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Nearly Scott Free

Nets coach enters a lame-duck season facing several questions, including what his future holds

October 26, 2003|From Associated Press

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Brian McInerney is making a cross-country trip at the end of the month to spend Halloween with New Jersey Nets President Rod Thorn.

Coach Byron Scott's agent and Thorn have been friends for almost 20 years, and McInerney loves to mimic Thorn's squeaky voice with its West Virginia twang.

"We're going to sit in his private box and watch the game and he's going to cuss and say things -- no profanity."

The discussions between the two during the Nets' home opener probably won't concern Scott.

Despite leading the Nets to consecutive Eastern Conference titles, Scott is entering his fourth season in New Jersey surrounded by questions about his future.

The Pat Riley protege is in the final year of his contract, making him the lame-duck coach of a team for sale.

He also has had differences with recently re-signed All-Star point guard Jason Kidd, and there are some who wonder how well Scott will do now that top assistant Eddie Jordan has left to coach the Washington Wizards.

Of all the Nets' players, forward Kenyon Martin can identify with not having a new contract. He also is in the final year of his deal and Thorn chose not to give him a new deal this season.

"I guess what we've done around here, it hasn't been what people expected," Martin said when asked about being in the same situation as Scott. "I guess, making it to the finals twice, winning the East, winning the division twice, I guess that hasn't been good enough.

"Guess we'll both see at the end of the year, whether we did our jobs well enough or not."

Thorn said that's the way things are done in the NBA, noting Maverick Coach Don Nelson went into last season as a lame duck and he didn't get a new contract until after the season.

McInerney insists he has not asked Thorn for a new deal. During a visit this summer, he said the two talked about Notre Dame football with another member of the Nets' front office.

"A good employee doesn't have to go to the employer to ask for a new contract," McInerney said.

Scott believes the contract situation will take care of itself, especially with the Nets having almost everyone back, and then some.

Kidd ensured continued success by re-signing. Alonzo Mourning also was signed, giving the Nets a presence at center and another strong voice in the locker room. There was also a little positive subtraction with the waiving of Dikembe Mutombo, who really wasn't happy finishing his one injury-plagued season as a backup.

"When we first wanted to talk about it over the summer, it was not in the team's best interests because of what was going on" with Kidd, Scott said, referring to a new contract. "They decided to put it on hold. I've never given it a thought again. I don't think about it at home when I speak with my wife, and we don't even talk about it."

The situation with Kidd is a little murkier.

Kidd wasn't happy with the way last season ended when the Nets blew leads in the final two games of the finals against San Antonio.

The loss in Game 5 is somewhat excusable since Martin was sick and provided little.

The debacle in the fourth quarter of Game 6 in San Antonio cast a lot of doubt on Scott's coaching ability. Scott left Kerry Kittles and Richard Jefferson on the bench way too long in a 19-point run that handed the title to the Spurs.

Scott said his mistake came earlier in the game when he should have realized that Lucious Harris' slump in the finals wasn't going to end.

"That probably was not the time to give him a chance to get going," Scott said. "If you don't have it going after two or three minutes, it is time to bring that other guy back in. That was probably the biggest mistake I made."

The strength of his relationship with Kidd remains to be seen. The two did play golf this summer, which can't be a bad sign.

"It's all part of the business," Kidd said, referring to Scott and the contract. "There are a lot of things going on upstairs, with the team on the verge of being sold. I don't think they want to do anything to jeopardize that.

"Coach Scott will get his contract in due time. You can count on that," Kidd added. "He's been to the finals the last two years and won more than 100 games during that time. He has a great record. Does he deserve it? Oh, yeah."

With Jordan gone, Scott has taken a more hands-on approach to the day-to-day coaching chores.

Scott now goes into the locker room on game nights to outline the goals and assignments on the grease-board, a job that used to be Jordan's.

Scott also is handling more of the Princeton offense, which he learned at Sacramento from former Tiger Coach Pete Carril, just like Jordan.

"What most people forget is that when Rod hired Byron, the two met in Chicago and they discussed Xs and Os on a magnetic board," McInerney said. "Everything Rod threw at him, Byron had an answer."

McInerney paused and then wondered how some people could say Scott can't coach or handle the Xs and Os.

"I think he has done well coming in here without any head coaching experience," Thorn said. "He's done a terrific job, improving every year. I expect another good season."

The question for the Nets: Will anything short of a title be good enough for Scott to get a new deal?

McInerney isn't worried.

"He's a lame-duck coach who has gone to the finals two years in a row," McInerney said. "That sounds pretty ugly."

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