The Lakers only have 27 games left in their season. That means only 27 games left in Kobe Bryant’s career, only 27 games left for the team’s young core to grow with game action, and only 27 games left before a decision is made on Byron Scott’s future as head coach.
It’s been made pretty clear the Lakers were always going to let Scott finish this season, but there has been more than a little chatter that he would not be retained after that. It seems, however, that chatter is being countered by some in the organization who are not quite ready to do away with the former Showtime Guard.
The franchise seems torn on whether he’ll return for the third and last guaranteed year on his contract.
He is expected to coach the rest of this season, and some within the organization wonder what Scott might do with a better roster. The one he has now has produced an 11-44 record, second-worst in the NBA.
Others, however, wonder about the effectiveness of the tough love he administers to the team’s many young players.
Something in Scott’s favor: more talent could arrive by late June. The Lakers have a better-than-expected chance of retaining their top-three protected draft pick and will then have about $55 million to spend on free agents.
Something not in Scott’s favor: the Lakers have shown little hesitation in parting with coaches before their contracts expire. Mike Brown was fired with almost three years left on his contract and Mike D’Antoni was handed more than half of the $4 million he was owed after resigning in 2014.
As I noted last night on twitter, the idea of Scott (potentially) doing better with more talent is not very relevant to me. Give any coach — whether he is a good coach or not — more talent than he had in previous seasons and you would expect that coach to improve his results. The bigger question, then, is whether there is a belief that the coach can actually take the talent available and get them to perform up to/beyond what would normally be expected of that group of players.
I am of the mind Scott — whether due to his communication style, his schematic preferences, or his penchant for leaning on veterans/Kobe — has not maximized the talent available to him. That’s just my opinion, but I would wager I am not alone in that thinking. This has several people wondering why the Lakers would be torn on his future at all.
I sort of see this report differently.
I am sure Scott has backers in the organization. The upswell of support which led to his hiring likely has some carryover to today. If you frame his tenure to this point with the injuries (last season) and Kobe’s retirement tour and influx of young players (this season), their are reasons to want to give Scott more time to see what he can do under more ideal circumstances.
But, for me, the idea that “the franchise seems torn” also tells me there are people who see beyond those variables and believe a change is worth making. The report above cites his “tough love” on the young players — which, if we’re being honest, is code for how he’s treated Russell this season — but I am guessing the concerns would go beyond that.
Concerns like ranking last in defense this year (29th last year) while ranking 29th in offense this year (23rd last year) and whether his schemes are good enough. Concerns like whether his decision making on rotations and personnel groupings are following what the data says they should. Concerns about whether he has been too rigid in his approach and whether that can start to wear on the players to the point he starts to get tuned out.
Or maybe those are my concerns.
Ultimately, though, what this may come down to isn’t any of the stuff mentioned above, but instead on how the front office thinks Scott impacts the chase for free agents. This front office has long preached flexibility and has stated their goal is to try and attract elite talent this summer (and beyond) using the cap space they have hoarded. I’ve no clue how potential free agents view Scott, but if the front office thinks he is in any way a potential negative, that may be the nail in the coffin.
And we haven’t even gotten to the front office’s culpability in this situation. They are the ones who put these rosters together and they have their own image issues to work through. Go read/watch any Jim/Jeannie interview (individual or joint) and the tension/dysfunction is palpable. They were also the people who hired Scott in the first place, interviewing him multiple times and closing off the search to “candidates with previous head coaching experience” after there were reports they planned to cast a wide net in their search.
It is this history of decision making which helps cast doubt they are willing to make a change with Scott this summer; this history which has so many looking at them being “torn” from the perspective of them willing to bring Scott back rather than the perspective of them thinking of firing him.
So, this is about more than just Scott. This is also about the front office and whether they have the ability to see the forest through the trees. If I had to guess, I would imagine Scott is relieved of his duties this summer. He helped shepherd Kobe into retirement and gave the young players some tough love to try and push along their development. Maybe that’s all he was really supposed to do anyway. We’ll know for sure in a few months.