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Can Byron Scott ‘Right The Ship’ for Lakers?

Now that the Lakers have finally offered Byron Scott their head coaching position, we take a look at how he might fit as well as the approach he will likely take with this roster.

Jabari Davis

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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.

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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VIDEO: Tobias Harris – 2018 NBA All-Star

New LA Clipper Tobias Harris talks about the trade from Detroit, his mindset after being traded a few times and more.

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New LA Clipper Tobias Harris talks about the trade from Detroit, his mindset after being traded a few times and more.

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Rest Assured, the 1-16 NBA Playoff Format Is Coming… Kinda

Based on Adam Silver’s comments, it’s safe to assume that the NBA will soon reformat the playoffs.

Moke Hamilton

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If there’s one thing Adam Silver has proven in his four years as the NBA’s Commissioner, it’s that he isn’t afraid to do things his way.

And if Silver has his way, the league will eventually figure out how it can implement a system that results in a more balanced playoff system. On Saturday, though, he revealed that it’s probably closer to a reality than many of us realize.

During his annual All-Star media address, Silver admitted that the league will “continue to look at” how they can reformat the playoffs to both ensure a better competitive balance throughout and pave the way for the league’s two best teams to meet up in the NBA Finals, even if both of those two teams happen to be in the same conference.

“You also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in the Finals,” the commissioner said on Saturday night.

“You could have a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the conference finals or somewhere else. So we’re going to continue to look at that. It’s still my hope that we’re going to figure out ways.”

Since Silver took over the league, he’s been consistent in implementing dramatic changes to improve the overall quality of the game. Although Silver didn’t take over as the league’s commissioner until 2014, he was instrumental in getting the interested parties to buy into the notion that the “center” designation on the All-Star ballot was obsolete.

As a result, beginning with the 2013 All-Star Game, the Eastern and Western Conference teams have featured three “frontcourt” players, which essentially lumps centers in with forwards and eliminates the requirement that a center appear in the All-Star game. That wasn’t always the case.

From overhauling the league’s scheduling to reducing back-to-back games to implementing draft lottery reform to, this year, eliminating the traditional All-Star format which featured the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference, it’s become clear that Silver simply “gets it” and isn’t afraid to make revolutionary changes if he deems them to be in the overall best interest of the league.

At this point, everyone realizes that something needs to be done about the league’s current playoff system.

Last season, for example, the Western Conference first round playoff series featured the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder squaring off against one another. Only one series—the Los Angeles Clippers versus Utah Jazz—went seven games.

Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the first round series that were contested weren’t exactly compelling.

The Cleveland Cavaliers steamrolled the conference to the tune of a 12-1 run to their third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. It wasn’t the first time that the public questioned the wisdom behind separating the playoff brackets by conference, but the dominance of the Cavs and LeBron James specifically (who is expected to win the Eastern Conference for the eighth consecutive time this season) has caused renewed scrutiny.

The most common solution offered to this point has been to simply take the 16 best teams across the league, irrespective of conference, and conduct the playoffs as normal.

From afar, this solution seems simple enough, but the obvious concerns are twofold.

First, if the Celtics and Clippers, for example, were pitted against one another in a first round series, the travel would be considerable. Private charter flight or not, traveling is taxing, and the prospect of having to make five cross-country trips over the course of a two-week span would certainly leave the winner of such a series at a competitive disadvantage against the opponents they would face in subsequent rounds, especially if the future opponent enjoyed a playoff series that was contested within close proximity.

Atlanta to New Orleans, for example, is less than a one-hour flight.

Aside from the concerns about geographic proximity, the other obvious issue is competitive balancing of the schedule, which seems to be an easier issue to fix.

Using the Pelicans as an example, of the 82 games they play, 30 are played against the other conference—in this case, the Eastern Conference. The other 52 games would all be played within the conference. If playoff seedings were going to be done on a simple 1-16 basis, the scheduling would have to be realigned in a way to essentially pit all teams against one another evenly. It wouldn’t be fair for a team like the Celtics to be judged on the same standard as the Pelicans if the Celtics faced inferior teams more often.

On Saturday night, Silver revealed that the league’s brass has been thinking about this and is trying to find a solution, and in doing so, he may have tipped his hand.

* * * * * *

As a multinational conglomerate, the NBA values the inclusion of as many markets as possible. Wanting to improve the overall quality of the product, though, there are interests that may not align fully.

What’s obvious with this year’s All-Star game is that the NBA has found a way to balance the two.

Rather than eliminating the conference designations altogether and simply choosing the “best” 24 players to be in the All-Star game, the league still chose All-Stars based on their conference, but then distributed them within the pool to allow for better competition.

That’s exactly what Silver revealed the NBA is considering doing with the playoffs. It makes perfect sense, and it’s probably just a matter of time before it’s implemented.

A report from ESPN notes that the idea that the league is kicking around would essentially do exactly what the league did with the All-Star selections with the playoff teams: choose the best from each conference, then disburse them in a way that allows for competitive balance. 

The proposal would have the league’s teams compete as they normally do and would still feature the top eight teams from each conference getting into the playoffs.

Once the teams are qualified, however, they would be re-seeded on a 1-16 basis and crossmatched, on that basis.

It’s not perfect, but compromises never are. The travel issues would still persist, but the league would accomplish two goals: the less dominant conference wouldn’t be underrepresented and discouraged from competing, but the two best teams would still be on opposite ends of the bracket.

An NBA playoffs that featured 11 or 12 teams from the Western Conference would be a ratings nightmare for the league. Eastern Conference cities are less likely to stay up past midnight during the week to watch playoff games, and less competitive markets would frown at the prospect of having to compete against the other conference for a playoff spot. For many small market teams, the millions of dollars generated from a single playoff game often has a significant impact on the team’s operations, so there would naturally be discord.

This system would at least eliminate that contention.

On the positive side, it would allow for the Rockets and Warriors, for example, to meet in the NBA Finals. In both the NFL and MLB, geography hasn’t been a determining factor on which teams battle for the league’s championship.

Why does it have to be in the NBA?

* * * * * *

With the league having begun regular season play earlier this season, at the All-Star break, most teams have played about 57 games. A lot can change over the final 25 games of the season, but if the seeds were frozen today and the league took the top eight teams from each conference and then crossmatched them, the Los Angeles Clippers would be the team that got the short end o the stick.

Although the Clippers have the 16th best record in the league, they would be the ninth-seeded Western Conference team and would thus be eliminated from postseason contention by the Miami HEAT. The HEAT have the 17th best record in the league but are the eighth-best team in the Eastern Conference, so to preserve the conference weight, the HEAT would win out.

This is what the seedings and matchups would look like…

(1) Houston Rockets versus (16) Miami HEAT

(2) Golden State Warriors versus (15) New Orleans Pelicans

(3) Toronto Raptors versus (14) Philadelphia 76ers

(4) Boston Celtics versus (13) Portland Trail Blazers

(5) Cleveland Cavaliers versus (12) Denver Nuggets

(6) San Antonio Spurs versus (11) Oklahoma City Thunder

(7) Minnesota Timberwolves versus (10) Milwaukee Bucks

(8) Washington Wizards versus (9) Indiana Pacers

Here, the Celtics would face the nightmarish scenario of having to travel to and from Portland for their playoff series, while virtually every other series would feature much more friendly travel (especially the Spurs-Thunder and Raptors-Sixers).

The Cavs would have a very tough road to the Finals, having to beat the Nuggets, Celtics and Rockets if the seeds held. The Celtics would have a similarly tough road, as they’d have to get past the Blazers, Cavs and Rockets.

At the end of the day, the Rockets and Warriors would be aligned in such a way as to avoid one another until the championship, but each of the two would face daunting competition. The Rockets would have to go through the HEAT, Wizards and Celtics, while the Warriors would have to face the Pelicans, Timberwolves and Raptors—again, assuming the seeds held.

It would be a benefit to all observers.

One of the unintended consequences of implementing this system would be to make every single game count. If the Celtics were able to move up to the second seed, for example, their road to the Finals, in theory, could become much much easier, comparatively speaking.

The end result would be less resting of players during the course of the season and certainly less instances in which star players take the final week of the regular season off in other to be fresh for the postseason.

Everyone wins.

No, there’s no perfect solution, but just as the league has found a clever way to serve multiple interests as it relates to the All-Star game’s competitiveness, Silver has revealed that the league is at least considering following suit with the playoffs.

Best bet?

It’s only a matter of time before we see it actually see it happen.

It simply makes too much sense, and if there’s one thing the commissioner has already proven, it’s that he isn’t afraid of changing tradition.

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NBA All-Star Saturday Recap

Brian Slingluff recaps All-Star Saturday from Los Angeles.

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Basketball Insiders is here to recap an eventful All-Star Saturday that led to three first-time champs in the various skills contests. Let’s get right to it.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

In Saturday night’s Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the “Bigs” team, boasting 3 All-Stars, set out to claim a third straight title. The competition kicked off with Joel Embiid coming from behind to best Al Horford, and sharpshooter Lauri Markkanen swishing his first 3 point attempt to eliminate Andre Drummond. On the Guard side, Buddy Hield had an early lead before losing out to Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jamal Murray upset hometown favorite Lou Williams.

In the semifinals, Markkanen was able to dispatch Joel Embiid, who struggled with the pass portion of the competition, and Dinwiddie topped Jamal Murray by making his first 3 pointer for the second consecutive round.

In the Final round, Dinwiddie finally missed a 3 pointer, but it did not matter as he finished with a wire to wire victory over Lauri Markkanen. Dinwiddie, competing in front of his friends and family, was able to end the Bigs’ two year win streak in impressive fashion.

JBL Three Point Contest

The event started off with Tobias Harris scoring a solid 18 points. Wayne Ellington was next, sporting the hot new alternate Miami Vice jersey. Ellington started off cold and heated up on his last three racks, ending up with a score of 17. Devin Booker and former three-point champion Klay Thompson tied for a round-high 19 points. Paul George, Bradley Beal, and Kyle Lowry struggled from the start and never found a rhythm, falling short of making the championship round. Defending champion Eric Gordon never got it going, and would not defend the title, scoring only 12 points.

In the Championship round, Tobias Harris was on fire through the first 3 racks, but quickly got cold, scoring 17 points. Devin Booker was next and could not miss, scoring 28 points, leaving Klay Thompson a high number to match. Thompson fell just 3 points short, and Devin Booker was crowned the 2018 JBL Three Point Champion.

Verizon Slam Dunk Contest

The final and most anticipated event of the night started with Donovan Mitchell bringing out a second hoop, bouncing it off the second backboard and finishing with an impressive windmill dunk, scoring a 48. Victor Oladipo followed with a difficult look-away alley oop dunk attempt that he was unable to complete, totaling 31 points from the judges. Dennis Smith Jr. had a nice reverse double pump that got 39 points and Larry Nance Jr., in a throwback Phoenix jersey, payed homage to his father’s cradle dunk, nailing it almost exactly for a score of 44 points.

Oladipo started the next round of dunks by borrowing Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther mask, and scoring 40 points with a tomahawk windmill dunk. Smith Jr. hit a seemingly impossible reverse 360, through the legs, switching hands dunk for a perfect score of 50. Nance Jr. pulled off a Vince Carter level windmill, nearly missing a perfect score. Mitchell jumped over comedian Kevin Hart to advance to the finals against Larry Nance Jr.

In the Finals, Nance started things off with a windmill alley-oop with some help from Larry Nance Sr., garnering a score of 46. Mitchell completed the difficult one handed alley-oop he had attempted in the previous round, scoring a perfect 50. Nance Jr. answered with an incredible double pass off the backboard dunk, scoring yet another 50 points.  Mitchell ended the contest with a Vince Carter tribute dunk, coming out on top by just two points. It capped off an exciting Saturday night, setting things up for the main event on Sunday, Team LeBron versus Team Stephen.

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