BY GREG BEACHAM, AP SPORTS WRITER
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Lakers have waited nearly three months to hire a new coach, and they’re apparently making Byron Scott wait a few more days.
Scott said this weekend that he has been hired by the Lakers, but the club insisted Sunday that no deal has been reached.
Scott, who won three NBA titles as a shooting guard for the Lakers, told KCBS-TV he will take over the club, which hasn’t had a coach since Mike D’Antoni resigned April 30.
“It feels fantastic,” he told KCBS. “This is a dream come true. I always wanted to coach the Lakers, especially when I got to coaching. It’s so unreal. I have to thank (general manager) Mitch (Kupchak), (owners) Jeanie and Jim Buss to give me this opportunity.”
Yet Kupchak and the Buss siblings remained mum Sunday, extending their strange coach-less summer to the final days of July.
ESPN.com first reported Scott would take over the Lakers with a four-year, $17 million contract.
Scott is undoubtedly qualified for the job after stints as a head coach with New Jersey, New Orleans and Cleveland. He was Kobe Bryant’s teammate during Bryant’s rookie year with the Lakers in 1996-97, and the superstar endorsed Scott for the job earlier this month.
“He was my rookie mentor when I first came in the league, so I had to do things like get him doughnuts and run errands for him, things like that,” said Bryant, who played just six games last season. “We’ve had a tremendously close relationship throughout the years.”
Scott also spent last season as a television commentator on the Lakers’ own network, watching the franchise’s implosion up close.
Los Angeles finished 27-55 last season, compiling the most losses in the 16-time NBA champions’ history. The Lakers had their worst winning percentage since the Minneapolis Lakers’ 1957-58 season, missing the playoffs for just the third time in 38 seasons as the NBA’s most glamorous franchise was reduced to ineptitude.
Scott will be the Lakers’ fifth head coach in just over three years, starting with Phil Jackson’s departure after the 2010-11 season. D’Antoni, who replaced Mike Brown and interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff, resigned after going 67-87 in less than two seasons in charge.
Scott has been a head coach for parts of 13 NBA seasons, going 416-521 with the Nets, Hornets and Cavaliers. He led New Jersey to back-to-back Eastern Conference championships in 2002 and 2003, losing the NBA finals each time.
Scott has won three division titles and was the NBA’s coach of the year in 2008, but he also has been fired from each of his three jobs.
Several candidates for the coaching job interviewed with the Lakers over the past three months, including Lionel Hollins and George Karl. Scott has been widely considered the front-runner for the job for several weeks, but Kupchak and Jim Buss appeared to be more focused on the NBA draft and free agency.
Los Angeles landed Kentucky power forward Julius Randle with the seventh overall pick in the draft, but struck out on every big-name free agent despite aggressively courting Carmelo Anthony and entertaining dreams of landing LeBron James.
The Lakers couldn’t even retain Pau Gasol, who spent the past seven seasons with the club. The 7-foot Spaniard, who was regularly booed by Staples Center fans last season despite his two championship rings, spurned the Lakers’ overtures for a deal with the Chicago Bulls, who are much closer to NBA title contention.
Scott likely realizes could be inheriting a caretaker job with the Lakers, who are likely to struggle just for playoff contention for the next two seasons while Bryant’s two-year, $48.5 million contract eats up a huge chunk of their salary-cap space.
The Lakers emerged from the last few weeks with a reconfigured roster that now includes point guard Jeremy Lin, power forward Carlos Boozer and center Ed Davis alongside returnees Nick Young, Jordan Hill and Xavier Henry. Los Angeles also still has 40-year-old Steve Nash, who is likely to get the chance to play another season after injuries limited him to 15 games last year.
The job is a homecoming for Scott, who grew up in Inglewood, California, in the shadow of the Lakers’ Forum.
He joined the Lakers as a rookie in 1983 after the club acquired the fourth overall pick from the San Diego Clippers in a trade for Norm Nixon. A smooth shooting guard with a reliable 3-point touch, Scott was half of the Showtime Lakers’ championship-winning backcourt alongside Magic Johnson, who relentlessly criticized D’Antoni in public and on Twitter over the past two years.