Summer League Notebook: Scott gets to work with LeBron-less Cavs
Byron Scott, Cavaliers in better shape than Nets team he took over in 2000
J.J. Hickson is now the cornerstone of Cavs, who plan to run early and often
Other topics: O.J. Mayo honing PG skills, Grizzlies' top pick Xavier Henry sits out
LAS VEGAS -- His smile stretched from ear-to-ear, the kind of look often seen on the face of a coach watching his team play for the first time. Flanked by a pair of assistants, freshly minted Cleveland coach Byron Scott looked on intently from his courtside seat as a group of players comprised mostly of Cavaliers wannabes endeavored to catch his eye. So enthused was Scott on this day that it was easy to forget he had just taken on the most difficult coaching job in the NBA.
Or is it?
The defection of LeBron James and the fractured community left in his wake would suggest it to be true. But Scott doesn't see it that way. In 2000, Scott took over a Nets team that had won 31 games the previous season. In his first season on the job, New Jersey won 26. That job, Scott says, was more difficult than this one.
"We're in better shape than we were in New Jersey," Scott said. "A lot of these guys [in Cleveland] are used to winning. When I took over in Jersey, they weren't used to winning. We had to change the whole culture of that team and organization. That attitude is already in place here. That's not something I have to change. I just have to enhance that and keep it going."
Of course, it's not that simple. James, the two-time MVP, was the primary reason for that winning tradition. There are some talented pieces -- Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao -- still in place, but no one remotely capable of filling the billboard-sized void James left behind.
Scott, who signed a four-year deal last month, understands the challenge he is facing. But Scott sees the fact that he has not been part of the LeBron era as a major positive in moving forward.
"I'm coming in with fresh eyes, fresh ideas, fresh thoughts, a new system, new philosophy that will help guys move forward. And the community, as well," Scott said. "It's going to be tough. Basketball is my sanctuary. And I hope those guys feel the same. I hope a lot of those guys are looking at this as an opportunity to really show their skills. A lot of people in Cleveland won't forget about what happened. I'm detached from it because I didn't coach LeBron. I'm not emotionally attached to it. There is a lot of work to do and a lot of young guys to look at."
One of those young guys is J.J. Hickson. The Cavaliers refused to part with the third-year power forward in trades the last two seasons. Now Hickson, who is playing for Cleveland's Summer League team, becomes one of the cornerstones of the rebuilding effort.
"I was very happy he came," Scott said. "He understands that he has to get better this year. His role is going to be bigger. I expect more from J.J. I like what I've seen. He's making a jump shot on a consistent basis and that's one of the things he had to improve on."
Regardless of who is on the roster, Scott said the Cavs' philosophy will be the same: Run, early and often.
"Turnovers, missed shots, made baskets, we're going to try to run off of all of them," he said. "Playing up and down has always been my M.O. For so many years it has been such an effective way of playing basketball. This is a team that has never been that type of team. So I'm going to have to live with some of those mistakes early. But let's make all our mistakes early. When the season starts, guys will have real good comfort zones."
Former NBA coach Lenny Wilkens is in Las Vegas in his capacity as a consultant for the Korean national team, which has been training in the U.S. this week. When asked if he was interested in coaching again, the 72-year-old Wilkens, who previously told SI.com's Frank Hughes that he thought about returning to the sideline, said: "It's a small itch. When you have been a coach for a long time and have had some success, that's always in your blood."
Green hoping to turn heads
Former slam dunk champion Gerald Green is back in Las Vegas, this time with the Lakers' Summer League entry. Green, the 18th pick in the 2005 draft, spent last season playing for BC Lokomotiv in Russia.
"It's a way different lifestyle there," Green said. "The food was different. Living arrangements were different. In St. Petersburg, it gets dark at midnight. It's tough. You have to swallow your pride a little bit. [Russia] may not be the level of play you want to be at, but it's still basketball."
After skipping Summer League last year, Green hopes he shows enough here to earn an invitation to training camp.
"I think [my game] has progressed a lot," he said. "I'm more of a student of the game. I think I'm a lot better defensive player. Russia was an unbelievable experience, one I'll never forget, But I'm going to do everything in my power to stay."
Mayo working on PG skills
At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, O.J. Mayo is a smallish two-guard. Which explains why Mayo is seeking a change in position. At Mayo's request, the Grizzlies added their starting two-guard to the Summer League roster so he can work on his point guard skills in live action.
"I've been working all summer at [point guard]," Mayo said. "Night in and night out playing guys that are a lot bigger than me and a lot stronger than me is tough. I remember a game against Charlotte [last season] where Stephen Jackson was pretty much doing whatever he wanted to with me and coach [Lionel] Hollins had to sub me out. I wasn't upset, but I was upset at myself. I knew I needed to work on becoming a better all-around guard so in times like that I can slide over to the one."
Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace supports Mayo's decision to work on his point-guard skills. Currently, Memphis has no backup to starter Mike Conley. If Mayo develops as a playmaker -- he had six assists and 15 turnovers in his first two games here -- he could assume that role when Conley goes out.
"We're trying to get as much flexibility at that position as possible," Wallace said. "Mike Conley made a lot of progress last year. We have to come up with some new alternatives. We won't have the prototypical pure point behind Conley. We'll have more comboish guys like O.J., [rookie] Greivis Vasquez or Tony Allen."
Without contract, Grizz's top pick sits out
One conspicuous no-show at Summer League was Grizzlies top pick Xavier Henry, who has yet to sign a contract. Rookie salaries are slotted on a scale based on draft position. Teams can pay anywhere from 80 to 120 percent of that scale, however, and while most teams pay the full 120 percent, the Grizzlies are balking. So Henry, the 12th pick, is not playing. Sources said the Grizzlies aren't expecting him to join them at all this week. Vasquez, Memphis' other first-round pick, hasn't signed either but he has elected to play in Summer League without a contract.
Bower firing surprises former Hornets coach
There were a lot of surprised faces when word of Hornets GM Jeff Bower's firing in New Orleans spread through the Thomas and Mack Center. Bower had been with the Hornets' Summer League team earlier in the week before being dismissed from the position on Tuesday.
Former New Orleans coach Byron Scott knows what it feels like to be fired by owner George Shinn, who has puzzled and frustrated many around the league with his willingness to strip the Hornets down to cut costs and his decisions to fire quality basketball men like Scott and Bower. Shinn is reportedly considering team president Hugh Weber or his son, Chad, for the GM post.
"My first reaction was, Wow," Scott said. "I was a little surprised about it; but then again I wasn't, if you know what I mean."
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