X

What Byron Scott's Past Reveals About LA Lakers' Identity for Next Season

Michael Pina@@MichaelVPinaFeatured ColumnistSeptember 11, 2014

EL SEGUNDO, CA - JULY 29:  Byron Scott addresses the media after being introduced as the new head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers at Toyota Sports Center on July 29, 2014 in El Segundo, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

With his first season as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers right around the corner, Byron Scott has serious work cut out for himself.

Behind a roster of castoffs, journeymen, has-beens and never-will-bes, the team is expected to struggle in a major way. 

But even if the Lakers aren’t able to turn things around overnight, the journey of going from a laughingstock in 2013-14 back to a respectable competitor could very well come under Scott’s command. 

What does Scott's past as head coach of the New Jersey Nets (2000-04), New Orleans Hornets (2004-09) and Cleveland Cavaliers (2010-13) tell us about how he’ll try and fix all that’s ailing the once-proud organization he used to play for? Here’s a closer look.

Scott’s Career Is Better Than You Might Think

Scott’s most recent head coaching job with the Cavaliers was a failure from start to finish, but look at his entire resume, and things look a bit brighter.

In just his second and third seasons on the job, he led the long-hapless Nets all the way to back-to-back NBA Finals, where they fell to the Lakers and San Antonio Spurs.

Defense was everything for both of those Eastern Conference champions. They finished atop the league in defensive rating twice, making their slightly below-average offense somewhat tolerable. Scott’s formula worked, even if a title was never really in the cards. 

Scott immediately followed up four successful years in New Jersey with a little over five more down in New Orleans. Starting in his second season, a 20-year-old Chris Paul was there to help lead the way.

In 2007-08, Scott won NBA Coach of the Year, molding a solid group of overachievers into the league’s fifth-best offense and seventh-best defense. 

It was Scott’s first foray into the postseason since losing the NBA Finals five years prior. Once again, the Spurs and Gregg Popovich were what did him and his team in. 

NEW ORLEANS - FEBRUARY 16: Kobe Bryant and Byron Scott of the West All-Stars talk during the West All-Stars Practice on center court at NBA Jam Session presented by Addidas at the Earnest N. Morial Convention Center February 16, 2008 in New Orleans, Louis
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

How Will Los Angeles Score?

Scott’s tenure as head coach of the Cavaliers was brief and moldy, lasting from the 2010-11 season to 2012-13. Cleveland never finished higher than dead last in the Central Division, but its offense jumped from 29th to 19th, climbing just over 2.0 points per 100 possessions in those three years.  

With unspectacular talent outside of a teenage Kyrie Irving, Scott’s job wasn’t easy. He implemented portions of the Princeton offense, directing his players to weave through screens off the ball, read the defense and react accordingly as opposed to jamming static sets into a concrete wall.

Here’s what Scott had to say about his offense to the The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Mary Schmitt Boyer back in 2010:

It's an offense that has great spacing. It's an offense that's demanding as far as understanding basketball. If you have a real good understanding of basketball, this offense is pretty much tailor-made for you. That's about as simple as you can put it. It's basketball at its finest.

[...]

This is an offense that teaches you how your footwork is important to set guys to get open. But it's also very simple. As much as people say it's a complex offense, it's really one of the simplest forms of basketball you can find. It's just a matter of finding guys who understand how to play.

Here’s a clip breaking down how the inverted scheme is supposed to unfold, with big men running the show from the top of the key, while guards fly around to get open away from the action.

The Lakers have several intelligent offensive-minded bigs who can pass and set sturdy screens (most notably Carlos Boozer), so the Princeton offense isn't entirely illogical here.

But it’ll be interesting to see how the likes of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Jeremy Lin and Nick Young—presumably Los Angeles’ four lead ball-handlers—handle so much movement away from the ball.

Nash and Lin have had the most success throughout their careers running side and high pick-and-rolls, so Scott would be wise to infuse a healthy dose of those in the playbook. 

EL SEGUNDO, CA - JULY 25: Carlos Boozer #5 of the Los Angeles Lakers poses for a portrait after a press conference at the Toyota Sports Center on July 25, 2014 in El Segundo, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downlo
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The Steepest of Steep Mountains

The Lakers don’t have many (any?) players on their roster who stand out as strong defensive presences, which is strange considering that’s the end of the floor where Scott’s had the most success in 12 years of coaching.  

Scott recently sat down with Lakers.com reporter Mike Trudell and announced how he plans to prevent other teams from walking all over his guys. It begins with a consistent strategy:

Defensive philosophy has to be constant. ... When I go into the season, there are three ways we’re going to guard side pick and rolls, for example: we’re going to down it, hard show, or red it (trap). If you do it from day one, guys get better at it because they’re working on it every day in practice. I want to establish those things day-to-day, and if you do that, it takes a lot of the thinking away and gets back to reacting.

This isn't a poor line of thought, but Scott's recent history shows that he isn't capable of turning a limited roster into a stable pack of defenders.

Here’s a play from a game two years ago between the Chicago Bulls and Scott’s Cavaliers. Instead of defending the initial pick-and-roll with purpose, the Cavs lazily switch, creating a bad mismatch that eventually leads to Mike James—yes, Mike James—driving from the top of the key to the rim. 

It’s only one play, but it's just one of many examples from Scott’s three-year tenure with the Cavaliers; it’s the exact type of defense that will murder the Lakers next season. 

Whether he’s able to successfully institute a pack-the-paint philosophy or not could ultimately decide how long Scott stays on as head coach of the Lakers. Then again, he should be seen as a miracle worker if he can devise a system that has Los Angeles outside the bottom 10 in defensive rating.

EL SEGUNDO, CA - JULY 29:  Byron Scott addresses the media after being introduced as the new head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers at Toyota Sports Center on July 29, 2014 in El Segundo, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Scott has had his ups and downs as a head coach, and given the Lakers’ expectations over the next few years, it’s fair to wonder if maybe a younger coach with less experience and no baggage would be a better fit. 

But that discussion is ultimately irrelevant. Scott’s offensive and (especially) defensive systems could have the Lakers playing over their heads next season, but having a plan and executing it consistently on a nightly basis are two very different things. 

The road ahead is anything but smooth.

All statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com or NBA.com unless otherwise noted. 

Michael Pina covers the NBA for Bleacher Report, Sports on Earth, FOX Sports, ESPN, Grantland and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelVPina. 

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.