Lakers assistant coach Paul Pressey, center, sitting between head coach Byron Scott, left, and trainer Gary Vitti, has used his years of playing and coaching in the NBA to help the Lakers get through this difficult season. (Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer)
OKLAHOMA CITY — The new responsibility came up unexpectedly.
Lakers coach Byron Scott will stay in Southern California on Tuesday and Wednesday to attend funeral services for his mother, Dorothy, who died last week at the age of 72. That means Scott’s lead assistant, Paul Pressey, will take over head-coaching duties both when the Lakers (18-50) visit the Oklahoma City Thunder (40-30) tonight at Chesapeake Energy Arena and on Wednesday in Minnesota.
“I’m the substitute teacher,” Pressey joked.
So does that mean his Lakers’ students will act up without the lead man in charge?
“No,” Pressey said, chuckling. “I got my lesson plan.”
The lesson plan involves the Lakers’ tough task in limiting Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook and building off a rare win against Philadelphia after losing nine of their last 11 games. Pressey also said there “won’t be a lot of new wrinkles” from what Scott has normally done, other than a new starting lineup that will feature Jeremy Lin, Jordan Clarkson, Wesley Johnson, Ryan Kelly and Tarik Black.
Pressey has extensive NBA assistant coaching gigs with the Golden State Warriors (1992-94), San Antonio Spurs (1994-2000), Orlando Magic (2000-04), Boston Celtics (2004-06), New Orleans Hornets (2007-10), Cleveland Cavaliers (2010-13) and Lakers (present). Pressey also had an 11-year NBA career where he was named on three consecutive NBA All-Defensive teams and is credited for being the first so-called point forward. Still, Pressey has never been an NBA head coach.
“It’s nothing new for me,” Pressey said. “I’ve been around this a long time. The head coaching job is a little different position. But the most important thing is getting the guys to respond at what you’re trying to do. It’s the same thing we’ve been trying to do all year long, to get these guys to perform at a high level.”
Pressey plans to meld the various qualities he learned as an assistant under various coaches, including Don Nelson, Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers and Scott. Pressey was Scott’s lead assistant as well in New Orleans and Cleveland.
“The biggest thing is communication with the players and getting them to respond the right way so we can compete at a high level,” Pressey said. “All those guys you speak of do a great job and make the game fun for the players. You try to make it fun for them. It’s a game of mistakes. When you make mistakes, it’s okay. You just not try to make the same mistakes over and over.”
Pressey laughed at whether a head-coaching position remains on his “bucket list.”
“It still is at times, but I’m in a great situation,” Pressey said. “When I first came aboard with Coach Scott six years ago, I told him ‘I’m at the point where I already have 15 to 16 years in and I’m just looking forward to helping you build a program into a championship situation.’ I’m not looking. But if someone calls, you always listen. But at this point now, I’m behind him 100 percent in trying to help him rebuild this thing into winning ways.”
The Lakers are far away from that, only five losses away from tying last year’s record for the worst in L.A. franchise history. But he touted the Lakers’ progress in remaining competitive and the emergence of rookie guard Jordan Clarkson.
Pressey also found similarities in Scott’s previous rebuilding projects that included some success in New Orleans (two consecutive playoff appearances) and struggles in Cleveland (a 66-144 record through three years following LeBron James’ departure).
“It’s very similar,” Pressey said. “He has the right mindset in trying to put us back into a position where the young guys get a chance to grow and looking forward to the future back to winning ways. We’re headed that way. The young players get a chance to play and see what they can do on the floor. We’ll see if they are guys we’ll want for the future.”
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