The Los Angeles Lakers may have tacked on a talented lottery pick in D'Angelo Russell as compensation for hitting rock bottom, but that's just one piece of a very muddled puzzle. Lakers Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Jim Buss needs the franchise he leads to be competitive again, and has a two-year window to slide through before he meets the buzzsaw of a deadline he set for himself. It's going to take an incredible turnaround for the Lakers to accomplish that, but the next piece they may look at is Byron Scott.
The Lakers are already slowly making changes. They went with the dynamic backcourt player, not taking the safe route by going with the "other" franchise big man on draft night. They added a "liaison" to help handle ideas between the coaching staff and an analytics department that's headed by Mark Madsen. The Lakers are putting up, at the very least, the appearances of a team taking steps into the present after being called out for being the Fred Flintstones of the NBA.
All of the change at the top won't make a difference if it never sees the light of day on the court, though. Forget last season with Byron Scott, the focus should only be forward. Scott might have three years left on his contract (the Lakers hold a team option on the final year), but it'd be surprising if he had more than one season to show he can improve the on-court product.
Maybe that's exactly what Scott's planning on doing. Perhaps that's one of the reasons he's passed along that not only will Kobe Bryant spend the majority of his minutes at small forward to pave way for the Lakers' young backcourt, he'll also slide up to power forward depending on matchups. It's a roundabout way of Scott using a small ball lineup without ever explicitly talking about doing so, but it also showed a willingness to consider rotation options and fresher ideas.
The quantity of wings the Lakers have stockpiled forces the issue a bit. Finding ways to best utilize the talent on the roster is going to be one of the many challenges Scott faces, and lineups are a good area to be open to experimentation. Roy Hibbert seems like the only player in the rotation that is absolutely only capable of playing one position, especially if the Lakers experiment with Julius Randle or Brandon Bass at center depending on matchups. Based on some of the things Madsen showed at Summer League, that's definitely a possibility.
Byron can flip that switch in an instant, though. While NBA.com's David Aldridge wrote about Scott's interest in playing smaller with Kobe at the four, just a few paragraphs further down Scott provided a reminder of how far the Lakers have to go if they want to make analytics a part of their on-court identity:
Scott is hopeful Hibbert can return to his old defensive form, when his ability to defend the post without fouling -- "that verticality crap," Scott said -- made him the hub of the Pacers' impregnable halfcourt defense. But the story of the Lakers next season will be written in large part by Russell, and his development alongside Clarkson -- in what may be the backcourt of the future in L.A.
Sure, Scott probably doesn't have the time or interest to hop on the Internet to read about "that verticality crap". His idea of what that means, or perhaps doesn't mean, is based on his experience in the league. It's not the formulated idea of "verticality" Scott will use, but he'll scheme around Hibbert protecting the rim like any coach would. How he molds the team around having a defender like Roy is the task Scott needs to prove he's capable of. It's helpful that Hibbert, of his own accord, has cited the Lakers' poor defensive efficiency as an area he's there to turn around. Roy has made it clear that he is focused on proving he's still an elite defender.
This season is all about development for the Lakers, and they already have the wheels moving on improving internally. Byron needs to show not only a willingness to work with the basketball operations team, but also prove he can implement their conversations onto the court. The Lakers don't need to win 40 games, but they need to look like a team that has purpose on both ends of the floor. What elite free agent is signing on to lead a young core that looked like lost puppies through the season?
We're a long way from understanding what the Lakers' young core can develop into. The same can't be said elsewhere on the team.