The Clock Is Ticking on Byron Scott's Future with the Los Angeles Lakers

David Murphy@@davem234Featured ColumnistJuly 24, 2015

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Heading into his second season as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, Byron Scott is facing not one, but multiple ticking clock scenarios.

And like a protagonist in a blockbuster movie, the veteran coach’s ultimate success might very well lie in picking his battles wisely. But since when do action figures take the most logical approach to saving the day?

Scott will have numerous competing agendas on his plate when basketball resumes in the fall. He’ll have a mostly young roster to preside over, including rookies and sophomores who need time and patient guidance in order to grow and develop for the future. 

Jul 13, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell (1) dribbles the ball during an NBA Summer League game against the Knicks at Thomas & Mack Center. The Knicks won 76-66. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

On the other hand, legendary superstar Kobe Bryant will return after a long injury layoff, for perhaps his final season. It’s doubtful the Mamba will be content with holding the hands of neophytes as they learn the ways of the NBA. Bryant will want to do one thing and one thing only—go out in a blaze of prove-it-all glory.

Lakers fans are also not likely to embrace a slow rebuild after years of diminishing returns.

And then there’s Scott’s ultimate responsibility of serving those who employ him, including Lakers executive Jim Buss who is one year into his self-imposed deadline to step down if the team doesn’t make it to the Western Conference Finals.

Oct 8, 2013; Ontario, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers executive vice president of player personnel Jim Buss attends the game against the Denver Nuggets at Citizens Business Bank Arena. The Lakers defeated the Nuggest 90-88. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TOD
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In a recent KPCC radio interview (h/t ESPN's Baxter Holmes), Lakers boss Jeanie Buss said she’d hold her brother to that promise.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Buss said. “This is my job. I’m part-owner of the team, but I’m also the president.”

And the failure to launch a winning campaign this season would surely pound another nail into Scott’s own coffin. The honeymoon can only last so long. 

There’s also pesky little problems like the old-school coach’s reluctance to embrace such modernistic concepts as the use of statistical analysis in order to improve team performance.

As reported by the Orange County Register’s Bill Oram, the organization is strengthening its use of advanced analysis by naming assistant coach Clay Moser as a liaison between the coaching staff and the analytics department.

How that works in practical terms remains to be seen, with Oram recalling a statement Scott made about analytics last February: “I think we’ve got a few guys who believe in them. I’m not one of them.”

With the clock ticking on Scott’s future, plus so many competing agendas, there is only one solution—more wins this season. Reaching the playoffs will be a difficult task in a loaded Western Conference. But improving significantly from a 21-61 record would at least get things moving in the right direction.

For all of the criticism leveled at the current Lakers’ head coach, his insistence on improving the defense is entirely warranted. The team gave up 105.3 points per game last season, more than any other team save the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the team's effort at that end of the floor often looked more like a layup line drill than an NBA team attempting to get a stop

With this summer’s trade acquisition of 7’2” Roy Hibbert from the Indiana Pacers, L.A. will finally have the rim-protector Scott so badly desires. The plan will be to funnel incoming traffic to the man-mountain to prevent easy buckets.

During his recent press conference, per Joey Ramirez of Lakers.com, Hibbert displayed an acute awareness of the team’s defensive shortcomings.

“My main presence is going to be at the rim,” Hibbert said. “Last year the Lakers were (29th) in defensive efficiency. So my job is to make sure I clog up the paint, (provide) help-side defense, and whatever else I get on the offensive end is candy.”

Darren Hauck/Associated Press

During a subsequent one-one-one interview with Mike Trudell of Lakers.com, the two-time All-Star was asked about balancing his traditional strengths with a league that is evolving toward speed.

Hibbert responded that he has lost 16 pounds in order to move better and play quicker, adding: “I’m just trying to adapt instead of whining about how the league is going small.”

Scott has already imparted his philosophy to the Lakers’ next starting center, per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.

“I said, ‘The one thing I need you to do is rebound and protect that paint,’ Scott recalled saying. ‘We’ll figure out the rest later.’”

The rest includes the other end of the floor where L.A. has a phalanx of playmaking guards and wings who will try to operate through the confines of Scott’s off-ball hybrid Princeton system. However, as Darius Soriano of Forum Blue and Gold points out, there are some hopeful ball-sharing signs:

In the 28 games after the all-star break, Jordan Clarkson averaged 5.4 assists per game. We all saw D’Angelo Russell’s passing ability during summer league and his willingness to share the ball will surely translate to the regular season. Even Jabari Brown (2.1 assists per game last year) and Lou Williams (a strong P&R player who has averaged more than 3 assists in seven of his 10 seasons) are capable of dishing out dimes.

Much will depend on a collaborative effort between Russell, this year’s No. 2 draft pick, and Clarkson, who progressed dramatically during his rookie season. One of Scott’s strengths as a coach has been as a mentor to young guards, and establishing a potent twin guard attack will be key to the team’s future success.

As for Bryant, the five-time champion succeeded in Phil Jackson’s triangle offense for the bulk of his career, and he always finds a way to get his shots. The longtime shooting guard will probably spend a significant portion of his minutes at the wing this season, establishing easy opportunity scoring positions even if the positional shift comes with defensive question marks at the other end.

Alex Brandon/Associated Press

Scott will also be looking for Julius Randle to come back strong after missing all of his rookie season except for 14 minutes, due to a broken leg. Randle has the strength to impose his will in the paint, as well as coast-to-coast versatility.

“He’s a guy who can bring the ball up,” Scott said per Medina. “I told him every rebound he gets, he should push it. He has an ability to make plays for himself and his teammates.”

Scott, who was a three-time champion with the Showtime Lakers, will likely continue to enjoy some modicum of job security—he signed a four-year, $17 million contract just last summer, which includes a team option in the final year of the deal.

But in a league where expectations are always high and coaching tenures are increasingly fragile, Scott’s history with the organization will only go so far.

He’ll have to deliver a better season than last, and finding that success will require a greater flexibility and a willingness to evolve with the times.

In the meantime, the clock will keep ticking—for the players, for management and for Scott.

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