We have written about the Lakers deliberating on Byron Scott’s future as head coach, but a decision has been made. Scott will not return to coach the Lakers for a third season. Per the team’s press release:
“We would like to thank Byron for his hard work, dedication and loyalty over the last two years, but have decided it is in the best interest of the organization to make a change at this time,” said General Manager Mitch Kupchak.
Unbeknownst to me (and many others, I’m assuming), the Lakers held team options on both the third and fourth years of Scott’s contract. This decision then, was made even easier since the team was not eating any salary and could start new next season with a choice to usher in a new era of Lakers’ basketball.
Per Mike Bresnahan of the LA Times, the Lakers will have a long list of candidates for their opening. The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports the list will include Warriors’ assistant Luke Walton, Spurs’ assistant Ettore Messina, current ESPN analyst and former Knicks/Rockets head coach Jeff Van Gundy, and current UCONN head coach Kevin Ollie. That’s already a wide net of candidates, but I’m sure we’ll hear even more names over the coming days and weeks.
As for Scott, there’s little to be said about his tenure and the reasons for why he was let go that have not already been repeated ad nauseam. There’s no reason to go over those things again with great detail, we know what happened and how things played out. However, when he was hired, I concluded my thoughts about his hiring with these words:
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.
Of all the issues I had with Scott, these areas were where I think he had his most issues. This past season, I never got the sense he was willing to do much of anything besides defer to Kobe’s final season as the most important part of his job. Yes, he paid lip service to winning games and noted how even that took a priority over developing the young players, but in reality his priority was in trying to ensure Kobe had a proper sendoff.
I will not deny that aspect of Scott’s job was important. But the growth of the young players and trying to put them in positions to succeed and on the path to becoming the franchise’s next great players was the biggest part of his job. And instead of nurturing their growth by trying to build them up, he consistently undercut them to the press and treated them as though the things they did not know mattered more than what he could do help them better the things they did. By putting their faults at the forefront in his daily musings to the media, he seemed to emphasize all the things they weren’t rather than building on all the things they already are.
I’m sure losing his biggest locker room ally in Kobe hurt, but I’d imagine it was due to that failing which hurt him most. So, in that way, Scott’s ousting was more his own doing than, I’d imagine, even his losing record and antiquated schemes were. The ground was just too shaky to build for the future with Scott at the helm.
So now the Lakers will look to establish a new foundation with a different coach at the helm. Here’s hoping the next choice turns out better than the previous.