Seemingly long ago, the Lakers’ front office was regarded as one of the best in the league. Under Jerry West and Dr. Buss, the Lakers built a dynasty around Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.
Those days seem long gone, though, and Wednesday showed just how far the Lakers have fallen.
In a piece by ESPN’s Baxter Holmes, the Lakers, through general manager Mitch Kupchak, admitted, despite having a core of young players and a bright future (for the first time in a long time), that development was taking a backseat to Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour.
“Under normal circumstances [in a season like this], at some point, you would probably concentrate on just developing all your young players,” Kupchak told ESPN on Tuesday. “But we can’t do that right now.
“And as long as that continues, which it should, then that’s 30-35 minutes that you might give to a young player that you can’t. How do you get a feel for your team going forward when you know that your best player is not going to be there next year? So it’s really hard to go forward until he’s no longer here.
There are more quotes in the piece which offer more insight into the direction of the Lakers’ front office, but it really raises one big question:
Should the jobs of the Lakers’ front office be brought into question?
This season is frustrating on many levels for the Lakers faithful. Spearheading the rage-inducing is Byron Scott. We’ve seen his questionable postgame quotes, his struggles with X’s and O’s, his problems with man management.
We’ve watched him mismanage D’Angelo Russell in seemingly every way possible, from starting him at shooting guard, to benching him repeatedly (and inexplicably in many cases) in the fourth quarter, and then outright benching him.
Most recently, we’ve seen a very (and unnecessarily) public feud between Scott and sophomore power forward Julius Randle.
We’ve seen that Scott is literally running Bryant into the ground, all while fawning over him as passionately as Jeremy Lin’s fans defend their favorite player.
But while Lakers fans question how the team’s front office can allow this to happen, we’ve now come to learn they are the ones enabling Scott to begin with.
Optimistic minds might say the Lakers are tanking, that they know what they’re doing by keeping Scott as a head coach and playing Bryant big minutes in hopes of retaining one more top-five draft pick before entering the next phase of their rebuild.
But the longer we watch Scott publicly call out his players for being soft, calling out players in front of the team and media, and making head-scratching decision after another, the less that argument holds water.
The Lakers’ front office is becoming a joke, led by Mitch Kupchak.
To be fair, the draft picks they’ve mad at least in the last two seasons appear to all have been hits. In general, dating back to the 2012 Draft, all of their draft picks have been solid additions and good value picks.
The signings made and trades completed have netted the Lakers talent. They’ve been able to sign the likes of Nick Young, Ed Davis, Brandon Bass and Lou Williams all on affordable, if not cheap, contracts.
While they haven’t been active in the trade market, they’ve brought in a productive center in Roy Hibbert and were able to swap Steve Blake for a Kent Bazemore, a deal that looks great in hindsight and was even solid at the time.
But despite all the positives, as a front office, the Lakers have swung and missed repeatedly on coaching decisions, highlighted most egregiously by Scott’s actions this year.
Very little about this season is new, either. We watched Scott play Ronnie Price over the likes of Jordan Clarkson and Jeremy Lin last year. We watched him play Bryant to the point that his body broke down. We’ve seen that he refuses to learn from his mistakes. We’ve even seen him refuse to learn from his successes, having watched Tarik Black succeed and then, without reason, benching him this year.
Kupchak has not only sat back and done nothing, he’s offered his support to Scott. After not firing him over the summer, he’s publicly said that Scott will not be fired this season.
He’s enabled Scott to do what he’s doing.
Think about different the Lakers players look less than halfway through the season. Think back to this version of Julius Randle in the pre-season. The “He Can’t Guard Me” version who was so full of self-confidence, he knew he could attack Draymond Green.
Now think to the version of Randle we saw against the Warriors on Wednesday. Is that the same player?
Kupchak has long established himself as one of the mainstays of the Lakers. But the longer he sits and watches Scott mishandle his roster, misuse his players and misguide the youngsters, the hotter his seat must be.
Scott doesn’t have to be the coach of this team. He is without a shadow of a doubt the worst coach in this league, bar none. The longer the Lakers front office sits on their hand while he’s at the helm, the more someone should have to answer for it.