LOS ANGELES — After Mike Brown and Mike D'Antoni, the Los Angeles Lakers needed a leader of men.
With his poised posture, authoritative calm and championship heritage, Byron Scott undoubtedly has leadership skills.
All that won't matter one bit, however, if Scott doesn't lead one man in particular.
And Scott's ledger on that front so far is as bad as the Lakers' one-win record under him, the worst 10-game start in franchise history.
A great relationship, which is what the longtime Byron-Kobe bond is supposed to be, isn't about the parties being agreeable. The beauty in it should be the honesty in questions and answers, one teaching the other what he doesn't even know he doesn't know…and smiles growing over both faces in appreciation for an undeniably greater growth.
That's how opposites attract and tough love works.
And in this case of a coach and a player, the former also must have clear authority over the latter.
Yet Scott trusts Bryant so much more than anyone else on this low-rent Lakers roster that it has become impossible for the others to feel properly respected. Of course, you don't coach everyone the same in this business, but you have to coach everyone in a way that feels equitable enough so that an actual team is built.
To Scott's credit, the Lakers' 136-115 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night has him contemplating going back to the drawing board for new methods—including publicly holding Carlos Boozer and Jordan Hill accountable for substandard defensive efforts.
Scott lit into the team at halftime about that lack of effort—and the Lakers proceeded to surrender 41 third-quarter points on 60.9 percent field-goal shooting. A 19-point halftime deficit swelled to humiliating proportions—36 points—by the end of the third.
Not exactly a message getting across.
These were the Warriors, a true powerhouse of an offense and legit title contenders—and the Lakers' schedule has been awfully tough. Yet as Bryant said after the game, "It gets to a point where you can't make excuses."
You have to make corrections to the flaws.
No massive talent upgrade is coming, though if 6'9" forward Quincy Miller fares well in a tryout this week, expect to see him replace Xavier Henry on the team. Miller, who turns 22 on Tuesday and has rare upside despite no sense of how to reach it after two years with the Denver Nuggets, would at least give the Lakers a little more youth and hope in Julius Randle's absence.
Injuries have thinned what Scott thought he'd have to work with—a second unit featuring Jeremy Lin, Nick Young, Ed Davis and Randle would've been quite credible—but the central issue is getting the guys on the same page with Bryant.
There is a fundamental problem with the template.
You want to build the team around Bryant's free rein on offense while he is encouraged to "rest"—Scott's own word—on defense, yet every other guy is being held to fantastic standards that must be met for the team to overachieve?
How is anyone besides Kobe ever going to think that's cool? Resentment is bound to build, especially when Bryant is so unabashed in competitive zeal that he described his view on his teammates' passivity Sunday night thus: "Can't just sit back and watch crime happen."
It might work every once in a while, as Bryant's shooting and scoring against single coverage has inspired his teams to compete harder and rally in games of the past—though certainly not Sunday night.
Boozer and Lin, two guys who believe deeply in Kobe, were left grumbling late Sunday night about the difficulty of finding offensive rhythm next to him.
It most definitely isn't easy to learn to play with him. As such, Scott must make that process easier, not harder.
For all that D'Antoni did wrong, his system of clean spacing and quick shooting did create some air of equality on the team. But like D'Antoni—and even like Rudy Tomjanovich, who memorably rushed Bryant back in for the final minutes of his first Lakers exhibition game to try to win it—Scott has fallen into the trap of not understanding that less Kobe can be more for all.
D'Antoni took every minute Bryant was willing to give until the Achilles tendon rupture (Bryant's minutes log leading up it: 47:37, 47:04, 42:32, 47:20, 41:06, 48:00, then 44:54 at the time of the rupture).
Not that anyone was eager to follow Dwight Howard in that 2013 Lakers first-round playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs, but establishing utter dependence on Bryant simply does not foster belief in the team as a whole.
Scott riding Bryant for so many sloppy extra minutes Nov. 4 against the visiting Phoenix Suns—he'd predetermined that the lack of games afterward meant Bryant could go longer—is not building a team. It reeks of desperation and undermines the rest of the players—besides endangering Bryant for the long haul of the season (and making him tired and making it less likely to win that game down the stretch anyway).
The whole thing, deep down, doesn't make Bryant happy either. He has learned most from the push and pull of Phil Jackson, the cross-denunciations from Tex Winter and the stubborn self-worth of Derek Fisher that his success doesn't come courtesy of yes men.
As the backlash questions from reporters about his shot-fest Sunday night continued, Bryant said: "It's tough, but the responsibility is on me. When things go good, it's us. When things go bad, it's me. That's the responsibility of being in this seat."
Bryant, who launched 34 shots and tallied 44 points against the Warriors, later added: "I'm more than willing to sit back. If you think I want to shoot as many times or be as aggressive at 36 years old, you're freakin' crazy."
In other words…
Byron, help me.
Even if Bryant still lusts to pile up points, even if management's one exception to this save-cap-space shell game was asking Bryant to earn his big money, it's the coach's job to build a real team with what pieces he has.
With the Lakers losing 131-103 with 3:30 left in the game Sunday night, a boy about 10 years old yelled out from under a black Lakers cap at Staples Center, "Put in Kobe!"
An understandable refrain, really, if the Lakers aren't going to be any good this season anyway. Heck, the majority of these teammates won't even be around for Bryant's farewell tour next season.
One guy here, though, might actually outlast Bryant…if he shows he can really coach.
Scott has earned Bryant's respect. Now he must do something with it.
Use it to build this team—a team that can indulge, overcome and, above all, include Kobe.