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.
Still, Scott thinks the job will still be his. And, if you’ve been reading recent reports, he’s not alone. The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski also thinks the Lakers hold on to their embattled coach:
Coach Byron Scott has a team option on his contract for next season, league sources told The Vertical, and there’s strong belief within the organization that he’ll be brought back next season. For now, there’s too much discord in ownership to generate a consensus on making a coaching change, sources said.
And Woj’s report comes on the heels of CBS Sports’ Ken Berger also saying Scott could end up returning:
Believe it or not, Byron Scott has what one source described as a “major chance” to stay with the Lakers; Jeanie Buss is said to be pushing for Scott behind the scenes. If so, it could clear the way for a top-to-bottom reset for the franchise in 2017, and the possible return of Jackson to run basketball operations with Luke Walton as the coach.
The Jeanie angle is an interesting one and starts to connect some of the dots from other stories. Look at Woj’s piece again and the mention of fractured ownership. Now, also recall a report from earlier in the season which stated the Lakers were “torn” on whether Scott should be retained. It’s not a huge leap to think that Jeanie might be one of Scott’s key supporters within the organization, complicating the decision making process which will determine Scott’s fate.
What also complicates matters is that Jeanie has long been on the record as not interfering with basketball decisions:
“In my position, I empower people that are in positions to do their jobs. [Executive vice president of player personnel] Jim Buss and [general manager] Mitch Kupchak are responsible for all basketball decisions. They are empowered to do that. My job is to make sure, as a boss, that I provide them the tools to do the job successfully. But it’s up to them to make the day-to-day decisions on how they operate their area of the business.”
While there is a financial component to every basketball decision — and thus a business tie-in — who coaches the team would seem to fall under the umbrella of a basketball decision. According to Berger, Jeanie is, potentially, going back on what she said earlier this season.
Maybe none of this matters. Maybe when Mitch and Jim Buss sit down with Byron Scott in a couple of weeks (as Kupchak noted he would in Friday’s presser), they will let him go. I have been of the mind that the longer they go without letting Scott go, the more likely it is he is retained, but I could be wrong there. Maybe they want the afterglow of Kobe’s final game to keep the news positive for a while longer. Maybe they want to put out feelers on potential candidates while Byron is still employed. Maybe it’s all of the above.
For what it’s worth, Kupchak is sticking with mostly stock language he’s used all season. In Friday’s media availability he again noted that Scott and the rest of the staff are “under contract” and if that changes he’d let (the media) know. Kupchak also praised Scott for the job he did this year, citing the difficulties of leading a team dealing with Kobe’s uncertain health and retirement tour as well as an inexperienced roster with the type of youth which doesn’t often result in good win-loss records.
If Kupchak offered any other hints at Scott’s future, they were veiled at best. At one point Mitch noted that he’s sure Scott’s “hoping that he coaches here forever, but a lot of times what we do is we’re really doing is preparing for the next GM or the next coach, and that’s tough sometimes”, which is an interesting line but doesn’t move the needle much. That quote was also within the larger context of how the development the coaches are working now might now be fully realized for another 2-3 years. So, it makes sense that the current coach might be “preparing for the next one” when put against the backdrop of young player growth.
So, we’re really nowhere closer to knowing what Scott’s future entails. Could it be Jeanie is pushing to keep him on? Sure. Could it also be that Mitch and Jim would like to move in another direction? Indeed. Is the ownership really fractured on this? It’s possible that’s hyperbole, but it could also be 100% accurate. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve heard of internal strife between Jim and Jeanie.
Ultimately, time will tell which direction the team goes in, but if it were me I would likely make a change. I’ve been somewhat sympathetic to the issues Scott has faced, be it a roster lacking elite talent and boasting too many ill-fitting parts, Kobe’s farewell tour, or the difficulty of balancing young player development with veterans who were brought into to play key roles. On the other hand, however, the schematic struggles, the unsuccessful lineup experiments, the lack of public accountability for his role in the team’s struggles, and consistent youth blaming have, in my eyes, all overshadowed the hurdles he’s faced.
As Byron said Friday, he understands it’s a business. Wins and losses matter. And if you’re not winning, you better be saying the right things in order to win the perception battle and gain support that way. Scott has done neither and, for me at least, a change would be warranted. We will see if the decision makers feel the same way. We should have our answer either way within a couple of weeks.