Yesterday, Dexter Fishmore did a great job explaining why Brian Shaw would be a decent hire if Phil Jackson decides to retire. In the midst of Jerry Buss's and Phil Jackson's season-long media battle regarding Jackson's return as coach, there has been one name that's remained constant as a possible candidate - Byron Scott. From the reports we've been hearing, it seems it may come down to Shaw or Scott as candidates to take over. We Lakers fans remember Scott from his days as shooting guard during Magic's glorious Showtime Era. Sure, the nostalgia of his playing days is nice and all if you're the sentimental type, and as a person who grew up watching Showtime, I'll always have some love for #4 with the high-top fade. Still, flashbacks and memories don't win championships. I can't help but feel that Byron Scott as a candidate is Jerry Buss and son trying to pull the wool over our eyes with old memories.
We could ask ourselves why this is even an issue. Realistically, the back-and-forth remarks between Phil and Jerry Buss should have ended the moment the Lakers won another championship. But no, we're left wondering what's going to happen while Phil decides whether he should retire. I think he's going to come back, but not before letting Buss know just how foolish he looks possibly pushing the greatest coach in NBA history out the door on the heels of O'Brien Trophy number eleven. Phil seems to have the leverage for now, but I'm sure there's probably more to the story than we are made privy to. For now we're left to wonder about replacements. So let's focus on Byron Scott and why he should not be the coach to inherit our defending champs.
First, let's get one thing out of the way. Byron Scott is not a bad coach. He's had success in this league, and a lot more of it than many other coaches could claim. He did take the New Jersey Nets to two straight NBA Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003. The Finals trips began just one year after a 26-win campaign. He also helped build the New Orleans Hornets from a woeful 18-64 team to a 56-26 record in 2007-08. It's not like the man is a dud.
It's about whether and how he could help the Lakers, a team fresh off of a repeat championship, in a system that has yielded Phil Jackson 11 championships in the past 19 seasons. A team that obviously knows how to get it done, considering their three straight Finals trips. The Lakers are at the height of success. There's no need to change a system that's obviously working great. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
In Dex's endorsement of Brian Shaw, he made some very good points regarding the difficulty of replacing Phil:
There are two criteria that should figure most prominently into the choice of a new Laker coach. One is systems continuity: the Lakers have won back-to-back titles running the Triangle offense and the strong-side trap on defense, so you want someone who knows that playbook and will continue to run it. Hiring someone wed to their own pet systems (think John Calipari and his dribble-drive attack) not only isn't necessary, but would be affirmatively harmful. Anyone in the mood for another year of Ron Artest trying to figure out where he's supposed to be on the floor? . . .
The second job requirement for a prospective Laker coach should be an ability to manage the complex assortment of personalities in the Laker locker room. Aside from Derek Fisher, every core member of the rotation needs to be handled delicately at times. The head coach, whoever he is, will have to persuade Kobe Bryant to throttle back his shooting occasionally, or maybe rest an injured limb for his and the team's long-term benefit. The coach may need to make sure Pau Gasol is still feeling loved in those moments when the guards are forgetting to feed him the ball. The coach will need to light a fire under Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. He'll need to handle the next bout of Artest craziness, whatever form it might take. . . .
Let's just concede that no one is as well suited to this role as Phil Jackson. Phil has the rings, he has the authority, he has the experience with all of these players (save Caracter), and he has the even-keeled, "What, me worry?" temperament. That's why his potential retirement is such a big deal. Presiding over the Laker locker room is a high-stakes, high-degree-of-difficulty undertaking, and if Phil retires to the wilds of Montana, whoever's next in line won't be as good at the job.
Byron Scott is the complete opposite of both of those criteria. He's also been fired twice, both times in the middle of a season! The teams employing him thought the situations under which they let him go were bad enough that they could not let him finish the year. It's a telling sign of some fault in his style of coaching that this has happened twice now, after previous success.
Why was he fired? The first time, his players tuned him out. They quit on him. He lost his team. He lost them though his demanding and grating style. The second time? He lost them with their lack of confidence in his ability to devise in-game strategies. Does this sound like a man who could take over a team defending a championship? No doubt they would second-guess his decisions and authority if they clashed with what has gotten them there previously. Wouldn't Scott want to come in and do things his way? Wouldn't he have to? How else could he earn the respect of a championship staff, unless he implemented a system in which they know Scott has 100% confidence? In the style of coaching he feels best suits him?
Here are some complaints as they relate to the criteria described above.
Criteria 1. Systems Continuity
From Nola.com (Nov.12, 2009), New Orleans Hornets forward David West speaking out on the Hornets' coaching change:
"We're not going to be as predictable as we have been in the past. I know that, having played for Tim [Floyd] before," said West, a sixth-year veteran. "That's something I'm looking forward to, in terms of style of play." . . .
West said that the team's philosophy wasn't working, and Scott's pride might have been a factor.
"We've had some conversations over the past couple of weeks, just trying to figure out what we could do to get the ship righted, but ... pride is a crazy thing," he said. "I think pride is a dangerous, dangerous thing. I think there was a sense a few guys weren't trusting what we had in terms of our system and our ability to know what we were going to get every single night from our system."
From ESPN.com (Jan. 27, 2004), Scott fired by division leading Nets:
Kidd and forward Kenyon Martin also took issue with Scott's coaching moves during last year's Finals, including how the coach used former Net Dikembe Mutombo against San Antonio and his reluctance to call for double teams on center/Finals MVP Tim Duncan.
In the series' decisive Game 6, the Spurs went on a 19-0 second-half run that ultimately finished New Jersey.
From At the Hive (May 1, 2009), The Past, Present and Future of Byron Scott:
So why do I give the Hornets a pass on D (going as far as to offer considerable praise), and yet bash their offense? Simple: lack of creativity. As innovative as Byron was on the defensive end, he was just as uncreative on the offensive end.
A healthy Chandler is as good a screen-setter as there is in the league. He takes great angles, never lets defenders know he's coming, rarely gets called for moving, routinely wipes out defenders simply by standing still, and rolls very smoothly to the hoop. Oh, and dunks a lot. When Chandler first came over from Chicago, Scott was smart enough to quickly pick up on this attribute of his and maximize its potential in the offense. The coach can't be blamed for the player getting injured and throwing a wrench in a working system.
The coach can be blamed for not trying to change up the system in the slightest. I mentioned a couple weeks ago that the most depressing aspect of the Hornets' non-Chandler offense was its startling resemblance to the Chandler offense. In other words, the plays remained exactly the same. Instead of Chandler setting the screens, it'd be Hilton "setting" the screen (also known, as getting called for moving). Instead of Chandler rolling, it'd be Marks "rolling." While every person in the arena could tell that Hilton/Marks did not have near the screening ability of Chandler, Byron consistently went to the same plays.
But on a positive note, these Lakers have transitioned themselves into an elite defensive team, and Scott does seem to be a good defensive coach. From the same At the Hive piece:
Scott's Nets history indicates that successful defensive game-planning is nothing new to him. In 2002, his New Jersey squad was the most efficient defensive team in the NBA, ceding 99.5 points/100 possessions. In 2003, his Nets again topped the NBA, ceding 98.1 points/100 possessions. In 2004, they slipped in the rankings to 4th, but only allowed 98.0 points/100 possessions. Since his departure following that season (and Kenyon Martin's it should be added), the Nets didn't come close to that kind of defensive success.
Given this defensive history with the Nets, Scott's defense with the Hornets should come as no surprise. He has really similar personnel, in the form of an elite perimeter defender in Paul (Kidd) and an elite post defender in Chandler (Martin). Like with the Hornets, the Nets had no significant defensive talents around their two best defenders.
Criteria 2. Ability to Manage Personalities in the Laker Locker Room
From the 2004 ESPN piece linked above, concerning Scott's firing by the Nets:
"It happens to almost every coach eventually: Your message isn't well received and taken onto the court," team president Rod Thorn said at a news conference announcing the change.
From Hornets247.com (May 4, 2009), Should Byron Scott Go? (H/T to Cavs the Blog)
All of the above is possible because of the very nature of Byron Scott's personality. Scott is a self-assured, strong personality. He's got a sizeable ego, and has no difficulty telling the players under him what he thinks of them and their abilities. It's that ego that allowed him put his stamp on the team and build it into a playoff contender.
And that ego may also be Byron Scott's downfall when it comes to gameplanning.
That ego allows Byron to be certain his way is best. It makes him certain that what he is doing is right. That may allow him to sleep well at night and control the team, but it also makes him stubborn and inflexible. That inflexibility shows up in his gameplanning - and has in every year he's been with the Hornets. Byron installs a gameplan during training camp, and from that moment on, it will not change.
And boy, do the Lakers have some personalities. Kobe, Pau, Ron, Bynum, Artest, Lamar, Fisher and Sasha. It would be extremely difficult to step in fresh and deal with Kobe, never mind Pau's subtle gripes about ball movement, Ron's craziness, Bynum's attention to defense, Lamar's laid back inconsistency, Fisher's regular season woes and Sasha's hair maintenance. Outside of Gregg Popovich, Pat Riley and maybe Larry Brown or Doc Rivers, what new coach brought in from the outside could handle such a daunting task? I could see the players trusting those coaches because of their championship pedigrees and systems and coaching styles that have been proven. Players trust success, especially when they're successful themselves.
Let's not forget: given that Scott inherited bad teams, it's safe to assume he was able to mold the teams under his direction and enforce his will from the start. That's not a luxury he will have should he coach the Lakers. The players will want to rely on the system they are built for and comfortable with. And let's also not forget the fact the the team is still figuring out how to mesh Artest and Bynum into the offense as starters. It would be foolish to press reset and make them learn things all over. Especially with such an offensively dominating player as Kobe. No matter how much he can frustrate us or his teammates, Kobe always knows that the system can be relied on. Eventually, even in the toughest situations, he and the team rely on the Triangle. What if it's gone? Is Byron Scott going to call pick-and-roll time and time again? Jeesh, I'm bored at the thought.
In summary, we have a candidate with a history of a bland, predictable offense (while having the reigning "best" point guard in the league both times), lack of strategy, and being so stubborn and controlling, his players quit on him, leading to two mid-season firings. Seems like the complete opposite of Phil. A laid back coach with an intricate offense that let's players figure it out, and has eleven rings to show for it. Including the last two. I don't think so. The reputation Scott has built for himself would follow him to LA like a silent fart. Pew. So I'm going to toss my hat in the ring against Byron Scott. My nostalgic feelings for Showtime don't overlook the fact that he isn't the guy the Lakers should look to should Phil Jackson leave. I don't have all of the answers, though, so I sought out some help. Guess what? No one seems to like this possibility. Here's what those I checked in with had to say:
- Dexter Fishmore of Silver Screen and Roll (Twitter: @dexterfishmore):
The case for hiring him seems to rest on two points, neither of which I find compelling. One is the work he did with the Nets at the beginning of the decade. While it's nice that he won Coach of the Year and twice made the Finals with that team, the Eastern Conference was really, really bad back then. I mean, just look at the teams he was competing against. 51 wins got you the top seed in either of those years. None of the Nets' competitors had more than one really elite player. The Boston team that NJ beat in the 2002 Conference Finals relied heavily on Antoine Walker and Kenny Anderson. The 2003 Pistons team they beat in the ECFs was a little better but hadn't yet become the powerhouse that would emerge in the middle of the decade. They still gave 30 minutes a night in the playoffs to Clifford Robinson.
Which isn't to argue that Scott did a bad job with the Nets, just that the "back to back Finals" credential is less impressive than it appears on the surface.
The second thing Scott has going for him is the turnaround he oversaw with the Hornets. And while it's true that he was at the helm when they made their 56-win run in 2007, he was also at the helm when the team faded back into the lottery. I'd argue that much of the turnaround was simply the result of drafting Chris Paul, the development of David West (to be expected, at least in part, based on his age) and the acquisition of Tyson Chandler. Eventually, Scott lost that team - witness their thrashing at the hands of the Nuggets in the 2009 playoffs - and he was affirmatively bad in his limited stint this year. For some reason he refused to give serious minutes to Darren Collison or Marcus Thornton, instead preferring Bobby and Devin Brown. That doesn't speak well of his talent-recognition skills.
I don't think Scott is a horrible coach or anything. It's just that other than Showtime nostalgia, I don't know why Laker fans should be warm to the idea of having him as their head coach.
- Darius Soriano of Forum Blue and Gold (Twitter: @forumbluegold):
First of all, let me say that I don't think Byron Scott is a bad coach. He's proven that he can get good results from the teams he's coached and he's obviously got a good pedigree from his days as a player under Riley.
That said, the negatives associated with Scott are real and I think those are enough for me to question whether or not he'd fit as the next Lakers head coach. Byron is a coach that is known to grate on his players and has worn out his welcome with two teams already. His schemes aren't known to be that creative and are mostly dependent on the creativity of a primary ball handler (Kidd, Paul) to be successful. Not to mention that he's reluctant to play young players (something that may not be an immediate issue considering the Lakers roster) and is often over-reliant on veterans regardless of how well they're actually playing.
Plus, from a Shaw vs. Scott perspective, I'd much rather ride with the familiarity of Shaw and the continuation of running the Lakers' current schemes. The Lakers' current roster was built to run the Triangle and changing that now - on the heels of back to back titles - is an approach that I'd find difficult to understand at this point. It'd be different if this team was in flux a la 2005 with major pieces departing, but that's simply not the case as the Lakers will return their top 5 players (6 if Fisher returns) and outside of Artest every returning player has been in this system for at least the last 3 years. Why go away from that now to hire Scott? I understand his Laker roots and the (reported) want of Dr. Buss wanting to get back to a running style but there are a lot of questions in my mind as to whether this roster is built for that style right now. The Lakers don't have an elite PG, have limited players that excel in the open court, and have a roster of players that are very good in the half court - especially in post up situations. In the end, I'd just much rather stick with Shaw if Phil does in fact retire.
- Phillip Barnett of Forum Blue and Gold (Twitter: @imsohideous):
I’m a part of the camp that’s against bringing in Byron Scott. I understand that he is much more experienced than Brian Shaw and led the New Jersey Nets to two Finals appearances, but bringing in Scott would essentially mean bringing in a whole new culture to the Lakers organization. The Lakers are currently built around the triangle system with the steady point guard, the high and low post position players and, of course, a dominant scorer. This isn’t a team built around a running point guard who has the ability to pick apart transition defenses – it’s actually the exact opposite. If the expected happens, Derek Fisher will be back for another season with the Lakers, and a Byron Scott offense would literally take away everything Fisher is out on the floor for. His effectiveness on the floor decreases exponentially with the number of seconds he has the ball in his hands. He isn’t able to find the soft spots in the opposing team’s defense and spot up for those rainbow threes. Fisher is completely unlike either of the elite point guards that Scott had during the tenure of his two head coaching stints (Jason Kidd and Chris Paul) and anything outside of the triangle just wouldn’t work well for an aging point guard with limited athletic ability.
And then there is the "why change the system" argument. The Lakers under Phil Jackson have now won five titles running some form of the triangle offense. They’ve been to three consecutive NBA Finals and have the roster to go to an unprecedented-in-this-era fourth straight. In this particular situation, consistency rules over experience – having this veteran team learn a new system could really take them out of their flow. Scott will be placed under a tremendous amount of pressure to bring a third title back to Los Angeles – and a huge story line throughout the course of the season will be how the Lakers, and especially Kobe, respond to playing in a new system. To me, I think staying within the organization and keeping the same ingredients to success will be just as key to a three-peat for the Lakers as health issues will. I don’t think Byron Scott is a bad coach and I believe he can be relatively successful – he just a bad fit for this particular Lakers team.
- J.D. Hastings, frequent Lakers blogs commenter (Twitter: @j_d_hastings):
People need to relax about hiring Byron as coach- he's exactly what Kobe needs right now. Everybody knows that Kobe's game has suffered from a lack of attention and leadership over his career. He needs a strong willed coach who's willing to step up and tell him to take less strokes; to take better strokes. When Kobe steps to the cup it's obvious that his game has atrophied from pursuing unrelated interests. Byron can get Kobe's head in the right place so he can focus on improving his follow through and long range game. With that help it's only a matter of time before Kobe catches or surpasses even Michael Jordan. In terms of handicap.
He's going to be the Laker golf coach right? They want him as basketball coach? Oh HELL no.
- Craig Kwasniewski of The Association Blog (Twitter: @ctkwasniewski):
One simple word comes to mind when I think of Byron Scott as a possible successor to Phil Jackson: Nooooooooooo!!!!!!!
Where do I start? X's and O's he's very Mike Brown on the offensive end of the floor. His Hornets squad literally ran one single solitary play with the high screen and roll with the center. It worked a lot two years ago simply because of Chris Paul's immense talent and his chemistry with Tyson Chandler. But better coached teams like San Antonio and the Lakers eventually exposed their bland offensive game plan and destroyed them. Motivationally, his previous two teams tuned him out by year three with complaints of longm grueling Riley-with-the-Knicks type of practices and the inability to adjust X's and O's wise. How does that fly with a very veteran team following the greatest coach in NBA history?
It doesn't and the Lakers shouldn't. Quite simply, hand the reigns over to Brian Shaw.
BTW - What's with Jerry Buss's high school crush on the Showtime Era? Someone needs to remind him that the prom queen is 20 years older, 45 pounds heavier and three kids later. Hey Jerry, just let it go!
Hmmmm. Seems unanimous. I still haven't come across a Lakers fan who wants Byron Scott. And now, you can add a Cavs fan that isn't so sure either, and they aren't being sold on nostalgia. What about you?
You can follow me on Twitter: @wondahbap . If you did, you'd know all of this already.