Before the Los Angeles Lakers returned to the top of the Western Conference, they went through some dark days, and some of their darkest days came when Byron Scott was the head coach of the team. As a matter of fact, Scott’s second season as head coach of the Lakers — the 2015-16 season — is the worst season in the team’s otherwise rich history.
In Scott’s defense, he didn’t exactly have the best talent in the NBA to work with: they were young, and they players that weren’t young we’re fighting for their NBA careers, with the exception of Kobe, who was injured for most of Scott’s tenure. Where Scott lost the benefit of the doubt was his player management — specifically, his handling of D’Angelo Russell, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.
Scott came to the Lakers having coached two superstar guards, Kyrie Irving and Chris Paul, early in their careers. He was also famously teammates with both Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant, two of the greatest guards to ever don the purple and gold.
But, for some reason, he was never able to get on the same page as Russell, and it showed in how strict he was with Russell. Scott’s assistant coach Jim Eyen viewed that as tough love, as he told Jake Fischer for the book “Built To Lose: How the NBA’s Tanking Era Changed the League Forever”:
Scott would Russell when he thought the rookie was freelancing instead of settling the table for teammates. He’d offer varying reasons as to why he benched Russell during crunch time situations. “I think Byron coached D’Angelo from the heart. He did what he thought the best thing for D’Angelo was. It would have been easier had he just taken the path of least resistance,” Eyen says. “But he didn’t. It’s a lot more difficult to try to do it, what you feel is the right way, and discipline when you need to disciple. Pat him on the butt me give him accolades when he deserves it and just do what you need to do for not only the team, but for the long term of the player.
Russell viewed their relationship just a bit differently:
Russell, frankly, disagrees. Scott didn’t handle sophomore forward Julius Randle with the same kids gloves. “He’s an idiot,” Russell says of his coach.
Russell felt Scott often yanked him from close contests purely to spark controversy and attention for his postgame media availability. “I just think he was malicious for no reason,” Russell says. “He’s a solid man. But as a coach, he was bad. He was just bad at his job.”
Russell admitted that he didn’t do everything he could to bridge the gap that existed between them, though:
When Scott summoned Russell back to the bench, Russell would take his most circuitous path in order to duck high-fiving the coaching staff. “I was just young. I used to do all types of shit to avoid talking to him,” Russell says. The guard bristled in his seat at the end of Los Angeles’ pine. Lakers officials diagnosed the dynamic evidence of Russell’s immaturity issues scouts across the league has flagged before the draft.
But again, if there’s anyone that deserved the benefit of the doubt, it wasn’t Scott. When Russell would seek answers on why he had such a short leash, he’d get answers like this from Scott:
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 (@Baxter) November 6, 2015
D’Angelo Russell on playing late in games: "I’ve got to figure out what I’m doing wrong so I can correct it.”— Baxter Holmes (@Baxter) November 11, 2015
Byron explain why?
Byron said he has not talked to Russell and Randle about their demotions: "It's a big boys league. You got to come to work everyday."— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) December 9, 2015
It’s no wonder why Russell had the perception of Scott’s relationship with the media that he did. It’s also no wonder that Lakers fans got sick of Scott’s attitude so quickly.
Fortunately, Scott’s mismanagement of Russell didn’t derail the young guard's career entirely, as he went on to make an All-Star team with the Brooklyn Nets in his fourth season in the NBA. However, it did affect how the rest of the league viewed Russell, and that had an affect on the package the Lakers got for him.
Everything worked out for the Lakers in the end, but it could have panned out much worse for everyone involved. Thank God those days are over … right?
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