Twiddle your thumbs no more: The Los Angeles Lakers have hired Byron Scott to be their next head coach.
ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne brings word of the actual hire:
Lakers have agreed to terms with Byron Scott to be their next head coach— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 27, 2014
Lakers deal with Byron Scott will be four years, $17 million— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 27, 2014
Chris Broussard of ESPN The Magazine first reported that the Lakers offered Scott the job.
This decision comes as a surprise to, well, absolutely no one. The move ends a months-long dance between the Lakers and Scott, who interviewed with the team numerous times. Their decision to hire him and his decision to accept their offer have long been considered formalities.
Now that all of this is for real, the Lakers and their fans can begin thinking about more important things.
Like what Scott's installment means for this team.
After slogging through a little over one year of Mike Brown's pace-sapping offense and nearly two years of Mike D'Antoni's run-and-gun system, the Lakers have something of a happy medium in Scott.
Well, let's not say happy. Scott's offenses aren't known for being potent, but the root of what he preaches has similarities to D'Antoni's philosophy.
Like Magic Mike, he prefers to build his attacks around point guards, using a steady dose of pick-and-rolls and drive-and-kicks. While with his most recent employer, the Cleveland Cavaliers, pick-and-rolls accounted for 20.7 percent of offensive plays on average, per Synergy Sports (subscription required). Spot-up opportunities checked in at a similar 19.7 percent.
Almost 44 percent of the Lakers' total offensive possessions ending in a field-goal attempt utilized pick-and-rolls and standstill shots last season, so there's not much of a difference. Much of their focus will remain the same, which bodes well for Jeremy Lin, Steve Nash (assuming he's healthy) and any other point guard who thrives with the ball in his hands.
Where Scott begins to differ from both D'Antoni and Brown is the pace at which his offenses play. They are neither pace-pushers nor pace-killers. They fall somewhere in between.
Of the 13 seasons Scott has spent as a head coach—two of which were partial years—only five of those teams have finished in the bottom 10 for possessions used per 48 minutes, and only two have finished in the top 10.
This is in line with what the Lakers need. They aren't built to run—especially if the plan is to milk every last bit of offense out of Kobe Bryant.
"We have to make sure that whoever we hire as a coach really gets the most productivity out of (Bryant), whether it's scoring the ball or playmaking or the threat that he may score," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told USA Today's Sam Amick in May. "That's probably of primary importance right now."
If that's of importance, pace is not. Prior to D'Antoni's arrival, Los Angeles' Kobe-centric offense spent three consecutive campaigns ranking no higher than 14th in pace. Two season-ending injuries later, Bryant isn't healthy or spry enough to play within a faster system.
Backing a coach who curbs speed without killing it should help the Lakers extract production out of the aging Bryant and Nash, and even Carlos Boozer. It should also help limit the mistakes of novices such as Julius Randle and Ryan Kelly.
But the benefits may end there.
Only two of Scott's teams have ranked in the top half of offensive efficiency, and only one has finished in the top 10. His teams actually averaged a bottom-10 finish (20.7) through 13 full and partial seasons.
Serious concern exists here, because Scott has coached some of the most exciting offensive talents in the NBA. He guided Jason Kidd in his prime while heading the then-New Jersey Nets, yet those teams never ranked better than 17th in offensive efficiency.
When he was with Chris Paul and the then-New Orleans Hornets, their first three seasons were spent dwelling in the bottom eight. Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers never crept above 19th in three years under Scott.
The Lakers don't figure to fare much better, if they're better at all. They don't have that one transcendent offensive talent on the roster, unless they're counting on Bryant to drop buckets like it's 2005-06. They also don't have the personnel to stretch the floor.
Each of the Lakers' top five three-point shooters from last season—Kendall Marshall, Jodie Meeks, Jordan Farmar, Steve Blake and MarShon Brooks (assuming he doesn't re-sign)—are gone. Bryant himself has buried more than 40 percent of his spot-up opportunities just once since 2009-10, per Synergy.
Some significant adjustments have to be made on offense. Otherwise, the Lakers, as currently constructed, are doomed to struggle on that end the same way so many of Scott's teams have before.
If there's anything Scott can do, it's salvage the Lakers defense, which was horrible last season.
"[Dwight] Howard is long gone and so are any laughs from poking fun at the Lakers' defensive deficiencies," ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin wrote in March, "which have become so atrocious that the final point totals they're giving up lately make you do a double take at the box score."
That's actually putting it kindly.
The Lakers ranked 28th in defensive efficiency. They had no direction. They were an unmitigated disaster.
Those expecting Scott to solve everything will be sorely disappointed. The team he is inheriting isn't built to defend—no one on the Lakers' front line is known for their rim protection. But Scott's track record proves he can at least help his roster limit its glaring defensive follies.
Improving defenses is something Scott has done well in the past. Teams he takes over are noticeably better on the defensive end when he leaves.
Take a look at the starting and ending defensive ratings of Scott's first three teams. Note that 2008-09 represents his final year with the Hornets, since he coached them for only nine games in 2009-10:
|Team||Def. Rtg. in First Year||Def. Rtg. in Last Year|
Cleveland is really the only exception. The Cavs improved marginally under Scott's watch. That they improved at all, though, is a small miracle. He didn't assume control until after LeBron James left in 2010, remember.
Hiring Scott won't make the Lakers a top-10 defensive juggernaut. They're still going to be bad—probably really bad.
Historically, though, bringing him in represents a step in the right direction.
Betting on His Reputation
Replacing D'Antoni with Scott is a risk.
Although he's been to the NBA Finals before and won rings as a member of the Lakers, his simplistic offenses make him a questionable fit. And given that the Lakers will have to rely on their offense next season, this poses problems.
But the Lakers have always been leaning toward Scott, if only because of Bryant, as Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding wrote in May:
The Lakers' approach will be to some extent about meeting Bryant halfway, especially when the team doesn't have much to look forward to next season except Bryant's triumphant return that didn't stick in 2013-14.
It makes sense that Bryant will be featured under the new coach, who is more likely to be a veteran who reveres Bryant, such as Byron Scott or Mike Dunleavy, or a newbie who knows him well, such as Quin Snyder or Derek Fisher.
To have a hope of amicably moving forward with Bryant, the Lakers needed someone he wants.
They got him.
Is Byron Scott a good fit for the Lakers?
"Ya," Bryant said when asked if he would like to see Scott coach the Lakers next season, per Lakers Nation's Serena Winters. "He was my rookie mentor when I first came into the league."
Part of Scott's coaching style may clash with the Lakers' roster for the time being. He knows defense, and the Lakers—if healthy—are built to score. But after three years' worth of coaching carousels, the Lakers finally employ a head honcho Bryant respects and endorses.
With the coaching well as shallow as it is, this isn't just a predictable hire. It's a smart hire—one that doesn't spell an imminent playoff berth but at the very least puts Bryant's Lakers on the path to survival.