The Los Angeles Lakers are in the market for a new head coach after deciding to let go of Byron Scott on Sunday evening. Scott, who spent the last two seasons coaching the squad, had a team option for the 2016-17 campaign and the Lakers opted to replace him.
During Scott’s two years in Los Angeles, the Lakers went 38-126. Last season’s 21 wins set for mark for the worst season in Lakers’ history, but then the team managed to set the mark once again this year by winning just 17 games.
L.A. finished the campaign with the second-worst record in the NBA (behind only the 10-win Philadelphia 76ers) and the worst in the Western Conference.
In addition to being the worst campaign in Lakers history, this season’s .207 winning percentage was also the lowest of Scott’s 15-year coaching career. Scott’s record as an NBA head coach is now 454-647 in the regular season and 33-24 in the postseason (although he hasn’t led a team to the playoffs since the 2008-09 season).
This season, the Lakers had the league’s 29th-ranked offense (scoring just 98.6 points per 100 possessions) and 30th-ranked defense (allowing 109.3 points per 100 possessions).
“We would like to thank Byron for his hard work, dedication and loyalty over the last two years, but have decided it is in the best interest of the organization to make a change at this time,” general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement released by the team.
It’s not a huge surprise to see Scott fired, not only because of the squad’s recent struggles but also because it seemed like he was having a hard time reaching and developing the Lakers’ young core. The 55-year-old made a number of questionable comments about the Lakers’ youth and strategy throughout the year, and it became pretty clear that a coaching change would benefit players like D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle among others (while also potentially helping the Lakers’ free-agency pitch).
Many fans in Los Angeles turned on Scott this year or last – even though he previously played 11 seasons with the Lakers and won three championships with them. His approach was often viewed as outdated and close-minded, such as when he stated that three-point shooting teams don’t win championships or when he failed to embrace analytics.
In the press release announcing that Scott was let go, the Lakers added that “the search for a new head coach will begin immediately.”
The organization is expected to do an extensive search as they look for Scott’s replacement, but early reports from The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski and ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne indicate that the Lakers are interested in Luke Walton, Jeff Van Gundy, Kevin Ollie, Ettore Messina, Jay Wright and David Blatt. This list will likely continue to grow, but those are the early names being linked to this high-profile job.
There are obviously a number of very good coaches on that list. It’s worth noting that the Lakers’ opening is still very attractive to many candidates despite the team’s recent struggles. It is a franchise with plenty of history (including 16 titles) and a very large fan base, not to mention that Los Angeles is a huge market with great weather and plenty of perks that aren’t available in other cities.
In fact, Tom Thibodeau (who joined the Minnesota Timberwolves) and Scott Brooks (who joined the Washington Wizards) were both reportedly interested in the Lakers’ job, but the team waited too long to fire Scott for reasons that remain unclear.
One option for L.A. could be leaving the vacancy open until July and telling star free agents that they can offer their input into the coaching search, which may help the Lakers’ pitch. However, the problem with waiting that long to make a hire is that other top coaches may come off of the board between now and then. The New York Knicks, Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings are among the other teams in the market for a head coach (although Phil Jackson and the Knicks may stick with Kurt Rambis).
Even if the Lakers don’t take that approach, it’s very likely that each coach’s potential impact on free agents will be considered as they search for their next sideline general.
That’s because the front office will have roughly $60 million in cap space to spend this summer, which is enough for two maximum-salaried players.
While building around their young talent is a possibility, Kupchak recently made comments that suggest the team may try to assemble a win-now squad by making trades and adding veteran free agents. If that’s the case, making a strong hire will be very important for the Lakers.
“As much as we’d like to build through the draft with young players, that could take 10 to 15 years and we don’t feel like we have that kind of timeline in Los Angeles,” Kupchak said, according to our Eric Pincus. “So our approach has been to build through the draft, be aggressive in free agency and, if you have the assets, then you have the ability to make trades.”
While meeting with reporters after the season, Kupchak also discussed the possibility of dealing this year’s first-round pick if it lands in the top three (a 55.8 percent chance given the Lakers’ record). If the Lakers’ lottery pick falls outside of the top three, it will be sent to the 76ers (since they acquired the selection from the Phoenix Suns, who landed it in 2012’s Steve Nash trade).
Kupchak seems confident that L.A. can attract some talented free agents in July, as the team prepares for life without Kobe Bryant for the first time 20 seasons.
Possible unrestricted targets include Kevin Durant, DeMar DeRozan, Hassan Whiteside, Nicolas Batum and Al Horford among others. Possible restricted targets include Andre Drummond, Bradley Beal and Harrison Barnes among others.
“This summer, we can get at least two max players – or you could get a max player and two or three other veterans,” Kupchak said. “So you could get multiple players, whether they talk amongst themselves or whether we figure out who wants to play with who beginning on July 1.
“We are selling the city, the franchise and our fan base to potential free agents. That’s what we sell.”
When Kupchak made those comments earlier this month, Scott was still the head coach since the front office had yet to make a decision regarding his future. However, one has to think that the next head coach will also be part of the Lakers’ free agency pitch, especially if they can make a splashy hire such as one of the notable names listed above.
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