Trudging through last season was hard enough after Julius Randle went down with a broken leg. Matters were made even worse when Byron Scott decided he'd take it upon himself to win as many games as possible and do so with the veterans the Los Angeles Lakers had on the roster. Sure, the vast majority of those he leaned on are no longer Lakers, but who needs a long-term plan when you can win a game on a random Thursday evening against some forgettable foe by way of a Wesley Johnson jumper?
Johnson now plays for the Clippers, by the way.
This season, though, that cannot happen. Scott will have to resist the urge to stick to his old-school guns and allow the Lakers' young core of Randle, Jordan Clarkson and D'Angelo Russell the flexibility to make mistakes and learn from them on the court. This may sound like hyperbole, but how Scott treats the young guys will be the most important storyline to keep an eye on this season, and it isn't remotely close.
To a certain extent, this is why coaches can make for bad general managers. One could make the argument the two head coaches are the most competitive people partaking in a game. Why else would someone put themselves up for the ridicule that comes with making decision after decision with little to no job security? (Cut to David Blatt and his terrible "Top Gun" analogy)
Coaches are paid and desperately want to win in the moment. Why care about the franchise's future if you won't necessarily be around to see it take shape? So, when the time comes to make one of the aforementioned decisions and Scott looks down the bench at a veteran who's been there before and might better handle a pressure situation versus a rookie or sophomore who'll almost definitely screw something up, chances are, Scott's going with the vet.
He shouldn't; but he will.
Except wins aren't necessarily the goal still for these young Lakers. They definitely weren't last year, but Scott had little choice but to play guys who wouldn't be around once the season ended. Aside from Clarkson, that depth chart was littered with journeymen trying to squeeze one or two last contracts from their waning careers.
We had to watch as Ronnie Price (now a Phoenix Sun) close games while Clarkson looked on. Several inanimate objects magically found their way in the general direction of my television when this took place last season. It was a frustrating scenario considering it would have been nice if Clarkson could've taken his late-game lumps with little to no lasting repercussions, making him more prepared for those closing situations sooner rather than later.
Scott won't have that excuse this year, though. Rookies or sophomores make up the majority of the Lakers' starting five. An ideal lineup looks something like Russell, Clarkson, Kobe Bryant, Randle and Roy Hibbert. Yes, Brandon Bass or Lou Williams are theoretically better players than their counterparts right now, but the immediate is far outweighed by what the future has to offer.
At one point last season, Scott announced publicly the young guys were going to get some consistent burn. It came out of nowhere and the vibe among those paying attention closely was that upper management sat their coach down and filled him in on the situation. If this was the case, it was the right move to make and should take place again this year if we see some of what we had to grin and bear a year ago.
Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak have far too much riding on the young foundation to watch as Nick Young hoists contested step back jumpers and Russell is benched for an inadvisable turnover. This isn't to say the latter shouldn't be punished for recklessness with the basketball, only that he should have an exponentially longer leash than the former.
Randle will repeatedly blow defensive assignments, but he'll only learn through those mistakes. Clarkson will go through stretches where he's forcing the action too much, but what better way to avoid that moving forward than to have Kobe
scream at teach him not to repeat the mistake? Neither scenario can play out as they ride the pine, so extended minutes spent there are useless.
It's understandable. Here you are, working your dream job: head coach of the franchise you won titles with. I can't even blame Byron for not wanting to watch as rookies struggle their way through loss after loss. Thing is: at this stage of the Lakers' rebuild, not letting them do so is a much more fireable offense than winning games as they sit.