office and sitting down with Chris and getting to know him as a person and him getting to know me, the relationship feels like it’s been ten years. It’s like brothers. We get along extremely well.

He respects the position and the job I have to do as a coach. I respect the position and the job he has to do as GM. And the one thing that’s been common every day that we’ve been here (at Cleveland Clinic Courts) is that we’re going to talk about things and try to come up with the best solution to make this team much better.

We have a great owner, obviously, who’s willing to do whatever it takes to be successful. So right now, it’s been heaven. I couldn’t ask for a better guy to be my boss than Chris Grant.

You’ve heard the old sports saying that a team takes on the personality of its coach. What’s a Byron Scott-coached team look like?
Coach Scott: Well, I think if they take on my personality, they’ll be calm, cool and collected under fire. But they will be tough as can be. They won’t back down from anybody or any challenge.


Joe Gabriele is the official beat writer for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Cavs.com. You can follow Joe and send him your questions on Twitter at @CavsJoeG.