Life as an NBA head coach is always spent dangling over the edge. Except for a precious few who are exempt from a sudden ax, the position comes with virtually no job security. It's one of the most difficult, taxing and selfless careers in all of sports, and a harsh end is always right around the corner.
Byron Scott knows this better than anyone.
Nearly two weeks ago, at the conclusion of his second season as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, Scott was fired for the fourth time in 12 years.
The Lakers finished 44 games under .500 in Scott's two years behind the wheel, and in the 2015-16 season, they had the worst net rating in the league (minus-10.7). The 55-year-old's dismissal wasn't a total surprise, despite steady, season-long progress from L.A.'s young core (D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson) and Kobe Bryant's farewell tour turning the campaign into a circus.
In the end, his record was too one-sided to ignore.
Scott recently sat down with Bleacher Report to talk about why NBA coaches don't have more job security, how Bryant's final season affected him, his stance on analytics and general coaching philosophy, and how the Lakers can get back to their championship-winning ways.
Bleacher Report: Having been around basketball for so long, what did you learn over the past two years as coach of the Lakers?
Byron Scott: I guess there’s a few things that I learned. Number one: Loyalty is not what it used to be. Obviously. Number two: As far as I’m concerned, with the Kobe farewell tour, so to speak, I learned that I still have a great amount of respect and a great friend in Kobe Bryant. So those are two things just looking back over the past couple of weeks that I learned, but a couple of those things, to be honest with you, were nothing that I didn’t already know.
B/R: Can you go a little deeper into what you mean by loyalty? I know you’ve talked a bit about your belief that the team would afford you a little more time to work through its issues, since it's obviously rebuilding.
Scott: Well, just going back a few years, that was the whole premise of the conversation of taking the job, that the first two or three years in this process were going to be pretty tough. That was what I heard in our meetings and that’s what I put back at them: I’m good as long as you guys are good with it.
So when I talk about the loyalty part, the thing with me is that’s who I am. I’m a very loyal person. When I tell you I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it. That’s just something that I will not break, because that’s just not me.
So that’s how I felt at that particular time, that I would at least have another year with this organization and with the team to get these young guys even more developed, and hopefully you get a couple of great free agents to come in and boost this process that much sooner and that much quicker.
B/R: You used the word “rough” to describe the last two years in L.A. during a recent interview. Do you have any regrets?
Scott: No. Like I said, it was rough because I’m a competitor. I’m a winner. So every night that I went home after a game that we lost, it takes its toll. It eats at you. There wasn’t a whole lot of nights that I did get a whole night of sleep.
It was one of those last couple years where you just woke up often trying to figure out what you can do to help players get better, and what you can do as a coach to get better as well, so it was a rough two years, but it wasn’t something that I didn’t expect.
Like I said, our conversations, I knew that those two or three years would be tough, and I’ve always prided myself at having a strong back and having the type of characteristics that could handle situations like that.
B/R: How would you describe your relationship with the Lakers' front office? Did they ever influence lineups or rotations? What was your dialogue like?
Scott: No, they never influenced lineups or rotations or anything like that. I mean, there were times where [general manager] Mitch [Kupchak] would want me to play the young guys more minutes, but that was one of those things where you want those guys to get as much experience as possible when you know you’re not going anywhere.
But also I had to juggle in KB, when he was going to play, to make sure he got his minutes as well. So, a little bit of a juggling act, but they never told me about changing lineups and things like that.
Scott: They’re three different situations. In New Jersey I had a lot of success. In New Orleans I had a lot of success as well. So, obviously, the last two seasons here I didn’t have much success as far as what we wanted to accomplish, if you look at just the wins and losses.
But I think the success was developing our young guys. Jordan Clarkson continued to get better. Julius Randle got better. And if you look at D’Angelo from the start of the season to the end of the season, he got better. Larry Nance got better. So it was about developing our young guys over the last couple seasons, and I thought we were very successful in doing that.
Those are three totally different situations and all three of them had their challenges as well, but in Jersey, obviously, we got to two Finals, that’s pretty successful even though we didn’t win a championship. In New Orleans we had the best season ever in New Orleans' history, so I think that was successful as well.
B/R: Coaches tend to get lumped into different categories by the media and public: This coach is offensive-minded, this coach is defensive-minded. How would you describe your coaching philosophy, and do you think the teams you had over the past couple of seasons reflected it?
Scott: First of all, I think coaches are coaches. Like you said, the media puts you in certain categories, but every coach that I know that’s in the NBA is a basketball coach, meaning that they can coach offense; they can coach defense. It doesn’t matter. When you’re a basketball coach, that’s what you do.
You might have guys that you bring in that you want them to specifically focus on certain areas, but I look at every coach in this league, that’s been in this league, even though you get lumped in one category or another, you’re just a basketball coach. Just like great players are just great basketball players. They don’t necessarily all the time have to be a point guard or a small forward or a center, they’re just a great basketball player. And I think that’s the same with coaches.
So my philosophy on the offensive end is just like it was when I played the game. I want to be an uptempo team, get up and down the floor. And, defensively, you want to be a team that grinds it out every single night on that end of the floor, so the team I had over the last two seasons I don’t think reflected that to the fullest because a lot of it was so many young guys just trying to find their way and their niche in this league.
B/R: The three-point line is not the only way to judge whether a team is pro- or anti-analytics, obviously, but the Lakers launched nearly 500 more threes in your second year than your first. I know the personnel was different, but generally speaking, how would you describe your relationship with analytics moving forward?
Scott: I think my relationship with analytics is good. It gives me an idea of what we need to do, or what we’re doing well and what we’re not doing well, as it pertains to performances on the court. But, like you said, a lot of it depends on personnel.
If you have the personnel to shoot threes like Golden State or Cleveland, then you have to use that to your advantage. If you don’t, you’ve got to try to use that to your advantage. If you have guys who are mid-range shooters or guys who are attackers, you have to use that to your advantage. So I think analytics is really good as far as allowing you to pinpoint certain areas on the floor, certain things from a personal standpoint that can help you as a basketball coach.
The one thing we used it a lot for was bringing our young guys to the side and showing them their numbers from certain spots on the floor. And it gives us a way of saying "OK, now we need to work on this spot," and it might be straight catch-and-shoot or it might be off-the-dribble. So analytics does play a big part in that.
B/R: You recently said the coaching positions in Sacramento and Houston were interesting, but that you want to spend time and relax with your family. Do you see yourself getting back into coaching in the near future?
Scott: Absolutely. That’s who I am. I’m a coach, and I love the challenge of coaching. I love everything about it. I love the competition. I love the camaraderie. Everything that I loved as a player, I love as a coach. It’s just a different role—you know, you’ve got a suit on instead of a uniform.
So absolutely, I’d love to get back into coaching because that’s what I do, and I think I can definitely help another organization. And the bottom line to me is that I’m a winner, and that’s what I bring to the table.
Scott: I have no idea. Obviously I have a lot of respect for [Pacers' president of basketball operations] Larry Bird. He’s been with Frank and that organization for a long time, so I don’t question from the outside looking in what’s going on and why decisions are made, because I’m not there. So Larry obviously is going to do what he feels is best for the organization.
As far as security, I think a lot starts at ownership. A lot of times they don’t have the patience to allow a coach to grow with that team, and that seems to be a big issue right now.
So back in the day it seemed like there was a little bit more patience concerning the coaches and letting them grow with the core of guys that they had there, or trying to build something with those guys, and I don’t think that patience is as vital to them as it used to be.
B/R: How did Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour affect your ability to coach the Lakers?
Scott: I don’t really think it affected my ability to coach the team. Juggling his minutes wasn’t difficult to be honest with you. We had a set amount of minutes that I wanted to play him the nights that he could play, but my main objective when he announced to me that he was going to retire was, number one, to get him to Game 82 relatively healthy. I wanted him to be able to walk off the court after the last game of his season, and we were able to accomplish that.
And number two was to further continue to develop our young guys. So those are the two main objectives going into the season with Kobe’s farewell tour.
To me it wasn’t that big of an adjustment; it was more of just making sure I managed his minutes, his practice time and his shootaround time, so I could make sure his body was as healthy as it could be come April 13.
B/R: Beyond playing time, how difficult was it to implement ball movement with Kobe’s playing style, which is a little more isolation heavy?
Scott: It was a little bit more difficult, really, when he wasn’t there. When he’s there, everybody pretty much knew what was going on. And to be honest with you, even Kobe would stress to the guys that we had to move the ball more. So that wasn’t difficult.
Like I said, the one thing that I enjoyed the most about the last two years with the team is that our relationship—that being Kobe and I—we were on the same page on pretty much everything, and we understood each other extremely well. So, to be honest with you, that was the pleasant part of it for me. Just seeing him on a day-to-day basis and talking to him about basketball and trying to implement certain things to try and help our young guys get better.
B/R: Kobe is retired and has said he’ll never play again. But, hypothetically, as someone who saw him play up close last season, do you think he could still give a contender a good 10-15 minutes next season if he changed his mind and came back?
Scott: Next season, yeah, I’m sure he could. He could play that role. But that’s not Kobe Bryant. He’s not going to come off the bench and play 10 or 15 minutes every night. That’s just not him. It’s not his mentality. It’s not his makeup.
So I truly believed him when he said he was done and this was going to be his last year, and I see no reason for him to even think about coming back. I think he went out the way most guys would love to go out and end their career.
B/R: What do you think is D'Angelo Russell's biggest obstacle moving forward?
Scott: His biggest obstacle is himself. D’Angelo has a lot of talent. His work ethic is something that has to get a whole lot better, and his focus has to get a whole lot better. But again, we’re talking about a 20-year-old kid, so his room to grow is astronomical. That’s the only thing that can really hold him back, is himself.
And the other issue he’s going to have to deal with obviously is the locker room and gaining the trust and the respect back from his teammates. But I think time heals all wounds, and guys will forget about the incident last year relatively soon. He has to just work his butt off to gain that respect and trust back from his teammates.
B/R: And the same question for Julius Randle. What do you think is his biggest obstacle to becoming the best player he can be?
Scott: Julius has all the tools. He’s just going to have to hit that 15- to 18-foot jump shot on a consistent basis, and if he’s able to do that, then that kid can almost be unguardable. Because he has a great first step, he’s strong, he can get to the basket. But if he can knock down that mid-range shot, then he’s going to be dangerous.
B/R: How can the Lakers be great again?
Scott: Well, the young guys have got to keep developing, and you just got to bring in more talent. It’s a big summer for them as far as free agency is concerned. If they can get a couple top-notch free agents, then that process is going to accelerate.
B/R: Are there any questions you wish I asked, or topics you’d like to discuss that we haven’t already?
Scott: No, no questions. Other than me enjoying myself this summer and getting my basketball camps together, and I’ve got a book that’s going to be coming out in 2017, other than that everything’s fine. The title right now is For the Win. It’s a book that I collaborated on with a very good friend of mine named Charlie Norse, who’s been a very successful businessman.
And him and I are just collaborating on how the sports world and the business world have so many things in common when it comes to leadership and so many other things, so we’re kind of hitting a whole lot of topics in the book and having a lot of fun doing it. It’ll probably be on bookshelves in May of 2017.