Byron Scott Hire Puts Major Pressure on Kobe Bryant to Thrive Next Season

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJuly 29, 2014

Once the Los Angeles Lakers hired Byron Scott, Kobe Bryant's self-made and pundit-produced burdens became that much heavier.

Pressure is unavoidable for the Black Mamba because of who he is and what's expected of him. But he's entering a stage of his career that shouldn't be defined by excess baggage and standards by which superstars much younger than himself are measured. 

Almost 20 years into his renowned NBA tenure and pushing 36, now should be a time for Bryant to defer, to complement, to help escort the Lakers into a new era that doesn't orbit around him. Aging superstars aren't typically cornerstones and must be judged accordingly. 

Expectations are adjusted to reflect diminished roles and depreciating abilities. Life isn't spent under the gun; it's spent assisting those who are.

It's different for Bryant. It's always been different. The criteria for evaluating him is unlike most others, courtesy of his crazy, oft-irrational competitive drive that rejects conventional wisdom and shows disdain for traditional thought. 

And yet somehow, someway, the already towering bar to which he is held rises still, soaring relentlessly in the wake of Scott's arrival, dwelling among the clouds, creating pressure fit for someone 10 years Bryant's junior.


Previous Pressure

Certain aspects of the weight Bryant is bearing could not be avoided.

The Lakers handed him a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension before he returned from a ruptured Achilles, displaying unrivaled faith and loyalty in their fading lifeline. Bryant rewarded their allegiance with six appearances. That's it.

Another injury ended his season, ruining his return and delaying his chance to silence deafening critics. After a year like that—one marked by tragedy and expanded wealth—there is no escaping the sense of missed opportunity.

Next season will have to be better because it just has to be. Because Bryant is being paid like a megastar. Because his contract put restrictions on Los Angeles' offseason plans.

Because 18 years later, when Bryant should theoretically be skirting the spotlight, the Lakers are still all about him.


The Scott Factor

That's what this Scott hire is—an extension of the Lakers' quest to placate Bryant and, as ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin puts it, preserve past images:

It was no accident that Bryant publicly endorsed Scott for the job during his youth basketball camp in Santa Barbara, California, earlier this month. ...

The Lakers have always operated with championships on the mind, but with a title pretty much out of the picture in the short term, they simply want to get back to having their team and everything that surrounds it be an accurate reflection of all the winning the franchise has already accomplished.

Hiring Scott, a former Laker, helps keep yesteryear alive while the organization figures out what comes next. He will not shimmy into Staples Center, arms crossed and face stern, and transform the Lakers into a contender. He's not that coach, and the Lakers aren't that team.

If they were truly concerned with winning as much as possible at all costs next year, their offseason activity would have reflected those intentions. But instead of committing long-term money to mediocre talents who may have vaulted them back into playoff contention, they signed placeholders, positioning themselves for a spending binge in 2015.

The trick was—and has always been—getting Bryant on board with an agenda that doesn't directly align with his own.

Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer are well-known players Bryant can see as good enough, all while knowing they don't usurp him in status or importance. Scott is similar and therefore a coach whom, unlike Mike D'Antoni and Mike Brown, Bryant can get behind and then stay behind.

"We've had a tremendously close relationship throughout the years," Bryant said of Scott, via McMenamin. "So, obviously I know him extremely well. He knows me extremely well. I've always been a fan of his."

Why the out-of-character fandom for someone not named Phil Jackson?

Convenience. Well, that and trust. That one year Scott and Bryant spent as teammates coupled with the latter's ties to the organization no doubt give the Mamba peace of mind. 

Mostly, though, it's convenience—the comfort of knowing that Scott changes nothing.

Although Scott tends to rely heavily on point guards, this isn't going to be Lin's team. It won't be Steve Nash's offense. It won't even be Scott's offense.

It will be Bryant's, per Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding:

Scott will showcase Bryant's meticulously crafted mid- and low-post games and commit far more than D'Antoni to forging an accountable team defense that protects Bryant's limitations at that end. ...

The Lakers already have been very clear about their desire to empower Bryant and help him finish his career with a flourish. Not only did Bryant get that rich contract extension, but Scott will acquiesce to Bryant on offense far more than D'Antoni did. And the new roster assembled around Bryant might not challenge for a championship, but it will definitely defer to him, too.

In so many ways, the Lakers aren't preparing for 2014-15. They're entering 2005-06, fresh off a lottery appearance, trying to improve, hoping that Bryant can and will shoot anything and everything.

They are still his team.


Maintaining Control

All control still lies with Bryant, and it's no secret.

When general manager Mitch Kupchak officially began the Lakers' coaching search, Bryant was the focus. "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 play-making or the threat that he may score," he told USA Today's Sam Amick. "That's probably of primary importance right now."

Bryant, in turn, is responsible for making the most of a situation he helped create.

He could have accepted less money to help the Lakers move forward. He didn't have to issue a win-now mandate. He could have endorsed the Lakers' entire coaching search instead of naming names.

He could have done things differently.

But he didn't, so this version of the Lakers is once again on him.

Sink or swim, he is the symbol for this team—the face of success, the scapegoat for failure.

If he returns next season, remains healthy and plays Kobe Bryant basketball, he and the Lakers will be commended for knowing what many of us didn't, for defying odds many of us thought they couldn't.

If his performance is anything less than inspiring or his health anything worse than dependable, both parties will look foolish—the Lakers for resting their immediate hopes on an over-the-hill star, and Bryant for obviously imposing his will on a franchise he can no longer carry.



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