Heading into training camp, Byron Scott seems to have a better grasp as to how he wants to handle his roster than what ended up being the case last season. If you read the comments made to Bill Oram, it’s clear he has some plans on how he envisions handling certain players on the roster. Kobe Bryant will not be overextended by playing heavy minutes and Julius Randle and other young players may not start right away.
These comments on Kobe and Randle are important if for no other reason than they represent an already in-place plan about how Byron envisions some of his rotations going. This is meaningful for a variety of reasons, but mostly because last season the head coach perplexed many — or at least he perplexed me — by how he handled his rotations, specifically how he shifted around his starting lineups as often as he did.
Throughout last season, the only consistency with how Byron deployed his lineups is that they were not consistent. Every 20 to 25 games, Byron unapologetically made wholesale changes to his starting group and the rest of his rotations. Jeremy Lin, Ronnie Price, Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis, Wes Johnson, and Ryan Kelly (among others) played musical chairs, shuffling in and out of the lineup and, sometimes, falling out of the rotation completely.
It’s important to note that injuries and the resulting lack of availability of viable NBA rotation players for long stretches played a major role here. The fact the team’s chances of competing for anything beyond a better chance at keeping their lottery pick were certainly a factor too. After all, if you’re not really playing for wins, getting a better handle on different personnel groupings and what may or may not work makes some sense.
This season, though, those things are much different. Scott has a stable of veteran players who have proven their value (for better and, in some cases, for worse) in this league. He also has a slew of young players whose development is important toward long term goals. Balancing these two types of player groups will take careful thought and consideration, but the talent level is much improved and lends itself to finding workable groupings and deploying them with more consistency.
This will take more discipline from Scott, though. Last season he seemed to truly use the season for the purpose of experimenting with the players in a way where he could learn what they could and could not do; what their strengths and weaknesses were within the context of an NBA game. In what became a lost season, this likely didn’t matter much. In fact, it probably aided in the team losing enough games to keep their lottery pick.
For the upcoming campaign, there are higher stakes. Even if you disregard wanting to send Kobe out on a high note, the team surely wants to take positive steps forward in developing their youth and in grabbing enough wins to positively affect how they are viewed by free agents heading in a crucial summer for the organization’s rebuild.
Achieving those goals will depend on how Scott manages a slew of variables small and large. But none may be bigger than whether he shifts his lineup management from last season’s round-robin approach to something more stable*. Those decisions don’t need to be made now and should be influenced by how players perform in training camp and in the preseason games. But they must be made and a plan must be put in place which creates an environment where players know what’s coming and can fall into their roles accordingly.
*No one is arguing Scott cannot tweak his lineups or that, should injuries or other circumstances strike, wholesale changes cannot be implemented. He’s the head coach and that requires flexibility and a responsiveness to the issues facing the team. But last season’s (seemingly) arbitrary approach to making lineup changes cannot continue into this year. It’s simply not a viable approach to building a consistent performing team throughout the course of the year.