On May 17th the NBA will hold their annual celebration of the losers…err their Draft Lottery. The Lakers (and their fans) understandably have a fair amount of angst around this event. With “only” a 55.8% chance of keeping their pick, the team can only sit and wait until their fate is announced on live television. I, for one, will have trouble watching.
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In the past week, names like Brian Shaw and Chris DeMarco have been floated as possible options as assistant coaches on Luke Walton’s staff. DeMarco is familiar with Walton due to ties with the Warriors where DeMarco is a player development coach after working in the video room and in advance scouting. Shaw, of course, has ties to Walton from their time with the Lakers where Shaw as an assistant while Luke a player on Phil Jackson’s teams.
Both guys fit the mold of the type of theoretical staff I would imagine Walton would build. They offer a mix of young and experienced, a guy who worked his way up through an organization and a former player who has championship experience on the floor and from the bench. Finding the right balance, I think, is vital for any staff, but especially for a coach like Walton who needs to surround himself with like minded guys, but also those with more experience with him who can offer a varied perspective and, at times, challenge him as he strives to improve as a first time head coach (and not just an interim one).
This is all speculation on my part, though. Luke Walton has not gone on the record of what he’s looking for in his staff and the names floated were, themselves, based on speculative reports from league and Warriors’ insiders. But while we don’t have insight from Luke, we do, luckily, have some from Mitch Kupchak who spoke with the media on Friday about Walton’s hiring. And in those comments, Kupchack hinted at the type of assistant Walton and the Lakers (who will have input on this) will be looking for.
While the Lakers wait on their new head coach to finish his playoff run with his current team, there are many questions which still need answering. Will they keep their lottery pick? If they do, who will they draft? Will they even keep that player? What about the 32nd pick in the draft? What about free agency? And on and on we go. These questions are the symptoms of hope, something fans haven’t had much of while dealing with the dread of a 17 win season.
While the actions which come over the next few months will determine whether that hope is well founded, it’s the decision makers whose final calls on all the above which matter most. With that, it becomes quite important (and beneficial) to have insight into their thought process on where this team is, where it’s going, and how they plan to get it there. As it just so happens, then, we have lucked out. Jim Buss recently spoke with Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders and gave thoughts on the team’s young players, hiring Luke Walton, and more.
Luke Walton’s hiring rightfully gives Lakers fans hope that the team is trying (at least now) to rebuild in the right ways. The move evidences a humility the team has not seen before — instead of hiring some insider that can restore the team to glory by reinforcing what the Lakers did in the good old days, Luke has been brought here largely to pass on wisdom gained from other spheres in the modern era (during which the Lakers have been a failure).
Yes, Luke has substantial experience within the organization, but that is not the only reason he has the job; he is the coach because of what he learned and experienced in Golden State’s first rate organization. To me, this admission that the Lakers have something to learn from the way others do things is a real turning point in their rebuild, as it suggests a willingness to embrace the revolution. And I do believe that Luke is probably the ideal candidate to bring us into the modern times, even if he (and the team) has much learning yet to do.
And there is a long, long ways to go. Trying to diagnose what went wrong with the Lakers this year is kind of like trying to pinpoint what went wrong when the economy crashed nearly a decade ago – there were too many terrifying problems to find just a single tipping point. The team was a spectacle of dysfunction and incompetence, and following it day in and day out was painful.
This piece will attempt to analyze one aspect of these struggles – the team’s offensive problems. Note the emphasis on team, as I will, largely, not look at the performance issues of individual players, and instead focus on team characteristics. For example, this analysis will look at things like what kinds of shots the team took, rather than Kobe’s TS%. This post will also not look at defense, which deserves a separate analysis, given the team’s last place finish in defensive efficiency.
In the excitement of the Lakers being granted permission to interview Warriors’ assistant coach Luke Walton and Spurs’ assistant coach Ettore Messina, it’s easy to forget the team will actually look at other candidates too. Yes, Luke and Messina are the presumed front-runners, but an expansive search will include more than just them.
Now, what if I told you one candidate the Lakers plan to interview (scroll down) has a resumé similar to Ettore Messina, but also has NBA experience as a head coach. And what if I told you in his one and a half seasons as an NBA head coach he won 67.5% of his games and reached the NBA Finals in his one full season. That he’s considered a top flight offensive mind, that he showed tactical flexibility in the face of an evolving roster, and that he also got his team to play good defense.
This guy sounds intriguing right? Now, what if I told you his name is David Blatt.
We’ve reached a point with the Lakers where when an executive speaks, we have to hold our breath for the inevitable backlash as each sentence is broken down, word by word. Tuesday morning, when tweets came across the timeline that Jeanie Buss would be speaking publicly on the state of the Lakers with Colin Cowherd, my immediate and visceral reaction was “great, more of this.” In following with recent seasons, her comments didn’t meet my already considerably lowered expectations.
The appearance leaves more questions than answers, following a trend the Lakers need to correct if the organization wants to earn back the fanbase’s confidence they’ve lost due to how these last few seasons have gone.
Here’s the full interview:
Byron Scott is no longer the Lakers’ coach. While a vocal portion of fans rejoice loudly, right with them there is also a chorus of questions about next steps and whether those in charge are going to make a coaching decision which propels the team forward. The doubts this will happen are real and they exist for the exact reason there is even a choice to make now.
We might still be basking in the glow of Kobe Bryant bringing in his retirement with an epic farewell performance, but that doesn’t mean the business of the Lakers has stopped. The team performed their exit interviews on Thursday and Friday, and with that we got every player (save Kobe), Byron Scott, and Mitch Kupchak all on the record discussing this past season and looking ahead to the next one.
It’s that looking ahead which has grabbed Lakers’ fans interest, especially in relation to Scott’s status as the head coach. If you ask Scott, he’s confident he will return next season and has sharp words for anyone who questioned his approach this season. ESPN’s Baxter Holmes has the story:
Scott, who has one more guaranteed year on his deal, said he has not yet met with Lakers management to discuss his future with the team, nor has he been given assurances that he’ll coach the team moving forward.
“I don’t need that,” Scott said. “There’s going to come a time where we’re going to talk, I do understand that, and I do understand this business…
Scott has faced heated criticism from Lakers fans and others all season for his tough-love approach and harsh public criticism of the Lakers’ promising young players, whom he frequently moved in and out of the lineup, varying their minutes.
“I roll with the punches because you guys, they, those guys — they’re not in here every day,” Scott said of his critics. “They don’t see what we’re doing in practice. They don’t see how we’re preparing these guys, so they have no clue … all they’re doing is voicing their opinion, and to be honest with you, I’m much smarter than all of them when it comes to basketball.”
To some (okay, to me), Scott’s confidence might seem misplaced. After all, he’s overseen the two worst seasons in franchise history, winning only 38 games in his two seasons as head man. Claiming intellectual superiority — even if doing so while speaking truths about fans and media not having all the information — isn’t the best look when the vessel you’re shepherding keeps running into things and crashing.