Getting Off Scott Free

One of the worst coaches is ruining one of the greatest organizations.

ncompetence is a funny thing. Most times, those who are truly beyond repair in the intelligence department are those who do not realize just how broken their abstract view of the world happens to be. It’s an even grander level of despair and ineptitude when those who are dense actually get active jobs that empower them to oversee the younger minds that they’re supposed to mold. In the case of a head coach for the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the premier organizations not just in basketball but sports in general, the abundance of inadequacy runs so deep that it’s almost akin to a salt mine that’s about to undergo a vicious implosion. Byron Scott isn’t just a bad coach, or an out of touch basketball mind, but rather he’s a person who has poisoned the minds of those he was brought in to teach. And, in a rather shocking development, that is not the worst part about what has happened in Los Angeles during the last two seasons.

“IT’S ALL ABOUT MANNING UP.”

During his time as the head man in Los Angeles, the quotable Scott has been at the helm for 128 games. It’s not that his team during that stretch has been bad, had bad players, or endured countless injuries. It’s not that he’s had young guys try to learn the ropes and he’s played them a ton of minutes. The simple fact of the situation is that, in 128 games, Byron Scott has ended up the winner only 30 times. There’s being terrible at your job, and then there’s being downright negligent. It’s hard to say someone is bad at their job without actually seeing them do it firsthand, but we’ve seen Scott do this before. He did it back with the Cleveland Cavaliers when LeBron James left.

Scott took over in Cleveland for three years, and only managed to win 64 out of 230 games. That’s a hard feat to accomplish, especially since we all saw the Golden State Warriors win 67 games last season alone. Yes, there’s a difference in talent level and all the other stuff that goes into that, but winning that few games with a roster that isn’t exactly the “Trust The Process” Philadelphia 76ers is something to be ashamed about. But not Scott. For years now he’s pinned the failures of himself on those around him because it turns the spotlight off of him. When the light from the lamp gets too blinding, he just tilts it away from his eyes but does so by shining it in another’s eyes.

In the paradigm shift of the National Basketball Association, Scott has refused to embrace the way the game has evolved. For much of his time he’s openly waged war on the advent of the three-point shot, and on one occasion he referred to it as something that won’t help you win a championship. He still has a job. In an era where David Blatt, who was let go by the Cavaliers a couple days ago, could be ousted from his job despite overwhelming success, thanks in large part to the talent on the team, it truly makes you wonder how Scott still is employed. It speaks to an organizational philosophy built on malfeasance and shame rather than on the big picture.

You can say what you want about Mike D’Antoni, but at least he had a system that was able to feature strengths of players who had no business playing meaningful minutes at the time. To date, no one knows exactly what Byron Scott’s system actually is. It seems like something that even Michael Jordan would deem as far too isolation oriented. As of the writing of this article, the Lakers rank first in the entire league in isolation frequency in 2015-16, but in a tie for second to last in points per possession in that category and second to last in Effective Field Goal Percentage. In essence, they stink, and the head coach still doesn’t care.

“WE JUST SUCKED. SIMPLE AS THAT.”

Now, you can fault him for the design structure of the offense, but we’re still left wondering how much of that is even his fault and how much is because they have to appease the fading star that is Kobe Bryant as the shooting guard, now turned small forward, goes through the motions of his farewell tour. Too often now we’ve seen Bryant dribble shot clock after shot clock away, settling for heaves and hoists that would make even the most selfish players in the league blush with blind rage. But is that on Bryant or Scott? In fairness, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle as the head coach has watched the aging icon dance this act over and over again without curtailing the travesty at all. Scott has given Bryant an inch, and Bryant kept taking more inches because Scott wasn’t man enough, or interested enough, to call him on it. If you give someone an inch, but refuse to hold them accountable after they take more than you gave them, whose fault is it really when all the inches add up to a mile of rubbish?

That’s the main issue afoot here. You can’t have a coach in control of organizational development if he refuses to hold the most popular player in the league accountable when he screws up. It sends a message of disconnect and favoritism. As he’s barking at rookies, and young players in general, about what they’re doing wrong, they’re staring over at Bryant taking bad shots, not hustling on defense, and not giving a damn about the end result so long as he gets his swan song. It’s bred a culture of magnificent postgame interviews by players such as D’Angelo Russell, one of the more promising rookie players in the league during a season in which rookies have looked fantastic.

Russell, the team’s first round pick and the second overall selection in the draft, was named the starter as the season got underway only to see his role get cut while Lou Williams took his job. Williams isn’t a bad player, but the team is 9-37 now. You are what your record says you are. At what point is Russell going to be put back into the starting lineup and given minutes that actually reward and accentuate how he’s played? It’s not as if Russell has even played poorly. In fact, he’s played quite well. And that’s the crux of the issue. Scott has effectively punished Russell for outperforming those around him, and that’s not the way to build trust in the locker room and develop the skills of a young player. You nurture, you don’t torture.

After receiving 28.4 minutes per game through the season’s first 24 contests, 22 of which saw him as the starter, Russell has averaged 25.4 minutes per game since being relegated to the bench on December 15th. If you think three extra minutes per game isn’t a big deal, think again. That’s an extra 180 seconds of playing time that could be used for more development. Minutes matter, even three per game. That’s an extra 246 minutes over the course of 82 games that could be used to improve. Especially in a “lost” season such as this one. In the meantime, Lou Williams’ minutes have gone up since then, from 26.9 minutes per game prior to Russell’s removal from the starting lineup to 31.5 since Williams took over for him. It’s not just that Williams is getting more time on the floor than Russell, but it’s especially damning that Williams is averaging three more minutes per game as a starter than Russell did when he was the guy in the opening introduction every night.

It’s not just Russell who has suffered from Scott’s insistence on being a blind leader. Julius Randle joined Russell on the bench after 24 games, going from an average of 27.7 minutes per game all the way down to 25.4, just like Russell, since the demotion. Randle, to his credit, has never stopped battling. He’s averaging 9.9 rebounds in those 25.4 minutes, which comes out to 14.0 rebounds per 36 minutes – a truly staggering number. The difference between Randle and Russell, at least as far as situations go, is that Randle’s minutes are at least going to a fellow young player, Larry Nance, Jr., but Russell’s aren’t. They’re going to a veteran who is better served as a sixth man anyways. Ever since Russell was put on the bench, he leads Lakers’ guards in field goal percentage, and is 0.2 percent behind Lou Williams in three-point percentage. Usually when a player does well, even when given the short end of the stick, they’re rewarded. But not in Scott’s world.

“WE WERE SOFT.”

Perhaps that’s the most baffling part of the way everything has been handled thus far. There’s no such thing as a “fair shake” as far as Byron Scott is concerned. All-energy big man Tarik Black was told by Scott that he needed to play with more energy. For Black to play with more energy, he’d have to become a methamphetamine addict who shotgunned cans of Red Bull for three weeks straight just to give him the tiniest boost. The man plays hard, nonstop, and it’s quite endearing. But it’s not seen that way by Scott. And that’s the one of the underlying issues with Scott as a head coach. He sees what he wants to see, believes what he wants to believe, and thinks basketball games are won based on a person’s grit and a team’s toughness rather than the skills honed in the gym as a unit. He views basketball as a gladiatorial sport rather than as a chess match. Scott can’t play chess. He’s already been checkmated. He’s still trying to figure out why the knights can make an L-shape move on the board and why the white pieces on the board get to make the first move.

In Scott’s world of false platitudes and overarching wrongness, it’s his disillusion that has failed him. It’s easy to get things wrong when you’re looking in all the wrong places. It’s easy to think that Brandon Bass and Julius Randle, or Brandon Bass and Ryan Kelly, can play together for sustained minutes without suffering any adverse affects to the interior defense. Yes, the current Lakers construct is that of a team devoid of any perimeter defenders that can hound an opposing ball-handler to the point of a turnover. They’re, for lack of a better phrase, defensively inept. It’s hard to trust a trio of Lou Williams, Jordan Clarkson, and Kobe Bryant to do anything resembling defense. Sure, they can try, but it doesn’t do anything. It’s one of the main reasons that Roy Hibbert has looked like such a complete waste this season. He’s playing alongside turnstiles. The rim is Disneyland, the Lakers guards are the ushers, and they’re just taking tickets from ball-handlers as they let the opposition stroll into the park for a grand old time.

But a head coach can limit the damage. A head coach can find a solution. That’s his job. That’s why he’s being paid. A smarter person would know that you can’t play that aforementioned trio, or even the two big man pairings, for substantial minutes. A smarter person would know that D’Angelo Russell has probably been the team’s best on-ball defender on the perimeter all season long. A smarter person would know that, offensively, running more pick-and-rolls that accentuated the skill sets of his young players could yield a larger net result as games, or even the season, went along. A smarter person would know that Ryan Kelly should never see more minutes in a game than D’Angelo Russell, barring injury of course, despite them playing far different positions and having far different responsibilities. Unfortunately, we’re not talking about a smarter person. We’re talking about Byron Scott, as clueless of a leader as there has been in this league. Actually, scratch that. He’s not a leader. Leaders lead by example. He’s a puppet dancing to the tune of his puppeteer’s hands.

Scott has been given carte blanche to run amok by a front office too afraid of its biggest merchandise seller. One of the main reasons Scott was hired, if you actually choose to read between the lines, is because he was a close friend of Kobe Bryant. The issue was that no one in the upper part of the organization had any foresight to realize that they were sending a chicken into a wolf den. Scott is bad, yes, but he’s also only there to placate to Bryant’s every whim. If Bryant wants to play, he’s playing. If Bryant wants to sit, he’s sitting. If Bryant wants the ball, you best believe your bank account that he’s getting that damn ball and doing whatever he damn well pleases because he’s Kobe f’n Bryant and Byron Scott is not going to tell him what he can and cannot do. That’s not to blame Bryant. After all, let’s face it, if you wielded that kind of power in an organization, you’d do the same exact thing. We all would. Anyone who says they wouldn’t is fooling themselves.

The greater problem with it, though, is that Bryant’s exploits aren’t even demeaned, bemoaned, or ridiculed. If he has a bad shooting night, Scott chalks it up to just one of those nights rather than an overworked body at the end of its rope. And the former Showtime Lakers teammates prop Scott up as if it’s not his fault. Numerous times this season, James Worthy has blamed everyone on the team except Byron Scott. It’s never Scott’s fault. It’s always on the players. It’s always on them. That’s why Worthy’s clear mistake on Saturday night was particularly hilarious. He was clueless as to the fact that D’Angelo Russell wasn’t even a starter anymore. That’s the joke of it all. They don’t even know that they are a joke. They’re oblivious to everything around them as they constantly build up the glass walls to protect themselves from the inevitable truth that they’re all catastrophic failures.

“I THINK A FEW OF THOSE GUYS IN THAT LOCKER ROOM HAVE QUIT.”

A once proud organization has turned into a laughingstock that they were desperately trying to avoid. If you’re trying not to become a laughingstock, you best go out of your way to not hire the circus to come to town. That’s exactly what they did when they hired Byron Scott. They thought they were getting a tough, hard-nosed style coach a la someone like Gregg Popovich or Stan Van Gundy. But those coaches have something Scott has never had in his professional career; a clue. They understand basketball to a far deeper level than Scott does. Maybe that’s because they were never NBA players themselves, or maybe it’s because they operate on a different wavelength from him – a wavelength where common sense and understanding actually exist. Yet, it’s hard to ask those two things out of Scott when he’s surrounded himself with a supporter like Magic Johnson.

The old great point guard was one of Scott’s staunchest supporters, and one of D’Antoni’s biggest critics. It becomes a culture of losing when dissenting voices are pushed out, and only the voices of agreement remain. That’s the present issue with the franchise as a whole, and with Scott as a head coach. There’s no one there to challenge him. Not with the way everything has been setup for him. Jim Buss, Jeanie Buss, and Mitch Kupchak are all pawns in a game being played by people much savvier than them. That’s where Scott deserves some credit. He knows how to work the room, how to work those above him, and how to keep the attention squarely off of him. He understands how the game of musical chairs is played. Get everyone dancing to the same tune without realizing you’re sitting in the only chair.

When you build a foundation of failure, much like the Lakers have built lately, then you’re setting yourself up for a long run of years without winning. In the NBA, you’re either winning enough games to matter or you’re losing enough games to become irrelevant. It’s a cycle that is hard to break. It took the Los Angeles Clippers, their STAPLES Center basketball brethren, a long time to careen that train of desolation off the tracks. It took a stroke of luck that allowed them to land Blake Griffin in the draft, as well as drafting Eric Gordon and DeAndre Jordan a year prior. It paved the way for their rise in the Western Conference, and despite their inability to make it beyond the second round in the Chris Paul Era, they’re still one of the better teams in the league. It takes luck, make no mistake about it. Right now, the Lakers have all of the worst kind of luck.

“WE HAVE NO MENTAL OR PHYSICAL TOUGHNESS ON THIS TEAM RIGHT NOW.”

If their goal was to lose enough to keep their first round picks so that they could ultimately get enough young pieces to build a roster with growth potential, then they’re certainly doing that. But it goes beyond just asset collection. It goes to growth, and that’s where Scott has failed the most. He’s not a teacher, but rather an authoritative dictator. Scott talks down at you, not with you. He’s not in the business of building the minds and games of young men. He’s in the business of molding them into mindless drones who pound their head into the pavement just because that’s what Scott says builds character and toughness. Scott would know all about character since he is, in fact, the biggest character there is. A joker the likes of which we haven’t seen since Heath Ledger appeared in The Dark Knight.

Basketball isn’t played by the toughest, hardest people in the world. It’s crafted by those who understand the delicate balance between skill, intelligence, and the innate ability to sense where and when to strike. Byron Scott possesses none of those qualities. He’s a stranded fish in the desert, desperately flopping its way to the nearest watering hole without the realization that water is nowhere to be found. Scott has no skills as a head coach. We’ve seen it on display time and time again. He bungles the rotations, mismanages minutes, and categorically fumbles the basic inner workings. He lacks the intellectual forethought to see things as they’re happening, often making changes too late, or even not at all. Scott’s clueless nature extends even into knowing who to play, often sitting players like Russell and Randle far too long while giving players like Marcelo Huertas, Ryan Kelly, and Robert Sacre far too much leash.

Sure, you have to play the talent on your team, but you could also know when to play them and against what matchups to use them. You don’t trot out Marcelo Huertas against C.J. McCollum and expect nothing bad to happen. You don’t throw Ryan Kelly out there against Kawhi Leonard in the hopes that Leonard takes pity on him. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do things. So far, through all these years, Scott only knows the wrong way. And maybe that’s because he never had to learn the right way. He got a job as New Jersey’s head coach after two years as an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings, and the Nets rewarded him with the first overall pick, Kenyon Martin, and trades a year later that brought in Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson. Even then, Scott almost had his team blow it in the first round against the 8-seed Indiana Pacers during that first Finals run. A Jermaine O’Neal missed free throw in Game 3, and a double overtime win in Game 5 were enough for the Nets to steal the series and avoid an upset.

The end result was Scott’s Nets squad getting whitewashed by the Lakers in four games. They went back to the Finals the following season, only to get bested by the San Antonio Spurs in six games. 42 games into his fourth season in New Jersey, and third season with that trio, Scott was fired. In a lot of ways, Scott was just like former Clipper coach Vinny Del Negro. Brought in to nurture young talent, but got a heap of expectations thrown onto his shoulders that ultimately became too big of a burden to bear. That still doesn’t excuse Scott now. He’s had time to grow since then, yet he’s shown that he’s unable to do so. Scott keeps showing that the game has passed him by, waving as it did so. The lack of ingenuity, creativeness, and understanding is his fault. That’s all on him. But the front office in place deserves their share of the blame, as well.

“IT’S HARD TO WATCH THESE YOUNG GUYS THAT DON’T UNDERSTAND AND DON’T GET IT.”

Scott can sit idly by as he crosses his arms on the bench, but this is his fault for a lot of what has gone on. His rudimentary offense, failure to communicate an actual defensive construct that would help his players overcome their physical hurdles, and general don’t-give-a-damn attitude is on him. Those are Byron Scott problems. The thing that makes it almost unbearable is that there is a small iota of chance that Scott actually returns to coach the Lakers next season. People who watch the game of basketball – analysts, writers, and fans – hope that’s not the case, but it’s not their call. It’s up to the Lakers and Scott. For now, it’s a problem that Scott could return when he’s done nothing to deserve a second chance. And this isn’t even a second chance, but rather a fourth chance for him. This is his fourth stop as a head coach, and he’s getting worse. Nothing changes.

His .418 win percentage is the second lowest of any coach with at least 1000 games coached. Only Kevin Loughery (.417 in 1136 games) is worse. In their 68 seasons in existence, the Lakers’ two worst win percentage seasons have come with Byron Scott at the helm. That’s not a misprint, that’s not a joke, that’s not a punchline. That’s a stone cold fact of life. The Lakers hired a man with a track record of losing to give one of their franchise’s most cherished icons a last hurrah. The issue isn’t the last hurrah, but rather that they picked the wrong guy to control the sendoff. They picked someone with the coaching acumen of a half-eaten Snickers bar that had melted to the bench. And that’s fitting, since that’s exactly where he puts his best players – on the bench.

Things will get better for the Lakers, but only once Scott is out of the picture. Scott’s ignorance is the reason for this even being written. Scott’s lack of accountability – the man literally accepts zero responsibility for anything that takes place – is enough of a red flag to warn everyone about his general mental state. Why take blame when you can point fingers? The hilarity of everything is that Scott has no understanding of how basketball is played, coached, or taught anymore. His days were done in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. Scott is a relic that has been dusted off, placed on the shelf, and admired for far too long. It’s time for someone to take the relic off the shelf, lift it over their head, and smash the damn thing into the ground. It takes someone with great strength to do that, but the Lakers organization is filled with cowards. It takes a real person to lead. Right now, there are no real leaders in place, and that’s what has allowed Scott, and Bryant to some extent, to control the flow.

It’s time for someone to stand up and take charge.

It’s time for someone to stop letting him get off scot-free.

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