After going just under 90 days without a head coach, the Los Angeles Lakers have finally decided that Byron Scott is the right man for the job. Quite the tedious vetting process, but the two agreed to a four-year, $17 million contract on Saturday. When news of their reported offer broke Friday afternoon, not only did it put an end to what could have very well been the worst-kept secret of the summer, but it also gave Lakers fans a clearer picture of what the front office has in mind for the future of the organization.
While they may have screened and interviewed several qualified candidates including the likes of George Karl, Lionel Hollins (who the Brooklyn Nets recently hired) and Mike Dunleavy, signs have pointed toward GM Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss being locked in on Scott for at least a month. In fact, there are those that believe the reported second and third “interviews” were actually more of conversations about the roster and opportunities for the three men to determine and discuss strategy and what the next few steps may be for the franchise.
The notion that Scott’s ties to the organization and understanding of the Los Angeles market should somehow be rendered “meaningless” – as some have suggested – is a tricky and somewhat of a faulty premise. Although the former NBA Coach of the Year (2007-08) didn’t fare well in his most recent position as the head coach in Cleveland (64-162 in three seasons – one of which was shortened to 66 games due to a lockout), Scott’s credentials should be placed into the context. There probably wasn’t a coach in the history of the league that could have produced a winner for the post-LeBron James Cavaliers in the immediate aftermath.
Scott is no stranger to inheriting bad teams and building a winner, as the Brooklyn Nets team (New Jersey back then) he took over just prior to the 2000-01 season had won just 31 games the year before, and were in the Finals by his second and third years at the helm. The New Orleans Pelicans were a lottery team over his first few years, but ended up being one of the Western Conference’s better teams by the time he reached his last full season (’08-’09) in charge.
Put simply, and the 2013-14 Lakers were a prime example, coaches need patience and support from both the organization and the fan base. You cannot win races without the necessary horses to do so. Even though Scott is not a miracle worker, per se, and probably shouldn’t be expected to be one for these Lakers now that he decided to take the job, there should be a reasonable amount of optimism in his ability to ‘right the ship’ over the next few years as we head into the post-Kobe Bryant era. Scott is a self-described “old school” coach, but is highly respected by the players and will already enter a locker room that is in favor of him.
Never one to mince words, Bryant made it abundantly clear he was a proponent of Scott’s hiring as recently as three weeks ago. Beyond reminding us of the fact that Coach Scott was actually his mentor as a rookie in what was ultimately Scott’s final season as a player in the league, Bryant was absolutely clear about the reverence he still holds for him while addressing the media at a recent basketball camp:
“We’ve had a tremendously close relationship throughout the years,” Bryant said of Scott. “So, obviously I know him extremely well. He knows me extremely well. I’ve always been a fan of his.”
If you think Bryant’s comfort level and overall opinion of a head coach (or teammates for that matter) are insignificant due to his advanced age, then you clearly haven’t watched very much of his career over the past few seasons. Always a dominant figure, Bryant remains an integral part of the Lakers’ plans even in the twilight of his career. Returning from multiple, season-ending injuries will be daunting enough, but the Lakers need Bryant to find a way of balancing between personal productivity and the leadership role they clearly had in mind when they invested $48.5 million in the soon-to-be 36 year old.
Scott and Bryant now share the responsibility of restoring order within a once-poised and ever-proud franchise that has been on somewhat of a downward spiral over the past couple seasons. Make no mistake about it, as the Lakers are absolutely banking on the longstanding relationship and mutual respect these men have shared, but it will also be imperative for Scott to establish his voice as the final word in terms of how the Lakers approach things moving forward. He’s already gone on record in stating how Bryant will need to continue adapting his game as he not only deals with the natural attrition that comes from playing well over 54,000 minutes throughout his career, but also as he embraces the transition from being the focal point of the organization as he helps in furthering the development of younger players like Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson.
With a roster that features a bit of redundancy at both the power forward and point guard positions while being full of short-term deals and several players that could seemingly be moved at any point before next February’s trade deadline, Scott is still be responsible for implementing his system while finding a way to make the parts fit in the meantime.
Although criticized in the past for being schematically predictable, his offenses have actually been heavily predicated upon having guards that can read and react to what the defense presents by use of the pick-and-rolls and allowing his playmakers to probe and create. While many of us would love to see a resurgence from Steve Nash in what is likely his final year with the Lakers, it is far more likely to expect a heavy dose of Jeremy Lin with the eventual development of Clarkson behind him.
“If that [Scott’s eventual hiring] were to happen, that would be awesome,” Lin told ESPNLA’s Max and Marcellus. “Obviously he’s a very well respected person, well respected coach and had a heck of a career himself.”
Lin went on discuss how his game has evolved over the past couple seasons while playing with James Harden in Houston. Although learning to play alongside a ball-dominant player is key for anyone being partnered with Bryant for the first time, this team (and Bryant himself) would probably be best suited if Lin were to shoulder a bulk of the playmaking responsibilities throughout much of the action so the Lakers can rely upon their 18-year veteran as a viable option in crucial situations and down the stretch of games.
Amongst many other things, Carlos Boozer was also asked to chime in on Scott as a potential head coach during his introductory press conference on Friday. Beyond mentioning that he expects to be a starter, Boozer was full of praise for the former-Laker.
“Well if he [Scott] is the coach, that’s terrific,” the recently acquired Carlos Boozer told ESPNLA. “Obviously, he was a great player – you know – a ‘Laker Legend’ of course, but also was a good coach in the NBA for a long time and for a couple different teams. He brings great experience, and obviously knows the NBA very, very well. I think that he could add a lot to our team. I’d be interested to have a conversation with him to find out how he views our team and how he wants to utilize all of us.”
Even with the log-jam in the frontcourt, it should be noted that Jordan Hill has never averaged more than 20.8 MPG, and Boozer is coming off a season where he played 28.2 MPG for the Bulls. Scott would have several interesting decisions to make in terms of who might start, but there should be plenty of room and playing time left for the development of Randle and 25-year-old PF/C Ed Davis.
Roster development aside, Scott will also be asked to reestablish a defensive identity for this franchise. That won’t be easy given the fact that the roster doesn’t have a lot of players you would consider to be specialists on that end of the court, but it will be an immediate task of the coaching staff to at least instill a defensive mindset nonetheless.
Weaknesses and deficiencies can be overcome or at least masked by having a united group that is detail-oriented and prepared to do the dirty work it takes to become an effective defensive team. Though players are generally talented enough to score and move freely on offense at this level, it takes a true dedication and willingness to sacrifice in order to develop the chemistry it takes on the other end of the court.
Scott may not have been your favorite candidate, but it is clear that after a lengthy deliberation period, the organization believes in his ability to serve as a bridge from Bryant’s era to the next and beyond. Time will tell whether he’s finally the right man for the job, but the one thing that is certain when dealing with these Lakers is that it will undoubtedly be an entertaining process along the way.