The 2003-04 New Jersey Nets, under head coach Byron Scott, were an odd team to watch. The squad was coming off of its second consecutive one-sided Finals last the season before – but hey, a Finals trip is a Finals trip, right? Out of nowhere the group was seemingly gifted a borderline All-Star center as Alonzo Mourning emerged from a kidney transplant scare to return from retirement as a free agent score for New Jersey, and star guard Jason Kidd was working in his prime.
The team seemed to sleep through the first part of the season, however, rarely playing with the same all-out style that marked its previous two Finals runs. With the Nets sitting at a disappointing 22-20, general manager Rod Thorn decided to pull the plug on coach Scott in spite of his success with the team in 2002 and 2003, hiring then-unheralded assistant coach Lawrence Frank as a replacement.
Rumors abounded that Kidd, who re-signed as a free agent the previous summer with New Jersey, was the driving force behind the move. Also, it should be noted that Jason Kidd was totally the driving force behind the move.
Kidd, after one year coaching the now Brooklyn Nets, is the head coach in Milwaukee now. Kidd is doing a fantastic job with the Bucks, who finished with the NBA’s worst record this season, as his team is on pace for 45 wins and a playoff berth. Scott, now coaching the Los Angeles Lakers after stopovers in New Orleans and Cleveland, is fighting to keep the Lakers away from the league’s worst record.
Some would say his team’s front office would like the Lakers to earn that worst record. Couple that with Kidd’s success and a trip to Milwaukee in the dead of winter, and you can see why Scott would be a little salty in talking about the man he used to coach.
“He was kind of known for being an a—hole,” Scott said.
Kidd was reportedly at the middle of his firing in 2004, with the Associated Press reporting that Kidd had gone to management to demand a change on the bench.
Asked if that story was accurate, Scott said he was unsure.
“That’s all I’ve heard,” Scott said. “Now, did he actually go talk to Rod Thorn and all those guys? I don’t know. I never got that story. I always said, though, where there’s smoke there fire.
“I’m in a much better place and I’m sure he’s happy where he is, too.”
You can laugh all you want about the difference between working with the two-time defending Eastern champions in 2004 and dealing with an injured (Jordan Hill, following Kobe Bryant, Julius Randle, and Steve Nash, is the latest Laker to go down) and mostly-terrible Laker in 2015 as being “a much better place,” but it’s important to remember that coaching any Laker team while working out of Los Angeles (sorry, East Rutherford) has its charms.
Oram points out that Scott was jovial in talking about Kidd, and he (rightfully) praised the work that the new Bucks head coach has done in his first season in Milwaukee. With that in place:
Asked to characterize his relationship with Kidd, Scott said, “Cordial. And that’s about as good as it’s going to get, too.”
Scott truly did need to go in 2003-04. If you’ll recall, Frank went on a tear in his first few weeks with the team, winning the first 14 games he coached with the Nets before falling to a Minnesota Timberwolves squad that (and the kids may not understand this) was the best team in the NBA at the time. The Nets would go on to take the eventual champion Detroit Pistons to seven tough games in the Conference semifinals that year, once leading that series 3-2 before losing. Frank did well to turn the team’s fortunes around defensively, as those 2001-2005 Nets were constantly overrated as an offensive juggernaut by most mainstream media, and underrated as to how lights-out defensively they could be at their peak.
Byron did rebound well to latch onto a gig coaching Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets soon after, even winning the 2008 Coach of the Year award. His sideline work left most unimpressed, however, and his three seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2010-to-2013 were an unmitigated disaster. He’s been much–ridiculed, to say the absolute best of him, as a Laker coach so far.
Still, even when calling Jason Kidd a nasty name, Byron Scott kind of took the high road here. He was honest about the firing, he was honest about Kidd’s great work in Milwaukee, and he’s honest about how most of the NBA views Jason Kidd – the man that only came to Milwaukee when his attempted coup in hopes of taking over the Nets as coach/general manager failed. Jason Kidd is a very talented guy, and also a bit of a prickly pear.
Scott was a cable TV analyst for the Lakers last season during Kidd’s rookie turn, so Wednesday will mark his first time coaching against his former All-Star. And if this is Byron Scott’s version of “cordial,” then I’d hate to hear how he talks about his enemies.
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