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COMMENTARY

Leaving New Jersey was best thing to happen to him

May 11, 2008|Johnette Howard | Newsday

He has never talked publicly about settling any scores, but it's hard to ignore how New Orleans Coach Byron Scott is quietly crossing some names off the list. The experts who said his upstart Hornets would eventually fade in the hyper-competitive Western Conference were wrong. The Hornets won the Southwest Division and challenged the Lakers for the best record in the conference despite Kobe Bryant's MVP season.

Then came the Hornets' first-round playoff series against Dallas and Jason Kidd. You remember Kidd. He's the serial complainer who got Scott fired at midseason after two straight trips to the NBA Finals when they both were still with the Nets. Then Kidd griped and moaned the past two seasons until he finally got himself shipped from Jersey to Dallas for what he thought could be another title shot. But it turned into a personal embarrassment instead.

If Scott thought it was sweet payback when Kidd was torched by Hornets point guard Chris Paul for five games, or when Kidd had to watch Scott get presented with the NBA coach of the year award at New Orleans Arena last week on the same night the Hornets eliminated the Mavs, Scott still isn't saying. He just smiled that night and accepted the doorstop-sized Red Auerbach Trophy, then made some joke about how much he and Auerbach, his old Celts adversary, look alike.

Then -- in yet another thing that wasn't supposed to happen -- New Orleans began its conference semifinal series against defending champion San Antonio with two straight wins (followed by a loss). And now, with the series resuming today in San Antonio, Scott is again hearing let's see if it lasts.

"He runs an organized playground," Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said of Scott. "Byron is going to call plays for certain guys to get certain looks, and they do a great job with it, but a good portion of the time Chris takes control with the basketball, and he makes a decision."

By now Scott should be used to being ritually underestimated as somebody's sidekick or inferior. He played guard alongside Magic Johnson for the Showtime Lakers dynasty. He was the first-time coach who supposedly rolled out the balls for Kidd in New Jersey and left the real coaching there to his assistants, Lawrence Frank and Eddie Jordan. Now Scott is seen as the guy who had a transcendent point guard like Paul fall into his lap again far more than he's raved about as some mastermind coach who navigated the Hornets franchise through split seasons in Oklahoma City and hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, and melded young talent like David West and Tyson Chandler together faster than anyone expected.

But Scott must be doing something right beyond just showing up.

Jordan's Washington team is already out of the playoffs. Frank's Nets didn't even make it this year. And the Mavs are in disarray even after adding Kidd.

The longer these playoffs have gone on, the more Scott has been rewriting the book on himself as a terrific coach, and not just a man in the right place at the right time. And the more Kidd has undergone a leaguewide reappraisal as a career-long coach killer, not just a fading legend. A lot of revisionist history is being written.

If he cared to, Scott has every right to stand up right now and ask, "So what do you think of Byron Scott now?" But so far, anyway, he's letting the games talk for him.

Scott's Hornets were supposed to wilt against the Mavericks' or Spurs' more experienced, playoff-hardened teams. Instead, Scott is on the way to duplicating the sort of success he enjoyed with the Nets. And Kidd is feeling heat in Dallas for the Mavs' playoff elimination and subsequent firing of Coach Avery Johnson, who hinted on the way out that his communication with Kidd wasn't the best.

But then, if anyone in Dallas had checked back to Kidd's first tour with the Mavs, they would've seen his days as backstage poison began there. Back in the mid-1990s, there was so much infighting between Kidd and fellow young guns Jim Jackson and Jamal Mashburn, their Hall of Fame coach Dick Motta was soon gone and Mavs ownership found out no matter how much they catered to Kidd, Kidd was never placated. At least not for very long.

For Dallas, what should be even more worrisome right now about the 35-year-old Kidd is once back in the run-and-gun West, he was increasingly exposed as slow and creaky. In other words, a bad fit. Even his assists fell off.

Meanwhile, Scott has his young Hornets playing like the title threat Kidd was supposed to make the Mavs. And again, maybe that all changes against San Antonio. Or maybe not. No one has stopped the Hornets' Paul from racking up assists and rebounds and triple-doubles all year like Kidd used to in his heyday. But Paul is a far better scorer.

Maybe that explains why Scott has stayed quiet all this time, never once mentioning revenge.

It's funny how things work out.

By getting Scott fired, Kidd probably did Scott a favor.

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