Magic Johnson on Byron Scott: ‘We chose the right coach.’

Magic Johnson (pictured speaking at Cal State Long Beach) said he is thrilled with the hiring of Byron Scott as the Lakers new head coach.  Photo by Steve McCrank/Daily Breeze

Magic Johnson (pictured speaking at Cal State Long Beach) said he is thrilled with the hiring of Byron Scott as the Lakers new head coach.
Photo by Steve McCrank/Daily Breeze

When Byron Scott joined the Los Angeles Lakers in 1983 he was the fourth overall pick in that year’s draft out of Arizona State. After three years with the Sun Devils, he left as the school’s all-time leading scorer and a second-team All-American selection.

That meant nothing to his teammates.

“When we brought him in, we didn’t speak to him,” former teammate and Laker legend Magic Johnson said Tuesday at Scott’s press conference introducing him as the team’s new head coach. “He was a just a college kid. So we wouldn’t speak to him, and we wouldn’t sit with him. He would have to go sit by himself at lunch and dinner. We smacked him and elbowed him because we wanted to understand what we were getting.”

The times certainly have changed.

Tuesday, Johnson, with former Lakers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes, helped introduce Scott  or Baby B, as Johnson called him  as the Lakers head coach. The reunion was a show of support for Scott, as he tries to return the once-proud franchise to the championship standards he and his teammates helped set.

As the Lakers limped to a 27-55 record last season, Johnson said it personally hurt him to watch the team play. He’s confident in Scott’s ability to turn it around.

In a 20-minute meeting with the media after Scott’s press conference, Johnson discussed things from the hiring of his teammate to the basketball scene in Los Angeles. Here are five highlights:

On the hiring of Byron Scott

“The players are going to be happy because when you think about it, Kobe (Bryant) is the only one who has won championships. So everybody else has to be taught to do that. So what better teacher to have than a coach who has done that and also a player like a Kobe who has done it before? He can help everybody understand the Laker way of doing things so that’s going to be nice.”

On the importance of picking a coach with experience in the franchise

“It’s good for the players and good for our fans, because we’ve gone outside and it hasn’t worked. We can’t get Phil back and then you go outside twice and then it hasn’t worked for us. Now you bring in a guy that understands the Laker way but also understands winning, understands defense, understands how to put the players in a winning position. We chose the right coach in Byron Scott because he understands those things.”

On competing in the West

“It’s a tough league today and the West, to me, has all the best teams. And then you start dealing with the world champion San Antonio Spurs. Bryon, when you talk about discipline and you talk about defense, guess what, he saw San Antonio and Coach Popovich. He takes guys out: If you miss an assignment, guess what, you’re coming out and you saw it. And so we have to have that same discipline. It’s a champion-like discipline. We’re trying to move up to where they are.”

On his expectations for this season

“I am happy that (Carlos) Boozer is here. We needed some toughness and he’s going to provide that. (Ed) Davis is going to be excellent. The energy he brings is excellent. Jeremy Lin can get that ball and go. We need that. We haven’t seen that in a Laker point guard for a while, and (he’s) a guy who can do something once he gets down there, whether pull up for the jumper or take it all the way to the basket. If (Steve) Nash can only play a certain amount of minutes, we have a great backup, or if Nash can’t go, then we have a great starting point guard to take his place. So we’re excited about Nash and Jeremy Lin as tandem point guards, and I think the rookie (Julius Randle), he’s really going to blossom under Byron. I see great things for him and Lin. That second unit coming in, you’re going to see a lot of dunks from that young man with Jeremy coming in. The team is a lot better than what we had last season because we have more guys now who can do more things other than shoot 3-pointers. If I don’t see another 3-pointer from a Laker team then I’ll be happy.”

On the state of basketball in Los Angeles

“It’s a great town for basketball, always has been, always will be. … You have to do more than come in second place or go to the second round. That’s not going to get the fans to take over this town. I admire the Clippers, what they bring to the table. Chris Paul, (he’s) like my little brother. But until they finish the deal, they can’t take this town over. You heard Byron, we never cared about Western Conference Finals. We cared about championships and that will always be the Lakers mindset. Basketball is good. I think we got one of  probably the most exciting teams in basketball in his city, and that’s the Clippers. You just got to figure out how to be exciting and champions, like the Showtime Lakers.”