Byron Scott May Not Be L.A. Lakers' Long-Term Answer, but He Doesn't Have to Be

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Byron Scott May Not Be L.A. Lakers' Long-Term Answer, but He Doesn't Have to Be
Noah Graham/Getty Images
Byron Scott will take over the Lakers' gig that was vacated by Mike D'Antoni at the end of April.

It was only a matter of time until Byron Scott became head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, as ESPN's Chris Broussard first reported Scott will soon be. He probably would've been in 2011, when Phil Jackson retired, had Scott not already subsumed himself in the Cleveland Cavaliers' between-two-LeBrons mess. 

Three years later, Scott's slip into the Lakers' top job looks more inevitable than ever.

He'd already occupied a comfortable seat in the studio for the team's TV broadcasts. Not once did his name come up in consideration for all the other openings across the NBA this summer. All the while, the rest of the Lakers' targets (i.e. Lionel Hollins, Quin Snyder, Derek Fisher, Alvin Gentry, etc.) jumped on offers elsewhere as L.A. slow-played its hiring process.

Nobody other than Scott was granted a third interview. Heck, by the time Scott came in for that third sit-down with Lakers brass, all the other openings around the league had been filled.

It's no wonder, then, that Scott's return to the sidelines in L.A. feels more like a marriage of convenience than an honest-to-goodness love affair. But while Scott may not be the feet-sweeping romancer the Lakers want, he could be the steady beau they need to guide them through their current doldrums—if not more than that.

Any talk of the Lakers' present and immediate future would seem to include a contractual obligation to consider Kobe Bryantand rightfully so.

He's one of the greatest Lakers ever—arguably the greatest, though that's a tough argument to win over Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—and still proudly wears purple and gold. His accomplishments as a Laker (i.e. five championships, one regular-season MVP, two Finals MVPs, 16 All-Star appearances, 15 All-NBA selections and the team's all-time scoring record) demand respect in and of themselves.

As does his current contract: two years, $48.5 million.

Whatever the Lakers do over the next two seasons will depend largely on Bryant's contributions. If Bryant can stay healthy and Scott can devise a style of play that suits him, the Lakers might be competitive. If not, last season's 27-55 free-fall could prove to be more than just a blip on the radar.

Scott can't control Kobe's recovery. What he can do, though, is command Bryant's attention. Bryant's respect for Byron goes back to the former's rookie season with the Lakers, which doubled as the latter's last go-round in the NBA before a quick stint in Greece.

As Bryant said during his annual basketball camp in Santa Barbara (via ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin):

Bryant might not be so supportive of Scott if things go south, but for now, the Lakers and their new coach have to be pleased with the endorsement from their superstar.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Even without it, the Lakers can take some comfort in Scott as a known quantity on multiple levels. They know that he's a defensive-minded coach with an extensive track record of empowering great point guards. They know he prefers a style of play that suits L.A.'s personnel. As Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding put it:

The Lakers' emphasis on post-ups and rebounding happens to jibe with Scott's preferred format, so it follows that the longtime Laker would still get the chance to lead this group against the grain.

The term "retread" may apply too easily to Scott, considering he's already been fired three times, but that experience might not be such a bad thing in this case.

Unlike an up-and-coming assistant or an unproven college coach, Scott has seen and done it all at the NBA level. He's coached in two Finals with the New Jersey Nets, dealt with the mutinous tendencies of a star player (i.e. Jason Kidd) and suffered the consequences of instability at the upper levels of an organization during his time guiding the New Orleans Hornets and the Cavs.

All of those factors will come into play for him from day one in L.A.

Scott will be faced with championship expectations, in large part because that's the standard to which the Lakers have long held themselves. He'll have to quell the concerns of Bryant, who hasn't always gotten along so well with those barking from the bench. And he'll be subject to the ongoing squabbles between the Buss children as they try to chart a course forward for the family franchise.

Fortunately for Scott, he's also intimately familiar with those inner workings that are particular to the Lakers.

He grew up in Inglewood and played his high school ball at Morningside High, just a stone's throw from the Great Western Forum. He came to the Lakers on draft day in 1983, by way of a trade that sent Norm Nixon to the San Diego Clippers. He was a key cog in the Showtime machinery, winning titles with Magic, Kareem and James Worthy in 1985, 1987 and 1988. 

Those years spent in purple and gold earned Scott the respect of the Lakers' longtime staffers and allowed him to strike up a close relationship with the late Dr. Jerry Buss. Considering the extent to which Jim Buss, Jeanie Buss and the rest of their siblings have thus far strived to do right by their father's legacy, it only makes sense that they'd turn to someone who knew him as well as Scott did.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Byron Scott (top left) poses with the Showtime Lakers.

Likewise, the Lakers won't have to worry about Scott being surprised by any of the team's internal machinations.

Chances are, he's been briefed on everything that's gone on as the hiring process progressed, and he was already caught up on the club's Game of Thrones-esque backstory to begin with. That's better than bringing on someone who has to ask the Maester every time another piece of the past is dredged up in some capacity.

In truth, the concern with Scott isn't his grasp of the past and present. Rather, it's with his fit for this team's future.

Can Scott quickly turn this ragtag team that Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss have cobbled together into a competitive team in the cutthroat Western Conference?

The Lakers will have to re-learn what it takes to defend in the NBA, after finishing 28th in defensive efficiency last season. Scott's defensive leanings would seem a sure fix in this regard, though as NBA.com's John Schuhmann pointed out, Scott's last go-round might suggest otherwise:

The Cavs ranked in the bottom five in defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) in each of Scott’s three seasons. That’s not just bad. It’s unprecedented.

Before Scott, the last coach to lead his team to the bottom five in defensive efficiency in three straight seasons was Mike Dunleavy, who did it with Milwaukee from 1993-94 to 1995-96, a streak that started when the league had only 27 teams. So Scott is the only coach to do it in a 30-team league.

Note: Before Scott’s Cavs, the last team to rank in the bottom five at least three straight seasons was the Warriors, who did it four seasons in a row, from 2008-09 to 2011-12. But three difference coaches — Don Nelson, Keith Smart and Mark Jackson — were responsible for that run.

Scott's time in Cleveland doesn't bode particularly well for a Lakers squad with developmental needs, either. He had a solid rapport with Kyrie Irving, but he couldn't coax more than 24 wins out of the roster in any of his three seasons on the job.

Of course, the situations between the two franchises are entirely different. Those Cavs were chock-full of youngsters whose knowledge of what it takes to win in the NBA was still in its infancy. These Lakers are laden with wily, playoff-tested veterans; Ryan Kelly, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry and rookies Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson stand as the chief exceptions.

Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

In any case, the concerns about Scott's abilities as a teacher and tactician are valid. Frankly, though, there aren't many (if any) coaches on this planet who could fashion a postseason squad out of the assemblage of players that Scott has before him. Even Phil Jackson would be hard-pressed to spin such straw into pyrite, much less gold.

This is why Scott should do well in this job for now. He comes equipped with a wealth of trust among those inside and outside of the organization through his history as a Laker. He's also a skilled communicator, particularly with the media. Scott will have to sell the work he's doing and the results it's garnering not only to his players but also to the world.

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Patience will be the order of the day, both in terms of short-term play and long-term development. To that end, Scott's voice will be invaluable.

At the very least, Scott should serve well as a caretaker coach, someone who can oversee the Lakers' on-court operations through a likely rough patch that coincides with the (presumed) end of Bryant's career.

If Scott doesn't pan out, the Lakers can crank up their coaching search again at a later date, when Randle's had a chance to grow as an NBA player and the team's fiscal future isn't in quite such flux.

And if Scott proves equal to the task at hand (and then some), the Lakers could finally have someone capable of carrying the torch that's been dropped so many times since Phil Jackson last stalked the sidelines at Staples Center.

And he's a company man, at that.

 

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