Byron Scott needs to immediately be relieved of his duties as Los Angeles Lakers head coach.
Where to begin? Let's start by being honest and putting it bluntly: Byron Scott is a bad NBA head coach. Perhaps the saddest part of this situation is that everyone knows it. Fans know it, players know it, reporters know it. The reasoning behind the hire of Scott is one that still eludes me, and I'm not sure we'll ever get an answer that fully makes sense.
The easiest place to begin might be to talk about the Lakers' dismal 1-6 start to the season and how, with a difficult schedule coming up, it isn't likely getting better anytime soon.
We could talk about his bizarre (and factually incorrect) stance that threes don't win championships, or how at one point last season he said he "doesn't believe" in analytics, claiming he has not once made a coaching decision that was influenced by them. Sure, he'll listen to his staff presenting him meaningful patterns of data that might be relevant to his team winning more games, but will he make any decisions that are in any way influenced by it? Of course not.
We could harp on how his offensive system doesn't really seem to fit his roster. With the key pieces of the young core being D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle, it's pretty easy to make an argument that the Lakers should be running a ton of high pick-and-rolls every game, and that Scott should be developing an offensive system around them.
We could go on and on about how the Lakers seem incredibly unprepared and lost on defense in nearly every game. Or about how, despite having a reputation as a defensive coach, this will very likely be Scott's fifth season in a row coaching a bottom-five team in terms of defensive efficiency. Or how it seems like he hardly ever comes up with in-game adjustments or game plans that tangibly help the team.
We could even talk about Scott's use of Kobe Bryant, and how him shrugging off Bryant's poor shot selection is a serious problem.
All of these are reasons Byron is a bad coach. But all that is well and good when you have a bad team -- perhaps having a terrible coach is a good way to help the Lakers' odds of keeping their top-3 protected pick this year. The real issue with Scott, and the one that necessitates his immediate removal, is his mind-numbing incompetence when it comes to his handling of D'Angelo Russell.
D'Angelo Russell needs to play, and he needs to play often. He's the most talented young player on the Lakers' roster, and though a year ago that might not have been saying much, it is now. Drafted at No. 2 overall, he's the highest-drafted Lakers player since James Worthy went first overall in 1982. The Lakers passed on Jahlil Okafor, Kristaps Porzingis and Emmanuel Mudiay for him. He needs to play in the 4th quarter of a close game, and he probably needs to play in the 4th quarter of a 13-point loss. So far, he hasn't been in either. Through seven games, D'Angelo Russell is averaging 2.85 fourth-quarter minutes per game. He never left the bench in the fourth for 3 of the 7 contests thus far. The reasoning? Byron doesn't feel that Russell has "earned" the privilege of closing out close games. But Tuesday night against Miami, when it wasn't a complete blowout, but it wasn't crunch time either? Byron said he didn't consider putting Russell back in, that Miami had "too big of a lead." If you're not going to play him in close games, and not going to play him when there's "too big of a lead," just how exactly is Russell supposed to prove he's worthy?
Sadly, the actual benching of Russell is not even the worst part. The quotes that have been coming out after just about every game have been alarming:
LAL HC Byron Scott on his young players: "I just got to continue to be patient. But as I told them, I’m not going to be patient for long."— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) November 6, 2015
This is the kind of thing that seems like a small, silly quote we get to make fun of, but this shows serious problems in consistency with Byron's leadership. He himself is acknowledging he should absolutely be patient with his young core, while at the same time saying that he won't be.
There's a deeper problem of Byron's coaching at the moment, and that's his overall approach:
Lakers HC Byron Scott on young players: "I’m not always thinking about necessarily developing them. I’m always thinking a/b trying to win."— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) November 5, 2015
Look, I get it. Coaches and players don't tank, and they want to win. There can be all sorts of problems if you try to suggest they shouldn't. But the Lakers' first, second and third priorities right now should be the development of Russell, Clarkson and Randle. Everything else is secondary. If you really want to make an argument that having Lou Williams in the game during crunch time is a massive upgrade, then fine. I don't see it, but fine. But this absolutely, unequivocally should not take away from Russell's playing time and exposure to different situations during the end of games. His development is too damn important to try and move the needle from 27 wins to 30 wins (or whatever range you think the Lakers will be). The potential benefits just aren't worth it.
But now we move to the biggest problem, and perhaps the straw that broke this camel's back:
D’Angelo Russell on playing late in games: "I’ve got to figure out what I’m doing wrong so I can correct it." Byron explain why? "No."— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) November 11, 2015
This quote alone is infuriating, and it isn't isolated. Russell consistently in postgame interviews has claimed responsibility by saying the onus is on him to figure out what he needs to do to get on the court in the fourth quarter, but that he has no idea what Byron wants from him in order to do that. This is where it goes beyond bad coaching -- this is bad leadership. Not being on the same page as your uber-talented rookie is inexcusable, let alone clearly leaving him frustrated and in the dark as to what you want from him. This is not putting Russell in the best position to succeed.
If Byron Scott is going to remain the head coach of the Lakers, his next order of business has to be sitting down with Russell and clearing the air, including giving him a clearer picture of what he expects out of him, and detailing what he is planning to do in order to help him achieve those goals.
Frankly, though, he shouldn't even be given the chance. This is clearly not the coach you want developing and leading the young core of the Lakers. Relieve Byron Scott of his coaching duties before his decisions have significant and long-lasting detrimental effects, if they haven't already.
It's time to move on, Lakers.