The Los Angeles Lakers’ whirling maelstrom of nonsense sucked in two more victims recently, as Byron Scott removed D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle from the team’s starting lineup for reasons that only make sense in the upside-down and backward reality the Lakers have lived in all year.
Here’s what he said, per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: “This change wasn’t so much based on them not performing up to their capability. It’s based on where we are as a team. We’re 3-17, so obviously it’s not working. So I wanted to get some new blood in there, some fresh blood, and see how those guys play.”
Yeah…so, about that…
It’d be one thing if Russell or Randle looked pitiably overmatched, if they’d been continually embarrassed on the floor (they haven’t). And it’d be another if they’d lashed out publicly against Scott, Kobe or the organization (they didn’t) — even if, as sane humans, they’d be justified in asking some serious questions about this team’s direction.
But this move sprouted from no such logical seed.
Instead, it seems to be yet another symptom of Scott’s bizarre, detrimentally uncompromising management style. The same one that allows Bryant — a meaningless figure in the team’s future — to do whatever he wants at the expense of chemistry and player development while simultaneously stifling the only Lakers assets that actually matter.
Maybe Russell and Randle won’t turn out to be good players, but the Lakers need to find out. Pulling them from the first unit not because they’re playing poorly but because the Lakers aren’t winning makes no sense.
Especially because the Lakers should be getting their young pieces experience while losing as much as possible. That 2016 draft pick is top three protected, folks.
Benching Randle and Russell, aside from the immediate discord it caused (both were obviously ticked when talking to Bresnahan), actively works against the limited and simple goals the Lakers should have this season. You don’t develop youth by benching it. And you don’t avoid those potentially fatal extra wins by redistributing important minutes from green rookies to semi-capable vets.
I mean, it’s baffling.
This is where you can start to see a sympathetic angle for Scott. Like the rest of the Lakers organization, he’s essentially being held captive by Bryant. The silly Kobe contract two years ago, the half-cocked addition of second-tier veterans as part of a let’s-have-it-both-ways attempt to make the playoffs now and develop for the future all at once, the farewell tour: all Kobe-servicing moves that have come or are coming at the expense of the franchise’s health.
Scott didn’t extend Kobe. He didn’t sign Lou Williams and Brandon Bass. He didn’t trade for Roy Hibbert. Those things aren’t on him. And if you really want to take up residence in Scott’s corner, you can pin a huge portion of the organizational aimlessness on those above him:
“I think Byron has got to continue to mess with combinations and search,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told Bresnahan of the lineup moves. “That’s really all you can do. What we’re doing right now has not resulted in the kind of record that we like, so my guess is he’s going to try and continue to move things around and try to find something that does. That’s what a coach does.”
The general manager is guessing at his employee’s motivations while admitting the Lakers’ record isn’t what he wants it to be?
Either the chain of command is broken, there’s no clear organizational goal, or Scott has waaaaaaaay more power over important decisions than he should. Maybe it’s all three.
That’s the best blame-shifting you can achieve: saying everyone’s doing a bad job. But no amount of rationalizing fully absolves Scott, who seems very clearly to be running this team the way he wants to.
And what Scott wants shouldn’t matter in the least because there’s no realistic scenario in which he’s a part of the Lakers’ long-term plans. He can’t be — not after this debacle. In fact, maybe he’s managing this team like there’s no tomorrow because, as far as his tenure with the Lakers goes, he doesn’t have one himself.