It only took 69 games*, but Byron Scott has uttered words that fans have been hoping to hear all season. When it comes to the team’s young players — specifically D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle — Scott says they will be given a longer leash, especially when it comes to 4th quarter playing time. The OC Register’s Bill Oram has the story:
After a light practice on Sunday, Coach Byron Scott said he plans to play the young stars in the final period of the 13 remaining games “no matter what.”
“That’s my goal,” Scott said, “is allow them to be out there and play through the mistakes and play through when they’re playing badly. They have to figure out how to come together as a group.”
As Oram later notes, this comes on the heels of Scott saying the Lakers’ young trio had “gotten enough experience” closing out games with Scott sitting all three of them for nearly, if not all, of the entire fourth quarter in two of the team’s last three games.
This brings up some questions about whether Scott’s decision was of his own accord or if it was triggered by something else — like, say, a conversation with Mitch Kupchak and/or Jim Buss. I would not doubt a conversation was had between Scott and the front office about goals for the young players in the final 13 games, though that’s just me speculating.
For what it’s worth, Mitch Kupchak is on the record as saying he does not interfere with Scott’s coaching decisions. From a conversation with Mike Trudell back in December:
Kupchak: I don’t tell Byron what to do. I don’t tell him who to play. We do talk often: at practice, in my office, in his office. We talk by phone; updates, what I see, what he sees, what he’s thinking; who we’re sending down to the D-League; when they are coming up; how they played. There’s a lot of dialogue that goes on between Byron and myself. We try to keep each other in the loop. We’re working to improve wins. But you do want to develop young players. By and large, our future is the young players we have. But I don’t tell Byron what to do. He plays the players he feels gives him the best chance to win. Obviously we’re playing our rookies right now, and he thinks they’ll give us the best chance to win. Julius and D’Angelo and Larry Nance have been starting. The three of those have been getting a lot of minutes, and they’re basically rookies.
Again, that was back in December, so maybe things have changed. It could also be that, if a conversation did take place, Mitch (or Jim) didn’t so much as order a change, but instead had a discussion about what everyone hoped to achieve in this last stretch while providing their hopes (which, I would imagine, is seeing the young players more). Or maybe Byron did come up with this all by himself. I’m not going to pretend to know either way, but with the on the record comments from both sides, taking everyone’s word for what it is seems reasonable enough.
In any event, what we do know is that, moving forward, the Lakers’ young players will get fourth quarter minutes “no matter what”. Though, to be fair, that’s actually happened more than what we would really like to acknowledge. Per Harrison Faigen of Silver Screen & Roll, the young players have actually seen plenty of minutes in the final frame:
Randle has actually played in more fourth quarters than anyone else on the team (57) and averaged 7.5 minutes per fourth quarter appearance. Russell right there with him, making 56 appearances for an average of 8.3 minutes, while Clarkson has played in 50 fourth quarters for an average of 7 minutes.
It’s worth noting not many of these 4th quarters have been competitive, but that’s a product of multiple factors throughout the course of these games.
It’s also worth noting that the recent games where the bench did well to bring the team back from large deficits, the young guys didn’t get back in which can be frustrating for fans. Especially when the opposite has been true in previous games (where Russell, specifically, had played well in the 4th quarter, a game was within striking distance, but he was then pulled so a combination of Lou/Clarkson/Kobe could close the game).
Maybe none of that will be an issue going forward. I doubt it means all frustration disappears — the young guys will make mistakes which, in the moment, is tough to swallow — but at least we know where things stand. I’m guessing there’s more than a few who wished this would have been the case earlier, but we will all just have to take what we can when we get it.