Coming into the 2015-16 NBA season, there was plenty for fans of the Los Angeles Lakers to be excited and optimistic about. The team had just avoided a catastrophe a few short months prior by moving up in the NBA Draft Lottery to land the No. 2 overall pick, netting them their hopeful point guard of the future in D’Angelo Russell. Pair that with the return of last year’s No. 7 overall pick in Julius Randle and the emergence of Jordan Clarkson, and you could see why things were looking up for the sixteen-time NBA champions.
After just 21 games and the worst start in the franchise’s storied history at 3-18, the fan base is demanding a change. The change that fans want is the man in charge of head coaching duties: Byron Scott. Heading into their 102-93 defeat at the hands of the Toronto Raptors, there was actually a major shakeup with the Lakers in terms of personnel. Unfortunately for anyone who wants to see the team have a bright future, it was the last one that they wanted to see.
Scott decided that the team’s dreadful start was enough reason to switch up his starting lineup. As we all know, he would never relegate Kobe Bryant to the bench, especially in the Lakers legend’s final season, where he is being honored by opposing stadiums on a nightly basis on this farewell tour. So that likely meant that he would choose one of the three young building blocks that had been starting all season. Instead of picking just one, Scott decided to send both of the Lakers’ last two lottery picks — Russell and Randle — to the bench, in favor of Lou Williams and fellow youngster, Larry Nance, Jr..
This decision came six short days after reaching the tipping point for many fans in regard to Scott’s tenure as head coach of the team he won three championships with as a player. Back on December 1, the Lakers suffered a 103-91 loss to the then 0-18 Philadelphia 76ers. Now it appears Scott has dug himself a deeper hole to try and climb out of with an outraged fan base, not to mention two unhappy youngsters.
After an extended period of silence on the issue at hand, the front office has finally spoken on the matter. General manager Mitch Kupchak spoke to Mike Bresnahan of the L.A. Times in an exclusive phone interview, and he has noticed the hindering of youth development that is taking place.
“I think our fans would understand if you’re actually developing young players and there’s some growth, and maybe that’s yet to come. But in the first 20 games, it’s tough to find consistent results to feel good about.”
As for the optimism and excitement before the start of the season and now the current disappointment, Kupchak is in the same boat as fans. “Going into the season, this is not what we expected,” Kupchak said. “We tried to find a mix of young players and veterans that would give our fans something that led to more victories.”
At the start of training camp, there was a lot of chatter about the Lakers maybe surprising folks by sneaking into the playoffs, though that was driven by Kupchak and the rest of the front office, which then trickled down to the overly optimistic fans. Meanwhile, a lot of people understood that Los Angeles would likely lose their fair share of games this year, but that really didn’t matter. What mattered was giving the youth on the team ample opportunities to grow and develop as the season went along.
Had Scott elected to start Russell and Randle on the bench and gradually increase their playing time and overall usage as the season went along, this probably would not be an issue. But to start them in the first 20 games of the season, followed by a benching in which Scott announced to the whole team instead of meeting with each player individually, this illustrates how low player development is on his list of priorities.
Could this be an act of desperation from Scott in an effort to save his job? Maybe he feels like he needs to start winning games in order to prevent what seems like an inevitable removal of his coaching duties. Perhaps he hasn’t personally received a long term endorsement from Kupchak and the Buss family and feels like his time is running out. After expressing support for Scott, Kupchak had this to say later on in the interview:
“Quite frankly, I have to get more answers on our players going forward on this [young] corps. I want to see them develop and not only just get through the season averaging X-number of minutes and then next year we just figure it out. We need answers this year.”
In years past, Kupchak has generally been one to give the politically correct answer, so to hear him address the issue directly and claim that answers need to be provided this season is telling.
Very rarely does a coach get fired while the team is in the midst of a long road trip, and the Lakers still have three games remaining on their current eight-game journey away from home.
However, if the team returns to Los Angeles with a 3-21 record and a pair of disgruntled young, promising players, it will be very interesting to see if the team takes action. If it were up to the fans, the choice would be obvious. Only time will tell, but if things keep going the way they are, there will be no doubt that a change needs to be made.
If you want to read the full interview with Kupchak and Bresnahan, click here. I highly recommend it.