They thought they had their man, and then they didn’t. They thought so again, but the verdict has yet to be rendered on whether they actually do.
After back-to-back disgraceful seasons, the Lakers have become that automatic win for opponents on team calendars; that joke among league executives during conference calls. Are we sure the right guy is coaching this team?
This goes back to the frenzy following the 1-4 start in the 2012-13 season. Everyone thought coaching legend Phil Jackson was on his way back to the Staples Center sidelines. But Jim Buss wanted to be the smartest guy in the room, so he went with Mike D’Antoni and it blew up in his face.
After that failed experiment, Byron Scott marched in the door with a smile that glistened incredibly. Lakers Nation is familiar with the Scott that wore the jersey, but not the one sporting the suit. So they half-heartedly gravitated toward joyous acceptance, but in the end, they’re still waiting to be convinced he belongs at the helm.
When the Lakers gave D’Antoni his pink slip, there was an overwhelming feeling in the streets of LA that defense would finally make its way into the Lakers’ philosophy. But after the Lakers gave up an abysmal 105.3 points per game last year, which ranked second-to-last in the entire league, it left many wondering if D’Antoni was ghostwriting their defensive schemes.
From the first day he arrived, Scott has preached defense, which pulled on the heartstrings of Lakers Nation. It hasn’t worked out that way.
His claim to fame was taking the New Jersey Nets to back-to-back Finals early in the 2000s. Back in the 2002-03 season, they were No. 1 in the NBA in defensive efficiency. In the year prior to that they were No. 5 in opponents points per game.
So it would appear that Scott has defense in his DNA, it just hasn’t shown itself in quite awhile with his teams faring poorly on that end since his Nets days.
Out of sight, out of mind. Well at least that’s what they say. And for the Lakers, it had been going well since they played their last game. The offseason was time for the wounds to heal and emotional recovery to take place.
But that was to be short-lived as Summer League made its way into our conversations. The Lakers playing poorly wasn’t the story. The fact that they finished 1-4 and didn’t really look good with seven of the players on the team having guaranteed contracts wasn’t the story either (though that’s something to be concerned about).
The news was actually what Byron Scott had to say about his No. 2 overall pick – the Lakers’ starting point guard going into next season (via the Los Angeles Times):
“Let’s make this very clear, Russell is not Magic Johnson. Magic came on the scene, and instantly he’s a Hall-of-Famer. D’Angelo has a way to go, there’s no doubt about that,” Scott said.
These comments were certainly ill-advised. Were they true? Absolutely. But I’m not sure he’s sending the right message to a young player who will be counted on significantly by this organization.
Rookies need to be humbled when they come into the NBA. Some guys come into the league feeling entitled as if they’ve accomplished something. Coaches want to set the tone early that this is the real deal and that the NBA is much different than college basketball.
But Scott might’ve gone too far. Sure, in the grand scheme of things, it’s probably not all that serious. However, you don’t hear anyone say, “Let’s make this clear, Byron Scott is no Phil Jackson. He has a long way to go.”
Then again, you might hear many people roaming the streets of Hollywood saying that because it’s the cold-hard truth. Byron Scott isn’t in the same sentence with the Zen Master. But the Lakers don’t need him to be. They’re desperate. They need a coach who’s going to establish a defensive mindset. One who’s not going to play a 37-year old Kobe Bryant 40 minutes per game.
They need a leader. Heck, they need an exceptional coach. Can that phrase be associated with Byron Scott? Not yet, but time will tell.