An NBA head coach has many jobs. From game-plans to rotations, the role involves around-the-clock work and focus. One of the most important ones, however, may be the easiest. It involves creating an atmosphere where players feel comfortable – one in which the criticism is constructive and private and one in which team camaraderie is built, among players and coaches. Coincidentally, the simplest part of the job has been the one that Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott has most often failed at.
The latest example of Scott’s failure as a team-builder came on the heels of the team’s Christmas loss to their crosstown rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers. A game in which the Lakers faced a 28 point deficit entering the fourth quarter ended with a spirited run that ultimately fell short on the backs of D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, with contributions from Marcelo Huertas, Brandon Bass, and Nick Young. While all five players certainly contributed to the Lakers making the game interesting, it was the two young stars, potential future faces of the franchise, who seemed to make the most happen late in the game. This was especially true of Russell, who had a strong all-around game going against one of the elite players at his position, Chris Paul.
Byron Scott also seemed to think there was one specific player who led the charge in the comeback:
Byron argued that Marcelo Huertas was the main catalyst in the 4th Q comeback
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) December 26, 2015
Yes, Marcelo Huertas – he of Shaqtin’ A Fool fame – was the catalyst to the run that nearly became the greatest of Christmas miracles. Never mind Russell who made countless plays for himself and others on one end and played phenomenal defense, even against Paul, on the other. Forget about Randle who had 11 of the Lakers’ 27 fourth quarter points to go along with five rebounds while going against the star-studded frontcourt of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. No, it was a different NBA newcomer, albeit an older one, whom Scott saw as the catalyst.
The quote is the latest in a disturbing trend of Scott shaming his players, especially the younger ones for whom the franchise has high hopes. Criticizing the defensive ability of Russell, as he did after the same game, despite the rookie having perhaps his best game on that side of the floor and despite his becoming one of, if not the best perimeter defender on the team already, is either the sign of an incomplete knowledge of basketball or a sadistic enjoyment of publicly shaming undeserving players. The former is enough to get a head coach fired; the latter is enough to prevent him from ever getting a job again.
The question becomes, then, why is Scott still the Lakers’ head coach more than one-third of the way through the worst season to date for the purple and gold? Scott’s incompetence is clear; it has sadly been the largest storyline of the season. At some point, however, Scott’s continued lack of ability to control and positively affect a locker room shines a negative light on the team’s front office. This season was about the development of the young players, not winning basketball games. However, thus far Scott has not only done a woefully terrible job of getting wins, but he has also (and more importantly) been inadequate as a developer of talent.
Scott has chosen to start mediocre veterans over crucial building blocks. That reflects on management. Scott has routinely played favorites, stating that Kobe Bryant has earned the privilege of hi-jacking the offense to put up largely inefficient shots, while taking an “earned-not-given” approach to Russell and Randle. That reflects on management.
Scott has publicly shamed his players, calling them pathetic and fearful as an excuse for losing in blowout fashion. That reflects on management. Scott has singled out a player’s efforts in controlling an outdated and useless offensive system in order to give the team a chance of being competitive and blamed him for knowing only 20% of that same inept playbook. That reflects on management.
The Lakers have a storied tradition of getting free agents and adding stars via trades. That has not been the case over the past two seasons as a result of the team’s poor record, a reflection of its ability to contend for a title any time soon. The front office has done a great job in the draft in that time, adding at least three impactful young players who can help turn the tide of fortune for the NBA’s most storied franchise. With those young players in stock and constantly improving, it is not out of the question that the Lakers become a free agent destination once again. However, the stories circulating around the team, those of Scott blaming players, calling them names, questioning manhood (whatever that may mean), and assigning undeserved blame and credit to the wrong players changes all of that. Management is either unable to see Scott’s ineptitude not only as a game-planner, but also as a mentor and teacher or unwilling to take action based on that ineptitude. Either way, free agents will be looking. Whether Scott remains the head coach past this season or not, the groundwork has already been laid. The team has shown an inability to take care of its young stars. Why then would a present star, hoping to win big, choose to go to Los Angeles?
The Lakers then have a crucial, albeit excruciatingly simple, decision to make. Continuing the charade of Byron Scott as head coach of the Lakers has become the largest issue facing this team. It has not only affected several young players billed as the next stars of the franchise, but it has also become a potential roadblock in eventually adding impact free agents to help this group become a viable contender. It is no longer a question of Scott’s ineptitude as a head coach (that has long been clear). It is instead a matter of the team’s future.
The Lakers are taking a risk with each game that Scott is allowed to stay on as head coach and with each game, the future of the team is compromised. It is no longer Scott’s reputation that is in danger (what had remained of that has long been lost). The reputation and very fabric of the franchise is in danger. Fortunately for the Lakers, the path to regaining that level of competence and high reputation is readily available. It is now only a matter of making the right decision to move on from Scott, something they have put off for far too long.