With another dreadful season underway, Byron Scott is getting a taste of what it’s like to helm the sinking ship known as today’s Los Angeles Lakers.
But he has also had down years at each stop along the way, including most recently with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Now ensconced in his dream job—coaching the same purple and gold colors he wore on the floor during three Showtime championship runs—Scott searches for answers as the Lakers fall to 3-11 in the Western Conference.
The coach has endless trust in one of the league’s fiercest competitors. But Kobe Bryant is entering his twilight chapter, and there’s simply not enough talent amongst the Mamba’s supporting cast to win with any consistency.
Injuries played their part in the bobbled start, with Steve Nash and rookie Julius Randle out for the season. Adding to the woes, Nick “Swaggy P” Young missed the first 10 games of the season, nine of which were losses.
Games lost to injury are a part of every team’s narrative, however. And Scott, who was brought in to shore up a team that skidded to a 27-55 record last season, is plunging even faster than predecessors Mike D’Antoni and Mike Brown.
It’s enough to cause a lack of conviction among pundits, fans and even players.
As reported by Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com, the new Lakers coach is trying to keep the team’s competitive fires burning through motivational messages, including future title hopes: “I told them that I have no doubt that we will win a championship in my tenure here as head coach, because I know this organization. But I do know it's going to take some patience. It's a process."
The current process includes a heavy reliance on Bryant, the last player remaining from the recent championship era.
Sometimes the team’s enduring star is brilliant, and sometimes you just have to scratch your head as he chucks up a long-distance prayer light years from home.
During a recent game preview, Darius Soriano for Forum Blue and Gold wrote about the difficult balance facing Scott:
With all the perks that come with coaching the Lakers and Kobe Bryant, what Scott must manage now is clearly one of the hard aspects. Getting all the players on the same page and effectively building a cohesiveness from a roster that isn’t familiar with each other, nor familiar with how Kobe responds in any given moment, is difficult.
Add a bunch of losing to the equation and things only get harder. But this is the job he signed up for. It’s time for him to put in the work or fail trying.
The Lakers’ coach is also dealing with a team that seems diametrically suited to his most fundamental precept—limiting easy baskets. Even if the team wasn’t loaded with stoppers, they were expected to show a consistent effort of trapping and corralling pick-and-roll penetration.
Speaking to Lakers.com’s Mike Trudell this summer, Scott said, “You want to clog up the paint as much as possible and make the opponent take contested jump shots.”
Unfortunately, that most elemental of responsibilities has headed resolutely in the wrong direction. In fact, Zach Harper for CBS Sports points out that the Lakers are on pace to become the worst defensive team in history:
Looking at their latest loss to the Mavericks, Basketball-Reference has the Lakers' defensive rating for that game at a staggering 155.6 points per 100 possessions. It can also lead you to believe the Lakers' one possibly historically bad game could have skewed the numbers to all-time futility. Unfortunately for the Lakers, that's not true.
Nine of their 13 games have resulted in a defensive rating that would put them as the worst defense in NBA history. And three of those other games resulted in defensive efforts worse than the current 106.1 league average.
After being shelled in Dallas, Scott said, per Joey Ramirez for Lakers.com, “Sometimes I do feel like I’m talking to myself when I’m talking about the defensive end of the floor and just trying to stress how important it is to our guys each and every night.”
If so many things are going wrong, there are at least a few silver linings. The return of Young is adding much-needed firing power off the bench, backup big man Ed Davis is swatting opponents’ shots with abandon, and starting center Jordan Hill is leading the league in offensive rebounds.
And while Bryant’s field-goal percentage is his lowest in 19 years, he’s still averaging more points than anyone else in the NBA. That counts for something.
The temptation when things are going wrong is to try different methodologies on the fly. But it may not be as much a matter of Scott’s flawed fundamental philosophies as it is getting players to buy in.
After all, the Memphis Grizzlies are grinding out the best record in the Western Conference through defense, while the Toronto Raptors’ lead in the Eastern Conference is accompanied by that conference’s best team scoring.
It’s a sense of consistency and a readily identifiable style that often define a team’s success.
The Lakers' record is not due to any singular factor; however, their vessel is leaking like a sieve.
The upside is the potential to head back to the draft lottery for the second time in two years. The 2015 pick the team gave to the Phoenix Suns for the Nash trade is top-five protected.
There should also be enough cap space next summer to be active in the free-agent market.
Barely into a four-year contract, Scott will have to put championship dreams on hold for now and look toward the future. That means lessening his reliance on Bryant, building team chemistry, establishing a cohesive system and developing young players.
Things will probably get worse before they get better—that’s the new reality of coaching the Lakers.