If Byron Scott Is Right Coach for LA Lakers, What's Taking so Long?

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 10, 2014

Mar 22, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott coaches against the Houston Rockets in the second quarter at the Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers seem to know whom they want to fill their coaching vacancy, but figuring out when they want to make that move is another issue.

Since Mike D'Antoni resigned from his post in late April, the Lakers have brought in a number of notable names from the coaching carousel. None has created a bigger buzz than former Laker Byron Scott, who went from being a strong candidate to the favorite early in the proceedings:

The Lakers haven't conducted their search through the media, so their wish list isn't entirely known. However, there have been a few hints dropped along the way, all of which only solidify Scott's standing in this race.

L.A. wants someone "with previous NBA coaching experience," Mike Bresnahn of the Los Angeles Times reported.

Scott can check off that box with ease.

He's coached 937 regular-season games over all or part of 13 seasons in his career. He led the then-New Jersey Nets to consecutive NBA Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003, then later captured Coach of the Year honors while with the then-New Orleans Hornets in 2007-08.

Longtime NBA writer Mark Heisler, now with Forbes, said the Lakers brass might hesitate to go "outside the family" after striking out on both D'Antoni and his predecessor Mike Brown.

January 4, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni speaks to shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) during a stoppage in play against the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vas

Scott can cross that one off the list as well.

He spent the majority of his 14-year playing career with the Lakers. He helped steer the "Showtime" squad to three world titles (1985, 1987 and 1988), left as a free agent in 1993 and returned three years later to help pass on knowledge to preps-to-pros prodigy Kobe Bryant.

The veteran took the wide-eyed rookie under his wing, forming a bond that has only grown stronger since, as Bryant told reporters recently:

"I know him extremely well. He knows me extremely well," Bryant said. "I've always been a fan of his."

In case people were unable to read between the lines, the five-time champion went a step further and clearly signed off on the potential hire:

That endorsement is major for Scott's candidacy.

Bryant's voice might not carry as much weight as it once did, but it still seems to be the franchise's loudest. General manager Mitch Kupchak said his next coach must be able to maximize Bryant's production, via Bresnahan:

We have a player on our team right now who’s proven in this league offensively who can score. That certainly is a consideration. We have to make sure that whoever we hire as a coach can really get the most productivity out of him, whether it’s scoring the ball or playmaking or the threat that he may score. That’s probably of primary importance right now.

That's more than a schematic challenge.

Assuming Bryant is healthy—something he hasn't been since tearing his Achilles in April 2013—he can dominate in any system.

He spent the first five games of the 2012-13 season in Brown's hybrid Princeton offense, the next five in Bernie Bickerstaff's simple-is-better system and the rest in D'Antoni's uptempo attack. Before that injury forced him out of action, the then-34-year-old Bryant had enjoyed one of the finest seasons of his career, averaging 27.3 points on 46.3 percent shooting and six assists.

No matter the plan of attack, Bryant will still find his spots. He's been at this long enough to know his strengths and limitations.

"Kobe knows where on the court he'll be most effective," Kupchak said, via Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding.

Dec 14, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) looks to pass as he is defended by Charlotte Bobcats forward Jeffery Taylor (44) during the second half of the game at Time Warner Cable Arena. Lakers win 88-85. Mandatory Credit:

Still, there are going to be times when the game will necessitate changes in his approach. And that will lead to some uncomfortable conversations.

As accomplished as he is, Bryant might not be willing to listen to just anyone. His way has worked fine, so it won't be easy for someone to tell him to change.

Unless, of course, that someone is a coach Bryant respects. Scott has already earned that trust. In fact, he told USA Today's Sam Amick it might be his strongest asset for this position:

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.

Our relationship is great. We talked over the summer. We text each other. His ideas on the game of basketball and my ideas on the game of basketball are a lot alike, so we share a lot of the same views when it comes to the way the game should be played. So to me, it's going to be fun.

Combine all these layers—Scott's experience, his history with the franchise, his relationship with its most important player—and you're led to the same conclusion: Scott is the right man for the job.

So why, then, does the coaching seat remain unfilled? Because the Lakers have no reason to hurry the hire.

With top-shelf players like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony still floating in free-agent waters, the Lakers are still seeing what, if anything, the market might bear. If having a coaching vacancy increases their chances of attracting a front-line target at all, that's motivation enough to leave the spot open, as ESPN LA's Ramona Shelburne noted:

Remember, the Lakers don't know what type of team they'll be fielding in 2014-15.

Only Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre are currently under contract. Even the additions of Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Kendall Marshall, who has a non-guaranteed contract for next season, would only bump the roster number to six.

It's hard to choose the right leader when no one knows what he will be leading. Should the Lakers wind up landing an impact player (or more) in free agency, they might have a shot at candidates who were previously uninterested.

More than two months into this coaching search, the Lakers know what is available on the market. Scott hasn't masked his interest in the position. He is an option today and probably an option a month from now.

No matter how long this process takes, the Lakers are unlikely to lose out on Scott. With all 29 of the other NBA head coaching gigs claimed, L.A. isn't at risk of seeing a candidate go elsewhere. Not if that person is angling for the best sideline seat, at least.

Chances are, the conclusion to this story has already been written. All signs point to Scott eventually getting the call.

Mark Duncan/Associated Press

However, nothing is set in stone just yet.

The Lakers need to figure out what they'll have for next season before settling on a coach. Their wish list could change dramatically if they position themselves to make a prolonged playoff push, as opposed to delaying that run to have a crack at the loaded 2015 free-agent class.

Why is this taking so long? A simple risk-reward assessment spells out the answer pretty clearly.

They know what they have in Scott and know that he's ready to sign an offer as soon as they extend one. If he is their man, they're risking nothing by waiting to bring him aboard.

What they don't know is whether a better candidate—be that someone who opens a door to a premier player or one who brings a deeper bag of coaching skills—will emerge.

The Lakers, along with the rest of the league, are waiting on the biggest free-agent dominoes to drop. By the time that dust has settled, the Purple and Gold should have their next leader.


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