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Playing Byron’s Advocate

Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports

I genuinely believe Byron Scott is the worst coach in the league. He encourages Kobe Bryant to take as many bad shots as he wants, hates three-pointers for no logical reason and generally refuses to accept basic truths of the modern NBA. Despite all of this, however, Byron Scott is the perfect coach for the Los Angeles Lakers right now. He helps them lose games without it looking like tanking, and in L.A., appearances are more important than reality.

The Lakes are a franchise that runs on mystique as much as anything else. When Dwight Howard forced his way to Los Angeles, the prestige and fame that came with playing for the Lakers seemed like a big factor. Living in Los Angeles has its advantages, especially for famous NBA players, but Howard wasn’t clamoring to play for the Clippers. The Lakers’ prestige is one of their greatest advantages, but the shine has started to dull, and players around the league are taking note of the serious problems in the organization.

Howard left running to Houston without a second thought. Kevin Durant shot down the rumors that he wanted to be a Laker with a vitriol so strong I thought people were asking him to steal from sick children. Players may already see that the Lakers aren’t where you go if you want to win now, but if they want to maintain their image of being superior to the rest of the NBA, they can’t admit to resorting to tanking. Tanking is the strategy of small-market teams who can’t draw superstars on their own. The Lakers want it to seem as though tanking is beneath them, even though it’s exactly what they need to do.

The Lakers owe their first-round pick in 2016 to the Philadelphia 76ers. The pick is top three protected, so if they want to stay in the first round of the draft this year, they need to do poorly enough to have a good chance of winning a top three pick in the lottery. The Lakers are currently in possession of the league’s second-worst record, and if they keep up their current level of play, they’re likely to stay at the bottom of the league.

Here’s where Byron and Kobe come in. Both of these guys have a fierce competitive streak. No one would expect Kobe to be on board with tanking, especially since this looks like his last season. Scott’s refusal to accept modern coaching strategies almost certainly crosses over into his opinions on roster management and asset accumulation. I find it hard to believe he’d accept the radical idea that losing can make you better. These two aren’t going to tank, and they’re the perfect pair to maintain the illusion that the Lakers are trying to win at all costs. They’re failing the Lakers and losing games on their own merits. Kobe shoots them out of games with bad shots, and Scott lets him shoot to his heart’s content. Most importantly, both of them believe this is the best way to win.

A better coach would realize that it’s time to bench Kobe and give the young guys room to play. They’d work on developing the young players and worry about winning games later. The problem is that the young guards are better for the team than Kobe. Scott will continue to enable Kobe’s bad shooting under the guise of “he just needs to work through this slump,” dangling the carrot of a good Kobe in front of the fans.

Instead, Kobe will continue to be bad, and the Lakers will stay at the bottom of the league and have a good chance of keeping their draft pick. Then they can fire Scott and hire a real coach. In the meantime, stick with the guy who thinks mid-range jumpers are the future and watch Kobe lay the bricks that’ll hopefully be the foundation for a top three draft pick.

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