Byron Scott is no different than Mike D'Antoni and Mike Brown, his two predecessors.
Both inevitably crashed and burned amid substandard results that didn't measure up to the Los Angeles Lakers' disproportionate expectations. They came, were expected to win, didn't win and left. Scott has now entered the same coaching carousel—the one the Lakers have created by design.
This year's team isn't built to win. But, much like the ones before it, onset expectations, at least publicly, didn't match the squad's actual ceiling. Now Scott, like D'Antoni and Brown, finds himself coaching through an early-season facade that has once again bent to reality.
Brown lasted not two seasons in Los Angeles as Phil Jackson's successor. His first foray into the Lakers' sideline inferno ended with a second-round playoff exit at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012. On the heels of the Lakers acquiring Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in free agency that offseason, he was canned five games into 2012-13, having failed to make sense of the team's superstar medley.
In came D'Antoni, instead of Jackson, to restore respect and, most importantly, a Showtime style of basketball. But, while he guided the Lakers to the playoffs, they flopped in fantastic fashion.
They, a team of four stars in Howard, Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, battled injuries and identity issues all season before falling to a far superior San Antonio Spurs squad—a first-round sweep that had just as much to do with erring expectations as it did Bryant's absence.
D'Antoni would survive another injury-riddled campaign following Howard's departure in 2013-14, during which Bryant and Nash combined for 21 appearances. The Lakers would win 27 games, the third-lowest full-season total in franchise history, miss the playoffs for the first time since 2005 and D'Antoni would resign before rumors of his lame-duck status swirled supersonically.
Months later, Bryant would voice disdain for D'Antoni's coaching style, telling reporters, "DAntoni and I didn't have the same philosophy on winning. For me, it's winning and no in between...It's championship or a waste of time," per ESPN.com's Ramon Shelburne.
That's why Bryant enthusiastically embraced the Scott hire. These two former teammates are cut from the same mold. Bryan't won't ever utter the word "rebuilding," and the closest Scott came to admitting the Lakers would be less than NBA title contenders was in August, when he pleaded ignorance to the team's potential ceiling.
And that isn't out of character for the Lakers organization—especially during the Bryant era. Not even general manager Mitch Kupchak could curb expectations over the offseason.
"Our expectations are to win a championship," he said ahead of 2014-15, per NBA.com. "I know that sounds (unrealistic), because expectations outside of this room might not be the same...So our message to the organization and the players is: You always go into the season looking to win a championship. That’s how we feel, and that’s how our players have to feel."
All the while, as the Lakers talked a huge game, others doubted and denounced their chances early and often.
Most took one look at the team's placeholder-packed roster and saw a lottery-lost contingent incapable of putting up a fight in the ultrabrutal Western Conference.
As Shaun Powell wrote for Sports On Earth just after the Lakers announced the Scott hire:
But Kobe doesn't have anywhere near the quality help it'll take to make this ride into the sunset as breezy as a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway in a drop-top. When his 19th season launches in a few months, one of the greatest stars of our generation will be surrounded by role players, aging players and unproven players, a chaotic trifecta that's destined to push his patience to the limit. Stung by an empty summer that did nothing to keep the franchise from veering off its plunge into the murk of mediocrity, the Lakers are destined to waste the first of Kobe's two remaining years under contract, and by waste we mean 'no chance in hell for a championship.'
True to predictions, the Lakers have struggled. They're on pace to win no more than 20 games this season, which would be their worst finish in franchise history. Their offense ranks in the top 15 of efficiency, yet remains heavily reliant on Bryant, who at 36 years old is registering the fifth-highest usage rate ever.
Said offense, meanwhile, is actually scoring 6.2 points more per 100 possessions without Bryant. Though there's a disparity in the sample size—the Lakers have played 274 minutes without him, compared to 744 with him—they're still fielding the equivalent of a top-four offense when he's on the bench.
It didn't take long for Scott to concede to the obvious, either. After claiming the Lakers would play defense over the summer, he admitted their woes on that end might be incurable by November, via the Los Angeles Times.
Starting lineup changes haven't even worked. Benching Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer for the more defensively apt Ronnie Price and Ed Davis did nothing for the Lakers against the New Orleans Pelicans. They crumbled under a simultaneous inability to score and defend.
|Lakers' Most Used Starting Lineups Since 2011|
|Season||Guard||Guard||Forward||Forward||Center||Starting Five Record||Total # Starting Fives|
|2011-12||D. Fisher||K. Bryant||M. World Peace||P. Gasol||A. Bynum||16-7||8|
|2012-13||S. Nash||K. Brya||M. World Peace||E. Clark||D. Howard||17-10||18|
|2013-14||K. Marshall||J. Meeks||W. Johnson||R. Kelly||P. Gasol||3-8||35|
|2014-15||J. Lin||K. Bryant||W. Johnson||C. Boozer||J. Hill||5-14||3|
Ambitious preseason pursuits might have incited artificial fanfare, but they could not safeguard this team against playing as it was built to play.
The Lakers were never going to contend for a championship this season, let alone win one. Scott wasn't brought in to change that. They aren't built for winning now. They're built for cap space, for free agency, for an instant turnaround.
Only Nick Young, Julius Randle, Ryan Kelly and Bryant are under guaranteed contracts beyond this season, per ShamSports, giving Los Angeles the means to sign numerous impact players who can help them evade repeats of 2013-14 and 2014-15.
Perhaps, if the Lakers stage a free-agency coup, Scott will truly be expected to win. But not now. That's where his tenure briefly diverges from that of Brown's and D'Antoni's time at the helm.
Another Unreachable Bar
When Brown came in, the Lakers were less than two years removed from Bryant's fifth championship. The allure and accompanying expectations of Jackson's mystique still lingered. Bryant, Gasol and Andrew Bynum weren't yet ebbing. There was reason enough to believe they could—and therefore must—compete.
D'Antoni inherited a self-declared superteam. With four future Hall of Famers on the roster, it was impossible for him to sidestep championship pressure.
Neither D'Antoni nor Brown entered ideal situations. A group that wasn't good enough for Jackson wouldn't be good enough for Brown, and with the exception of the 2007-08 Boston Celtics, superteams seldom click on all cylinders during their inaugural campaigns.
Scott doesn't face a similar mandate. Initial expectations, however manufactured, have given way to something more powerful: facts.
|Lakers' Life After Phil Jackson|
|Season||Coach||Off. Rank||Def. Rank||Record|
|2012-13||Mike Brown/Mike D'Antoni||9||20||45-37|
|2014-15||Byron Scott||15||30||20-62 (Current pace)|
Reality is beginning to set in for everyone involved—even for the once-ornery Bryant.
“If this was the Titanic, I would go down with the ship," he said following the 104-87 loss to New Orleans, according to the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina. "I’m not jumping off.”
Not that he has any choice. Short of demanding a trade that, admittedly, might be impossible to broker given his contract, Bryant, like Scott, must endure the death of Los Angeles' hastily crafted illusion.
There's a fine line between "What else are they supposed to say?" and betraying reality that the Lakers have repeatedly crossed since 2011. They overestimate their roster, their standing, their health, their potential. And whether a designed ploy or rigid belief, the results now are predictably disheartening, just as they've always been.