Among a large sect of Lakers’ fans, Byron Scott is not held in the highest of regards as a coach. The former Showtime shooting guard is absolutely revered as a former great player who helped the team capture three championships as Magic’s backcourt mate, but when it comes to stewarding the ship from the sideline there are reasons to doubt him.
I have, admittedly, been one of these critics. There is no need to rehash it all in now, but his history in New Jersey, New Orleans, and Cleveland — especially how he exited those places — spoke a lot more to me than some of his early success in the first two of those stops or his knowledge of “what it means to be a Laker”. When he was hired, then, I spoke my mind on this. I still believe what I wrote at the time had merit and that is independent of the bad season he shepherded the team through last year.
Like any fair critique, though, one must look at the full picture and note where things were actually, you know, good. For all his faults, Byron did several things worthy of recognition, including getting players to play hard all year even with all the losses, getting some above expectations performances from more than one of his big men, and, of course, the management of Jordan Clarkson’s development from forgotten 2nd round pick early in the year to 1st Team All-Rookie by the end of the campaign*.
That last point is pretty important when put into the larger context of Byron’s past and the Lakers’ future. Every team Byron Scott has coached has had a fantastic point guard. From Jason Kidd, to Chris Paul, to Kyrie Irving, Scott has been blessed with an elite talent running the show. And while his relationship with Kidd ended poorly (though, to be fair, many of Kidd’s relationships with coaches ended poorly) and was established when Kidd was already an elite player, both Paul and Irving specifically cited Scott as being key in their development in the formative stages of their careers. Add this to how Clarkson, in his rookie season, came on under Scott and we’re establishing a track record.
This brings us to D’Angelo Russell. The incoming rookie point guard has a world of talent and will be burdened with enormous expectations. The Lakers passed up a highly rated big man to draft Russell, mostly on the vision they had of Russell becoming a star. Russell, then, is expected to develop into something special and, fair or not, be the player who can be the foreman building the bridge between the Kobe and post-Kobe eras.
Most of this will fall on Russell’s own talent and want to work, of course. Great players mostly become great because they have a natural talent base and an amazing work ethic. But, Scott, as the head coach, will need to be the man pressing the right buttons and pulling the right levers to help facilitate that development. Scott can, through daily guidance, coaching, communication, and management help place Russell on the proper trajectory to reach his ceiling.
No one is saying Scott has a magic point guard pixie dust or is some sort of point guard whisperer. There’s an argument to be made Byron was more fortunate to have the point guards he did than those guards were to have the coach they did. But, considering the credit Scott was given by these players and the success achieved with them, his influence should not be completely discounted either. With that, he will need to live up to the reputation he has established in this area and find a way to aid in the development of Russell.
His job, and the future of the Lakers, may just depend on it.
*There is a case to be made that Steve Nash had a strong hand in helping Clarkson play as well as he did last year. I would argue it is no coincidence Clarkson’s play improved right around the time it was reported he had started working out/getting some tutoring in sessions with Nash. So, it would be silly to ignore this variable when discussing Clarkson’s growth. However, Nash was not the head coach. Nash was not at practice every day, was not in every film session, and was not delivering advice and setting expectations for the young guard day in and day out. The man who was, however, was Byron Scott. And while there are ways to chip away at the idea of how much influence he had or how much he helped Clarkson, that cannot be chipped away to zero. It is important, then, to give credit where it is due. How much given will likely depend on how you feel about Byron Scott.