Not even the wrenching loss of Magic Johnson as a teammate could compel Byron Scott to close his heart, and Scott wasn't about to guard his tongue after being criticized for creating the impression that he condoned the riots touched off by the Rodney King verdict last spring.
Scott still dares to candidly express his thoughts, hopes and fears, playing the dual role of shooting guard and the Lakers' conscience.
His thoughts often settle on Johnson, whose smile he continues to seek like a beacon.
"I don't look for him as often as I did at first, but I do think of him," Scott said. "I look and see him at courtside and I think of all the good times we had. But the last couple of years, it's been more, 'Let's try and win this game. We can't think about anything else.' "
He hopes the Lakers will focus more intently on salvaging this season--and not only because it might be his last with the team. Toward that end, he's not hesitant about needling teammates who coast through practice or don't execute in games.
Two seasons ago, he said of Vlade Divac, "Sometimes he comes to play, sometimes he doesn't," and Scott this season was among the players who urged point guard Sedale Threatt to move the ball up the floor more quickly.
"We all sat down and talked and let him know just what we needed," said Scott, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. "And we all needed to be a better team, too.
"We're playing good at certain times and then at other times, it's like we just started playing together. It's not like when Earvin was here and it seemed we'd just roll and keep playing well and it took an extra-good team to beat us. We haven't rolled this season and it's something we have to work on as a team, that consistency. At this particular point of the year, you want to get real hot."
Last, there are his fears. As he follows the trial of the four policemen accused of violating King's civil rights, Scott wonders if the city--his city--will again erupt in a fireball of fury. He said he didn't condemn the rioters "because I know how they feel," later clarifying by saying that he didn't condone the violence but couldn't presume to judge anyone.
"I think about what it could do to the state of California and city of Los Angeles, what happened with the devastation of the trial last year, and people going berserk out there over comments on what had happened," he said. "It pretty much says people were saying, 'We're just looking for justice,' but as an individual you have to worry that it can happen again. We all hope it doesn't, because they're just starting to rebuild the city.
"Even though a lot of bad things happened, it made things a lot better in some ways, because people are trying to understand what happened and understand each other. Even though it seems all bad, something positive comes out of it, and hopefully people all over the city recognize that."
Scott, who will turn 32 on March 28, has found few personal positives this season.
Torn ligaments in his right ankle kept him out of 18 games, and he missed five more after aggravating the injury. He also missed a game because of flu. In his previous nine seasons, he missed a total of 29 games.
Although on March 5 he became the 12th player in NBA history to have made 500 three-point baskets, and on Monday night he scored his 12,000th point, he has had few big moments to savor. His 14.5-point scoring average is below his 16.2 career average and his .463 field goal percentage is below his .495 career percentage.
"It is very frustrating to miss as many games as I have this year," said Scott, who has learned to administer his own preventive ultrasound treatments before games. "This has been a tough season in a lot of ways.
"I've been here so long and you get so used to winning, but things change. You look at the parity in the league and see a lot of teams are competitive, and you just deal with it on that basis. We're not the team we were in the '80s, the team that went out and just rolled so many nights.
"(Johnson's retirement and re-retirement) was the toughest thing. To lose someone very, very close to me, someone I enjoyed being with on and off the court, to have him taken away in that fashion is different than if he'd said, 'I'm tired and I'm going to retire.' It's tough to lose someone so close."
His own departure looms as another real possibility. Rookie Anthony Peeler must play more if he's to develop, and so must recent arrival Doug Christie. Although he played 36 minutes and scored 17 points Monday, Scott has averaged only 26.8 minutes during the last four games.
"He knows we've brought in two young guys," Coach Randy Pfund said of Scott. "But Byron is still a long-distance threat, and it's nice, with so many young guys, to be able to bring in a guy like Byron.