When Byron Scott was named head coach of the Lakers, one of the major reasons he received instant backing from a healthy portion of the fan base was because of his history as a Laker. The bulk of his career was spent as a member of the Showtime era teams and his legacy is one of a key contributor to championship glory. This history has earned him a credibility that other candidates could not match. I mean when Magic, Silk, and the Captain show up to your introductory presser the goodwill transposed upon you is massive.
Scott will need more than goodwill to succeed, though. He has inherited a mismatched roster mixed with veterans possessing proud histories and young players looking to build their names and continue to progress on an upward trajectory. Managing this situation will not be easy and Scott will need to draw on all his experiences as a coach and as a member of those championship teams to find workable solutions.
If Scott looks back, though, he should find at least one comparison that could aid him in his success.
Right as Scott was entering the prime of his career, the Lakers were in a mild transition. Though they were considered championship caliber and had the Showtime moniker, they were still somewhat of a team seeking a true identity. For years they had deftly mixed the post-up prowess of Kareem and the fast paced stylings of Magic, but as the Captain aged and Magic became more of an offense onto himself, the team had to make a choice. Would they continue to be an opportunistic running team that mostly played through Jabbar or would they hand the keys over to Johnson and let him orchestrate the high octane attack he had mastered?
The answer, of course, was the latter and the rest is history. Starting in the 1987 season, the Lakers became Magic’s team and with that came a truly historic run. As a player, Magic won three of the next four league MVP’s (1987, 1989, and 1990) and as a team the Lakers won back to back championships (1987 and 1988) and went to four of the next five NBA Finals (1987, 1988, 1989, and 1991). And as the starting shooting guard, Scott saw it all firsthand.
Today, Scott may not have a Magic Johnson to turn the team over to, but he does have his Kareem in one Kobe Bryant.
Like Jabbar, Kobe is an aged legend whose career is winding down. Like Kareem, Kobe is still an icon and, should his health permit, should still be one of the more reliable scorers in the league. And, like Kareem, Kobe is still worthy of being the focus of an offense offering a skill set in the post and, again, health permitting, a perimeter savvy that can tilt a defense in his direction to be the fulcrum of a half court offense.
But, also like Jabbar, the team around Kobe is changing. Though Boozer joins him as a sage veteran who is at his best playing a more methodical approach, the rest of the roster will likely be at their best playing an open court style.
In Jeremy Lin the Lakers have a point guard who does his best when pushing the pace and turning the game into horserace. Nick Young is mostly seen as a chucker in the half court, but he had his most successful season as a pro playing in Mike D’Antoni’s uptempo offense that generated looks early in the clock against a defense that was not fully set. The same is true for Wes Johnson and Xavier Henry. In Julius Randle, Jordan Hill, and Ed Davis the team has three young bigs who can all get up and down the floor well, finish on the break, and play with tempo. Even Steve Nash, should he be healthy enough to do so, is at his best when trying to create open court chances where he can pick out teammates while the defense scrambles in transition.
As a team, then, the Lakers would seemingly do well to push the pace and see if they can get easy baskets early and often. They could, potentially, play nine to ten players, most of whom can thrive in an open court game. The question, though, is whether Scott will let them.
This isn’t to say that Kobe should be marginalized. Even though Kareem took a backseat to Magic, it’s not like he was forgotten. When the team needed a key bucket or when Magic was on the bench, the team quickly shifted back to their big man on the block and watched him sky hook opponents to death. It’s just that happened a little less often than it did earlier in the 80’s when he was the focal point. Scott could do the same with Kobe, featuring him plenty and giving him ample opportunities to be the focal point of the offense via post ups, wing isolations, and actions that get him touches at the elbow. They could also continue to use him as an initiator of the P&R to get him the ball on the move and attacking a defense in the midst of making rotations.
But, even in doing that, Scott will still need to give his younger players a chance to do what they do best. If that means Kobe gets a little bit less of the action than he used to, that will just come with the territory of aging and adjusting to the team he finds himself on.
Besides Scott touting his championship history with the team, he also talked up his relationship with #24. This next season, Scott might do well to remember his playing days and how the organization handled the transition of another aging legend and apply that to his current one. And while he may not find the championship glory he did during Showtime, he may just get the best from most of his other players. Much like (Scott’s mentor) Pat Riley did with Magic.