The Los Angeles Lakers recently hired Byron Scott as their latest head coach. This comes after the Mike D’Antoni era in LA — that lasted a little under two seasons and ended with his resignation. This is Scott’s fourth head coaching position — following stops with the New Jersey Nets, New Orleans Hornets and Cleveland Cavaliers. Prior to working the sidelines, Scott played 11 seasons with the Lakers and averaged 15 points. He made up half of the Showtime back court alongside Magic Johnson that won three championships in the mid and late ’80’s. VP of basketball operations Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak have done a good job hiring a guy who “knows what it means to be a Laker,” which seems to be important to them. They also succeeded in hiring a guy loved by long time Lakers fans, so this means everything will trend skyward as they recover from an out-of-character 27-win season, right? No. This pairing is not a sure thing, and Byron Scott will become the third straight non-interim Laker coach scooped off the scrap heap filled with other team’s throwaways.
The last two LA coaches weren’t home-run hires. Mike Brown led the Lakers to a solid-at-best status. D’Antoni produced two disappointing seasons and often displayed a lack of understanding of how to properly use his players. Scott will try to pick up the purple and gold pieces that have fallen off over the last two or so seasons, but if his simple coaching stats are any indication, he’ll only be helping more pieces of armor drop in LA. During his first job as a head coach in New Jersey, he led the Nets to a .517 win percentage over three and a half seasons. He also took the team to the Finals in back-to-back years in 2002 and 2003 — albeit discarding a sub-par Eastern Conference.
His second job came in New Orleans — where the Hornets had a .484 winning percentage during his stint lasting a little over five years. In this time, New Orleans made the playoffs only twice and obtained just a single series win. Scott’s most recent job was in Cleveland just as the initial LeBron James era was ending. The Cavs won less than 28 percent of their games in his three seasons at the helm. It should go without saying that the failed to make the playoffs all three years. Considering his one loss record, Scott is getting worse as a coach with each new job. It would be harsh to blame him for all of the misfortunes of his former teams. The rosters he’s worked with weren’t spectacular, but this kind of trend is not exactly what you want your shiny new hire to be currently attached to if you’re the Lakers.
Let’s say there was a doctor who has performed heart surgery on three patients. The first patient went on to live a regular life aside from having to take tons of medication everyday; the second patient often experienced irregular heartbeats; the third patient died within days after the surgery. Perhaps differing existing health problems contributed to the fate of these patients, but you would be skeptical knowing this info about that doctor operating right?
Buss and Kupchak, however, do not appear to be skeptical about Scott’s coaching record, but despite taking the chance, I don’t think the Lakers were exactly itching to hire him. There was a long gap between the time the the front office initially targeted Scott, and when they finally interviewed and subsequently hired Scott. You get the sense they really thought about if they really wanted to bring him in or not.
That’s not a good sign if true.
Coaching hires are not something to take lightly, and should be made with total confidence in the choice. A large factor in the eventual hire is Kobe Bryant’s backing of the idea of Scott as his coach. The two have a personal relationship as they were teammates during Kobe’s rookie year.
That’s another bad sign.
Kobe’s coaching wish list should not be a top priory. That was not a slight at Kobe; he’s one of the three of four greatest players in franchise history, but at this point in his career, his coaching nominations shouldn’t matter as they would have in the past.
He’s 18 seasons in and will probably not be around after two years, so is Scott just the coach they want as Kobe plays out the string? Why would they sign him to a four-year deal if that’s the case? This coaching hire shouldn’t have been about about Kobe; it should have been about the future. It should have been about the coach they want for the next five years and beyond.
The conclusion to Kobe’s career will likely consist of Laker-reconstruction and minimal winning, so hiring this kind of coach seems pointless. The roster that lies before Scott won’t do him any favors on paper in trying to reverse his descending win-percentage spiral. The current roster isn’t too much different than last season. It consists of a talented cast of players, but many of them aging or not very multidimensional. It’s realistic that they will be better than awful, but it is also unrealistic that they can be a playoff team in the tough Western Conference. Bottom line, this is an un-ideal group of guys, and Scott has shown that he needs an ideal group to be successful.
He hasn’t shown he can improve just any ol’ squad led by him.
Defense has also been a recent issue with Scott. During Scott’s tenure in Cleveland, the Cavs had one of the worst four defensive ratings in each of the three seasons he was in charge. It’s feasible that ratings like that could follow him into LA. The roster contains the likes of notorious non-defenders in Steve Nash and Carlos Boozer as well as Kobe, who’s most recent sample of work indicates that he has discontinued his defensive prowess. It will be hard to whip this team into defensive shape, despite Scott’s intent to focus on defense.
Buss and Kupchak are not 100 percent committed to a particular direction they want to steer the purple and gold ship. They know they need to rebuild, but they want to win now as well. They’ll have expectations that are too high, and they’ll be caught off guard by the continued losing — which means Scott will be branded the scapegoat and handed the pink slip at some point. The right thing the for the Lakers to do would have been to hire an up-and-coming-coach that can grow as the organization tries to climb back to the top of the NBA mountain. Instead, they chose a coach whom may have peaked and better suited to lead a finished product.
Book it that Scott will ultimately be just the latest Laker coach earning checks from the team after his employment.