On Friday the reports were that the Lakers had offered Byron Scott the head coaching job and that negotiations had ensued. On Saturday, reports are that a deal has been struck to name the former Lakers’ guard as their new head coach:
So, after nearly 3 months and as many interviews, the Lakers have found their man.
If you’re a supporter of Scott being tabbed for this job, odds are your argument mirrors many of the points made in this article. Byron has had success in his coaching career, taking the Nets to back to back Finals. He also did well with a young Hornets team, leading them to the playoffs multiple times. The man also has a history with Kobe Bryant, mentoring him when he first came into the league and acting as a confidant over the years.
This relationship matters. Just as the foundation of him being a “Laker” matters. Scott knows the ins and outs of the organization, having won championships with the team as a player and worked for their broadcast partner this past season. He understands what it means to navigate the expectations of the city and its fans, how work under the pressure that comes with being a part of the organization. If you’re looking at Scott as the solution, odds are you saw previous coaches and other candidates as not properly speaking to or recognizing these pitfalls.
Of course, if you follow my writing on this site or on twitter, you know that I do not put as much weight in these areas as others. Of course they matter, but not to the point that they should be the key part of any argument. In my mind coaching is about a combination of tactical superiority mixed with the ability to generate and maintain buy-in. You can have the perfect back-story heading into a situation, but if you can’t out-scheme an opponent while getting your players to do what you ask of them, it’s not going to matter. You will not succeed.
And this is where I have my questions about Scott. When Scott’s name was first mentioned as a potential coach, this is (part of) what I wrote:
Scott, to me, is a guy who has not shown to be enough of a tactician over the course of his coaching career, often lacking in ability to make adjustments or build schemes that optimize the play of his role players. Sure, Scott seemed to do well enough when Jason Kidd and Chris Paul orchestrated his offenses, but beyond putting the ball in those players’ hands and letting them do what they do best, Scott underwhelmed. Further, his last stop in Cleveland has done his reputation no favors as he steered the Cavs to three consecutive losing seasons while also boasting an NBA worst 26 game losing streak in his last campaign. Scott hasn’t sniffed a head coaching job since then.
Beyond that, Scott’s reputation has a coach who can overwork his players — much in the mold of his mentor Pat Riley — is well known. Long, hard practices have been the norm for Scott and that can start to wear on a team — especially if they’re losing. Add to this that, despite good relationships with Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving, Scott seemed to start to get tuned out by his players at every previous stop and it is a legitimate concern that he is more of a Scott Skiles type of coach who isn’t really long for any one job for longer than the length of one contract.
All that said, Scott is the choice. He should get his chance to prove his critics wrong; to show that he can improve areas where he’s not been as successful while maintaining some of the things he has done well. My hope, of course, is that he is able to do just that and lead the team back to prominence. This is the nature of being a fan — rooting for the success of the team comes with the territory. I have my doubts that will happen, not all of which are related to him, it should be added.
Ultimately, though, any feelings I have about Scott aren’t really relevant now. Would I have preferred a different approach to hiring the coach? Would I have liked if the process was more open and not limited to coaches with “previous NBA head coaching experience”? Would I have sought out younger, less retread-y candidates who could, theoretically, grow with a franchise in transition and lead them into the next era of Lakers’ basketball rather than trying to extend the current one? Yes, yes, and yes. But those things aren’t really about Byron, they are about the process. He didn’t control that, the people who hired him did.
What Byron will control, though, are the lineups, offensive and defensive schemes, minute allocations, and the functioning of the locker room. It will be on him to decide how much or little Kobe Bryant plays, how much veterans should get time over younger players, and how to best develop the talent he has at his disposal. It will be on him to navigate expectations and balance short term success with long term goals and the overall health of the franchise moving forward. He will be that steward who has been given the keys at a time that, for all intents and purposes, may be one of the more important in recent franchise history.
This Lakers’ team is squarely at the stage where they are clearly not a contender for a championship but still trying to win games and do so while looking for cornerstone young players who can carry the torch after Kobe Bryant retires. That is one of the finest lines to walk as an organization and, more often than not, ends up being impossible. Whether he is up to the task of being the guy who steers the ship during this time remains to be seen, but I think it’s more than fair to question if he is.
His history as a coach makes this so. Even if his history as a Laker makes some fans want to overlook it.