After nearly three months without a head coach, the Los Angeles Lakers finally did what everybody has long expected—they named Byron Scott as their new sideline leader.
ESPN's Ramona Shelburne first reported the deal Saturday:
Scott was one of the first candidates interviewed and ultimately became something of a last man standing, as other contenders moved on to other opportunities and the Lakers became the lone NBA team to remain coachless. That's all in the past now as Scott returns to L.A. to take over a proud franchise that has struggled in recent years.
The third Lakers head coach in the past four seasons will take over a rather odd assortment of basketball talent—a team rebuilding for the future while still fronted by NBA veterans, including Kobe Bryant, the chronically injured Steve Nash and the recently acquired Carlos Boozer.
Running herd on a collection of stars at the end of their careers and young talents with their best years ahead of them will be a complicated task. Scott has demonstrated an ability over the years to connect to players individually. On the other hand, he has also shown inconsistency at a broader level—his lifetime .444 win percentage as a coach leaves something to be desired.
At his best, Scott went to the NBA Finals twice as a coach of the New Jersey Nets—losing to the Lakers in 2002 and the San Antonio Spurs the following season. Other accomplishments include being named Coach of the Year in 2008 with the New Orleans Hornets.
More recently, however, he failed to make the playoffs during three seasons coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers, compiling a 64-166 record. Also included in that debacle was a 26-game losing streak during the 2010-11 season, a low matched only by the Philadelphia 76ers last season.
Scott now comes full circle to Los Angeles, where his NBA journey began as a starting guard for the Lakers for a full decade, winning three titles during the Showtime era. The team brought him back during the last season of his playing career in order to mentor 18-year-old rookie Kobe Bryant and a lasting friendship was born.
The hope is that the guidance Scott provided during a formative time in Bryant's career will now be replicated in a somewhat different manner—the Lakers' still-reigning superstar is coming off two serious back-to-back injuries and beginning a two-year contract extension that will most likely serve as his NBA swan song.
In an interview with Sam Amick of USA Today in May, Scott spoke about the relationship as being key to the team's success:
I think the Kobe relationship is going to play a big part. Again, I think I've got a hand up on (the job) because of our relationship. We get along extremely well. Kobe knows all about me and what I'm about. He knows that I'm an old-school coach who's very demanding on the defensive end and knows that defense and rebounding wins championships, so I think from that point of view we see eye to eye.
Scott's ability with young players is well-established, a prime example being the way in which he shaped Chris Paul from the time he was drafted to the start of his fifth season in the NBA.
Writing for The Times-Picayune, Keith Peneguy described how Scott used the emerging superstar point guard as an extension of himself on the floor. Paul in turn spoke of his ultimate respect for Scott:
"Coach has done a great job of trusting us as players. When he trusts us players, it makes it easier for us to trust him as a coach. We just always communicate; we always are talking to each other."
Scott moved on to coach the Cavaliers and once again found himself developing a young star in Kyrie Irving. But there have also been weaknesses in Scott's methodology, both in getting teams to stay vested in his fatherly tough love over the long haul and sometimes failing to adjust his coaching tactics as the league has evolved.
While the newest Lakers coach may preach about being an old-school demander on the defensive end, the numbers don't necessarily demonstrate progress.
As Zach Harper for CBS Sports pointed out, one of the main reasons for Scott's firing by the Cavs was the team's lack of improvement on the defensive end:
For three straight seasons under Scott, Cleveland has finished 26th or worse in the NBA in defensive rating (points per 100 possessions given up). Even though the team has had multiple injuries and asked young players to step in and play as veterans, you would have liked to have seen some improvement when it comes to the team's defensive capabilities.
And as Darius Soriano for Forum Blue & Gold writes, Scott's relationship with Bryant may not outweigh certain coaching deficiencies:
Scott, to me, is a guy who has not shown to be enough of a tactician over the course of his coaching career, often lacking in ability to make adjustments or build schemes that optimize the play of his role players. Sure, Scott seemed to do well enough when Jason Kidd and Chris Paul orchestrated his offenses, but beyond putting the ball in those players' hands and letting them do what they do best, Scott underwhelmed.
The newest Lakers leader has often used variations of the Princeton offense—a system with wide use in the college game but less success in the modern NBA. The Lakers tried introducing it at the beginning of the 2012-13 season under Mike Brown but shelved it when Mike D'Antoni took over. The Princeton offense shares certain principles with the triangle offense—each is heavily reliant on spacing, constant motion, lots of passing and a strong post presence.
It's not hard to see why the Lakers turned to Scott—his relationship with Bryant will bode well for the short term, as will his ability to develop new talent. Julius Randle could fit well into the post-centric Princeton offense, and Jordan Clarkson could benefit from the tutoring of one of basketball's legendary guards.
One of the big question marks, however, will be how a team in transition with a majority of players on one-year deals will work within the complexities of the new offense.
Can Scott turn the Lakers' fortunes around? Yes, by degrees. The coming season will be the first step—working with Bryant, finding the balance of developing Randle while using him as a starter and, from a big-picture point of view, showing that it is at least a team in playoff contention.
A respectable season will pave the way for step two—convincing next summer's top free agents that Los Angeles is indeed a desirable destination. And then will be the hardest step of all—putting all the elements together and becoming a powerhouse again in the Western Conference.
For now, the Lakers have a head coach again—the Byron Scott coaching era in Los Angeles has begun.
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