5 Challenges Byron Scott Faces as Los Angeles Lakers Head Coach
Challenges aren't hard to come by for Los Angeles Lakers head coaches.
Byron Scott just has the pleasure—or displeasure—of facing more than usual.
Upon agreeing to a four-year deal to become the next head honcho of the Lakers, Scott has committed to a supposedly abbreviated rebuild unlike any other. He is tasked with redefining the Lakers as their quest for lasting redemption begins.
And it's beginning right now.
Yes, right now.
Never mind that the Lakers are only one year removed from the worst season in franchise history. Or that their future is draped in uncertainty. Or that forthcoming success and imminent turnarounds are slaves to free-agency coups and late-career renaissances becoming reality.
Tomorrow begins today in Los Angeles, and there are plenty of things standing between Scott, the Lakers and their ability to make the day after tomorrow an adequate representation of what they want it to be: bigger and better.
Finding a Way to Coach Defense
And unto a defensive-minded coach, a defensively inept team was bestowed.
Coaching defense is both the most obvious and difficult of Scott's challenges. The Lakers ranked 28th in defensive efficiency last season. Without mincing too many words, they were horrible.
Scott's looking to change that.
"He [Bryant] told me he was working out with Wesley [Johnson] and Nick [Young]," Scott told ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne. "I told them that sounded great, but they 'better be ready to play some defense.'"
"Is that where I dribble the ball way too much before shooting a contested 19-footer?" Nick Young promptly asked. I think.
Fine, probably not. But that's the kind of defensive ignorance Scott is facing. The Lakers aren't built to defend. Adding Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer does nothing for their lines of prevention. Same can be said of Julius Randle. Jordan Hill does very little besides grabbing all the rebounds, too.
On his best days, Kobe Bryant may be able to defend, but he's a scorer first—one who will be 36 when the season starts and has already been criticized for intermittent cases of defensive disinterest. Think that's going to get any better following two season-spoiling injuries and 18 years of NBA miles on his treads?
Bringing defense back to Los Angeles will take tactical ingenuity, an uncanny ability to inspire and no less than 100 Kobe-Bryant-ego-sized miracles.
Ready or not, here's hoping Scott is up to date on the latest, greatest, hippest thaumaturgy teachings.
Figuring Out an Offense
Mr. Scott is a lot of things. Stern. Old-fashioned. Experienced. Demanding.
But he is not the Einstein of offenses.
Even though he's coached elite point guards for long stretches at a time—from Jason Kidd to Chris Paul to Kyrie Irving—Scott's teams have only finished in the top half of offensive efficiency twice (2007-08 and 2008-09), and only once has he guided a top-10 offense (2007-08).
Though the Lakers' offense was watchable at times last season, they still ranked 21st in efficiency. The man capable of turning them into a restored offensive powerhouse—Mike D'Antoni—is gone. They now have the modestly paced stylings of Scott.
To a certain extent, this is a good thing. Neither Bryant nor Steve Nash fit fast-paced systems anymore. What Scott runs will cater to their—along with Boozer's—physical limitations and incorporate aspects from numerous past designs, per Fox Sports West's Abbey Mastracco:
No one has been able to use the triangle offense like Phil Jackson. Following Jackson's departure, Mike Brown came in and instituted the vastly different Princeton offense. And Mike D'Antoni brought, of course, the run-and-gun.
Scott plans to use all three, although just how he plans to do that is still somewhat vague.
Taking the best parts of different structures and rolling them into one highly effective model sounds good in theory, but it's just unclear if it's possible.
There is no in-his-prime Kidd for Scott to lean on. No brilliantly crafty Paul for him to exploit. No up-and-coming Irving for him ride unrelentingly.
There is a once-overhyped, now-grounded Lin, and a rickety, 40-year-old Nash. And then there's the ever-determined, albeit mortal, Bryant. That's it.
The days of relying on healthy, top-flight point guards to anchor mediocre to below-average offenses are over. Can Scott use what he has to turn Los Angeles' fortunes around?
One thing about the Lakers has yet to change: The importance of Bryant.
Whomever the Lakers hired would have to mesh with him. They would pander to his offensive needs and extract the most production possible out of his soon-to-be 36-year-old body.
Scott has deemed that somebody, and as he told CBS Los Angeles' Jim Hill, he's up for the challenge:
Kobe and I have a great relationship, and we have been talking about this for almost the entire summer. I am excited to have the privilege of coaching a guy like that. This is a future Hall of Famer, we all know that, and I feel that he is going to be helping me as well because we see the game in a very similar way. ...
I am looking forward to having Kobe as a guy that I can turn to and say ‘let's get the ball to this guy and he can make things happen.'
Subscribing to the "Give it to Kobe and go" frame of mind has its advantages—you know, if this was 2005-06 and everything.
At this point of Bryant's career, Scott is tasked with finding proper balance. He has to lean on Bryant without crushing him, play him without overworking him, bend to him without breaking.
If Bryant is healthy and has a spectacular season, we'll credit the Black Mamba's resiliency and outright rejections of reality. But if he's unproductive and struggles, his diminishing abilities will only be blamed so much.
It's up to Scott to use him—not abuse him—and keep him shining into 2015-16, when the Lakers will hope to have another sidekick in place. Pressure has only increased, considering how open he's been about the relationship between he and Bryant as well.
Injuries and retreating twilights are often beyond control, but Scott must do his part—whatever it is—to ensure Bryant remains happy and healthy, and, most importantly, more than indifferent to his personal fate.
...And the Young Guns
There comes a time in every rebuilding team's development when we're forced to sniff the air, gag ever so politely and ask, "What the Carlos Boozer is going on here?"
The Lakers' roster is interesting. And weird. It's interesting because it's weird.
On the one hand, there's the No. 7 overall pick in Randle, a potential cornerstone, and Ed Davis, the promising prospect who somehow manages to never get minutes. On the other hand, there's the newly added Boozer and the handsomely compensated Hill.
Darius Soriano of Forum Blue & Gold, much like rest of us, wants to know where the Lakers are going with this:
The Lakers paid a LOT of money to keep Jordan Hill. They drafted a promising Julius Randle. Just yesterday, they claimed Ed Davis. And we all thought that it’s inevitable for Ryan Kelly to come back. I was looking forward to the Lakers developing these young players and seeing if Jordan Hill can be a 30-minute-per-game player.
This Carlos Boozer acquisition mucks it all up. I mean, what am I not seeing here that the Lakers are? Boozer is going to take away lots of minutes from the young guys. He’s a better fit for a contending team and we all know that the Lakers are far from that. Why stunt Randle’s development?
Unless the Lakers plan to run super-sized lineups where Randle plays point guard—he kind of, sort of did that in the NBA summer league for like a second—and Davis inexplicably mans small forward, Scott has a dilemma on his hands.
Picking up Boozer and signing Hill makes sense for a team looking to win now. Or, in the Lakers' case, a team looking to appease the no-excuses-let's-win-championships-right-now-even-though-we-can't Bryant. But for a team with plenty of young talent to evaluate—right down to Ryan Kelly—their presences can be counterproductive.
Will Randle receive ample time to develop? Does Davis figure into Los Angeles' frontcourt rotation at all? Can Scott find a way to give everyone their due playing time? Is Boozer's beard actually facial hair-based, or does he draw it on with a Sharpie each morning?
These Lakers look like they're trying to compete while simultaneously gauging the potential of players who won't help them compete right away.
Good luck with that, B-Scizzle. May you somehow be given the gift of clarity. Or a midseason trade that has the Minnesota Timberwolves thinking Boozer and Hill are more appealing than Andrew Wiggins or Klay Thompson or Muppet-headed Pez dispensers.
Another gift idea for Scott: Time.
The Lakers signed Scott to a four-year deal, which, as those of you familiar with Mike Brown already know, means nothing. While the Lakers won't come out and say it, Scott is on the clock—one that could expire before his contract does.
Aside from being Bryant-driven, this hire seems to be about coaching clout. The Lakers will attempt to expedite their rebuild through free agency over the next two summers. That's a fact.
Results that can be seen as early as, well, right now, like Bleacher Report's David Murphy writes:
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.
Impatience rules the day in Los Angeles. This, admittedly, is the most patient the organization has been during the Bryant era.
And that's saying something, only because they've barely been patient at all.
Scott only has so much time to convince the Lakers he can help reel in big fish. That he's capable of taking a defensive attack headlined by Wesley Johnson and ensuring it's not maimed nightly. That his offense is more than a middling mixture of pick-and-rolls and spot-up shooting.
That he is, in fact, the right man to lead these Lakers through the rest of the Kobe Bryant era and beyond, into the future, where games are won, defense is played, respect restored and championship runs more than fantastic fables.