For the record, I feel completely gross writing this, because to me this is an absolute no-brainer: the Lakers must fire Byron Scott. They have to. Yet, consistent reports say that there's a "strong belief" that Byron Scott will remain head coach, a confidence seconded by Scott himself.
Upon hearing the reports, my only reaction was "Why?" And while I still believe firing Scott is the right move, it is worth exploring what could cause this decision.
First of all, let's dispel once and for all the fiction that Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss don't know what they're doing. They have done a decent job under tough circumstances and while they have made mistakes, they are at the very least a competent front office duo. So what could cause them to keep him?
The Kobe Effect
Mitch Kupchak publicly stated more than once that this season was just a Kobe Farewell and the rest of the team came second. While this is silly, if the front office is giving the impression that the priority is to send Kobe out on his own terms, then Byron Scott’s lack of focus on the young players is just "part of the plan". If you view his decisions through that filter, as a consequence of a joint front office and coaching staff's decision to let Kobe be Kobe, doesn’t Byron’s effort make more sense? Kobe made up most of the Lakers salary cap, so maybe it's appropriate that he took up most of the team's time, effort, and priorities.
Maybe the prickly, standoffish way that Byron treated the youngsters (specifically D’Angelo Russell) was warranted. Many in the media from the beginning of the season disliked D’Angelo’s attitude behind the scenes. Reports consistently stated his goofball attitude and perhaps lackadaisical practice effort could at times be a distraction.
Given that, maybe Byron Scott’s tough approach and stingy minutes allotment for the young players was a needed lesson to teach them that they have to earn their place, and that nothing will be given to them. The "Snapchat incident" could have proven the fact, and certainly added credence to that line of thought. Nobody likes going to the Principal's office, but there’s a reason you can’t have a school without one.
- D’Angelo Russell had a better 3PT%, 3 more minutes per game, got to the line more, improved his true shooting % with a higher usage rate post-All Star break. This also included games post "incident" in which he never really regained his confidence.
- Jordan Clarkson regressed in terms of overall FG% but improved slightly on his 3PT% and got to the free throw line more and overall was relatively steady all season.
- Julius Randle took advantage of his 3 extra minutes per game increasing his DREB%, averaging more points and rebounds per game while increasing his FT% post all star break.
I wouldn’t encourage you to look at the stats for yourself, because you would realize I was "grasping at straws" to show statistical improvement, but combined with the D’Angelo incident and an overall regression of the team’s competitiveness in the 2nd half - saying that the core improved steadily as the season progressed is the hardest case to make.
The Roster Makeup and Its Effect on Minutes
We are not privy to the negotiations of the free agents that signed with the Lakers the last offseason, but I highly doubt free agents like Lou Williams and Brandon Bass sign with the Lakers without some assurances of playing time. Also, although Roy Hibbert was acquired via trade, he did forgo some of his trade kicker and it is plausible to think that discussions between the Lakers and Hibbert involved some discussion of playing time as well.
Given hurdles like this, managing minutes for the young core become increasingly tricky while also needing to keep the Kobe and the newer additions happy. Instead of Byron Scott, isn’t the roster makeup the job of the front office? Lakers fans might have wanted to see more of Larry Nance Jr. and Tarik Black, so to make that happen does Brandon Bass get benched? Are the Lakers in a position to rub free agents or the agents of players around the league the wrong way? I think not.
All things considered, the top 5 players on the Lakers in terms of minutes played per game were:
- Jordan Clarkson (32.3)
- Lou Williams (28.5)
- D’Angelo Russell (28.2)
- Julius Randle (28.2)
- Kobe Bryant (28.2)
The Front Office Discord
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we don’t know the inner details of a potential rift between the business side (Jeanie Buss) and the Basketball Ops (Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss).
The communication between both sides appears to be lacking and to make a decision to fire a coach, a former Showtime Laker at that, requires a strong front office with an open dialogue to build an optimal consensus. With the Jim Buss deadline looming and Mitch and Jim potentially fighting for their jobs, perhaps they are erring on the side of stability rather than firing yet another coach and risking it going poorly.
In addition, there have been reports that Jeanie Buss is "pushing" to keep Byron Scott, but I don't believe them personally. I find it hard to believe that an owner of perhaps the NBA's most prestigious franchise would throw a season simply because she's in a dispute with her brother. The pain she feels during these rough seasons is visible and palpable from afar and I can't see her actively prolonging the franchise's lull. If it is true, however, it is possible that Jeanie is at her breaking point, one at which she would prefer an entirely clean sweep of the current people in charge next off-season.
I hate this as much as anybody, and I hope while you were reading this you wanted to hurl something at the screen, but with Byron Scott potentially being retained as head coach I wanted to do the best to try to understand it from the front office’s perspective. It could be worse, right? Right?
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