Hard to justify Nets' decision

Byron Scott led the Nets to back-to-back Finals, but it's not like anyone ever gave him the credit he deserved.

Updated: January 27, 2004, 3:41 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

As a championship-winning shooting guard, Byron Scott was selected by fans and coaches to play in precisely zero All-Star games.

As a conference-winning coach in New Jersey?

He made it to one All-Star Game, and yet somehow was even more unappreciated.

Scott completed one of the most curious bench tenures in NBA history on Monday, when months of speculation led to the only thing in life as inevitable as death and taxes finally became official. The New Jersey Nets became the 16th team -- in a 29-team league -- to make a coaching change since the end of last season.

The bet here is that it won't be long before Scott regards this as a blessing, because his 3½ seasons with the Nets brought him mounds of irritation and almost no credit. He will get another job in the near future, probably another good one, and perhaps he'll even get some of the kudos if he can take his next team to the NBA Finals.

With the Nets, of course, he never got any. They won only one NBA playoff series before Scott got there, then made back-to-back trips to the Finals with Scott as coach. And yet it was Jason Kidd, Rod Thorn and assistant coach Eddie Jordan -- with an assist from the weakest Eastern Conference of all time -- who were seen as the catalysts for the success.

The guy in the upper deck who starts the "N-E-T-S, Nets, Nets, Nets" chants is regarded as a more pivotal figure than Scott at Continental Airlines Arena.

Ridiculously unfair.

Kenyon Martin and  Byron Scott
The actions of Nets players indicated that they were waiting for the axe to fall on Byron Scott, right.
As important as anything to the Nets' success over the past two seasons was how Scott mellowed after a rough rookie season in which he admittedly rode players too hard, Kenyon Martin, specifically. Scott also helped make the Nets tough and accountable, traits he instilled in his players much like the hard-driving Pat Riley did with Scott's Lakers.

Yet that was never enough for Kidd, who liked Jordan better and wanted Jordan to take over as head coach after New Jersey lost to San Antonio in six games in last spring's Finals. Thorn did not have management's blessing to give Scott a contract extension in the offseason, but he also didn't want to fire his successful young coach. He was hoping Scott could prove his detractors wrong and eventually forge a truce with Kidd through success this season.

So Jordan was allowed to leave to coach the Washington Wizards, and Scott unflinchingly accepted the challenge of trying to win back the team's support as a lame duck on the last year of his contract.

It didn't work. It didn't work for one game. The Nets looked listless from Opening Night, and their body language frequenty suggested that they were waiting for Scott's inevitable dismissal. There was a brief flicker of promise right after Christmas, when New Jersey won in Detroit and Indiana on back-to-back nights, but that's all we've seen of last season's Nets. Kidd decided during the Finals that Jordan was better tactically than Scott, and if Kidd couldn't have Choice A, the $103 million man was going to lobby for the unknown Lawrence Frank to take over. Just like Kidd pushed for (and received) the signing of Alonzo Mourning, who demanded a four-year, $22-plus million contract without consenting to a physical.

Maybe Frank will turn out to be the next Jeff Van Gundy, as the former Bobby Knight student manager at Indiana has been described. But that's not the sort of Cinderella rise to X-and-O prominence that happens every day in coaching.

Maybe merely removing Scott will bring some much-needed stability to a supposedly Brooklyn-bound franchise. Re-signing Kidd in the summer was supposed to provide that stability, but the Nets have only known sale, coaching and trade rumors ever since.

Thing is, even if those good things happen for the Nets, you'll still have a tough time justifying Byron Scott's firing to me. Or at least the constant scorn Scott was subjected to. He's a better shooter, to this day, than anyone he coached in New Jersey, and that lack of a consistent perimeter threat or much of a bench didn't stop him from doing a lot of winning. It won't say so in the newspaper archives, but trust us: Scott was responsible for more than a few of those Ws.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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