The Los Angeles Lakers have been a hot mess to start the season, but the Lakers have a good chance to secure their first victory against the equally woeful Brooklyn Nets on Friday night. In advance of that game, a panel of Today’s Fastbreak contributors got together to talk about the Lakers’ poor start.
Jason Patt: The Lakers are 0-4 and have generally looked terrible against so-so competition. What’s the biggest problem with the team and can it be fixed?
Kendrick Johnson: The Lakers’ biggest problems this season are simple. They aren’t giving the keys to the franchise to D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, Kobe Bryant is playing like someone who used to be great but has now played 20 years in the Association and is losing his battle against Father Time, and their defense is so terrible a star high school kid would be able to score on them. Also, I feel strongly that Byron Scott is not the man for the job and the game has passed him by.
There’s a reason he was working for Time Warner and not an NBA organization before the Lakers picked him to succeed Mike D’Antoni.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, even if they wise up and give the keys to the franchise to Russell and Randle as a package duo, their defense will continue to be lackadaisical and unproductive while Bryant will continue losing his battle to Father Time, which at last check is still undefeated. The 2015-16 Lakers will become the first team in franchis history to lose 60-plus games in back-to-back seasons.
Tyriq Butler: Although I lament to agree, it’s a fact. Byron Scott needs to be given a pink slip as we speak. He’s not the right man for the job. Mainly because he’s in press conferences harping over the same exact issues that he’s spoken about since he came to LA. The team plays soft and the defense is horrendous, which means he isn’t doing anything to mitigate the issue and/or guys just aren’t buying into what he preaches.
Or you can say talent is an issue, but I would have to disagree. The Lakers have a roster that can legitimately compete for a bottom playoff spot. They have an excellent young core in Randle, Russell and Clarkson with playmakers like Nick Young and Lou Williams who can get the job done. Roy Hibbert looks like a shell of what he used to be, but he’s capable of averaging a double-double.
Scott isn’t able to maximize the talent on the roster and that has proved to be troublesome. I’m not saying they could win the West. I’m not saying the roster is so attractive that free agents should be salivating at the thought of playing in LA, but it’s one that should be able to win games.
I might be the biggest Kobe fan, but this dude has been awful. And what’s frustrating is that he knows he’s not playing well, as indicated by what he’s telling the media, yet he’s still taking terrible shots. And this notion of “who else should be shooting” in defense of Kobe taking ridiculous shots is so asinine to me. Put the ball in the hands of the young guys and let them run pick-and-rolls and move the ball on offense. We know what the league is and we know what it isn’t.
You have to move the basketball. It goes without saying. Move the ball or you die. Look at ISO heavy teams and then look at those who move the ball. The Lakers aren’t winning a title anytime soon, but if they have goals of at least being respectable, they need a coach who is able to command the respect of his players and maximize the talent. Bryant shouldn’t be shooting more than 12 times a game. And the ball should be given to the young players so they can grow.
Jonathan Assad: Byron Scott has been the culprit for many of the Lakers’ issues thus far. Instead of allowing rookie D’Angelo Russell play through his mistakes, Byron opted to play the struggling Kobe Bryant in the game’s critical moments of the Lakers’ loss to Denver on Tuesday. He’s restricting the young guys while giving Bryant complete freedom on the court, which is in part why Bryant has looked awful to start the season. Not only is Byron playing Kobe too many minutes, but he’s also encouraging Bryant’s awful shot selection. Bryant’s public perception would probably be considerably different if he played under a coach who wasn’t his puppet.
Furthermore, the Lakers’ perimeter defense is nonexistent, and Roy Hibbert, who was acquired to help shore up the defensive miscues, hasn’t been able to live up to his status as an elite rim protector. The Lakers may even be worse defensively than last year, which is baffling.
The Lakers will lose a ton of games no matter what they do, and there’s a chance they keep their top three protected pick if they lose 60 games again this season. Hopefully by then, Bryant will have retired, and the Lakers hire a coach who prioritizes developing the young guys.
Jason: So I’m sensing a few themes here. One: Kobe’s play is killing them. What’s your ideal solution with him? Continue to play him 30 MPG and hope he changes his ways? Or does Scott really need to think about playing Kobe maybe 15-20 MPG like KG? I saw some quotes in regards to that fourth quarter the other night saying that Byron didn’t play D’Angelo Russell because Lou Williams was playing well. Why does it have to be between Russell and Williams? Why can’t Kobe be benched down the stretch if he’s not performing?
Tyriq: I think Kobe should be playing about 25-30 minutes. But if he’s struggling and other guys are producing, then yes, he can sit. But I’m not sure you’re going to see him not playing at the end of fourth quarters; that’s just not happening. But the easier solution is to put your players in position to be successful. Take the ball out of his hands and use him as a spot-up shooter, in pick-and-rolls and not so much in isolation.
Jonathan: Byron can’t bench Kobe down the stretch because, again, he’s Kobe’s puppet. There were multiple games in which Bryant would shoot the ball efficiently through the first three quarters, but end the game with an extremely low field goal percentage due to Scott’s reluctance to bench him. He needs to play Kobe around 20 minutes per game.
Additionally, Bryant showed a willingness to take a step back after admitting that he “freaking sucks.” On Tuesday night against the Nuggets, Kobe made a concerted effort to cut back on his shooting. He took 11 shots in 29 minutes and dished out five assists, a far cry from his 24 shots and one assist in 28 minutes in the Lakers’ season opener. As a result, Clarkson went off for a career-high 30 points, and Randle had a very solid game as well.
Kobe is coming to grips with the fact that he isn’t the player he used to be. We’ll see if he keeps it up.
Kendrick: The solution with Kobe is to give him time so you have more of a sample to see where he’s at. The fact that he gave an honest assessment of himself publicly after the loss to the Mavericks is a tell-all. With that being said, Byron Scott must have Randle and Russell to close games on the floor with Kobe. What better way to learn how to close than from one of the best closers of all time?
As far as Kobe’s minutes go, they should stay with that seven minutes a quarter ratio so that his minutes fall anywhere between 25-28 minutes a game. People seem to forget the Buss family still has tickets to sell and Kobe is the biggest draw; nobody is paying money to see Lou Williams and Swaggy P consistently shoot terrible shots while the Lakers head into the lottery for the third consecutive year.
Tyriq: So here’s the deal. I understand that selling tickets is important. But you know how else you can seek tickets and get fans to come out? You win games. And Kobe is a draw, he’s an attraction, love or hate him people do want to see him play. But those things aren’t mutually exclusive. You can win games with him in the lineup. It’s more about the system and about the schemes. Kobe has admitted that he’s stunk it up. I would love to see him more in pick-and-roll situations as the screener, post up a bit more and spot-up shooting. Not contested shots and hoisting up prayers.
Jason: Agreed that Kobe needs to do a better job picking his spots and do what he can to take better shots rather than jacking terrible jumpers. As for his minutes, it’s still too early to effectively cut his minutes in half. However, if there’s a game where he just doesn’t have it, Byron needs to have the backbone to sit him on the bench late in games, especially if the alternative is sitting a guy like Russell or Clarkson.
Now that we’ve talked about Kobe a bit, let’s shift over to Byron. You guys clearly don’t like him, and I don’t know many Lakers fans (or many people around the league, really) who think he’s the right coach for this team. Assuming the Lakers continue to struggle this year, would you prefer they cut bait midseason with Byron? Or let him ride out this year and make a move in the offseason? And who would be your ideal replacement?
Jonathan: Not only is this possibly Kobe’s final year in the league, but the Lakers will also have a ton of cap space this summer to sign free agents. Cutting bait with Byron Scott as soon as possible and replacing him with a coach who will do a better job of both managing Bryant’s minutes and maximizing the talent on the roster would greatly behoove the Lakers. It’s probably safe to say that players don’t want to play for a coach who runs a rugged, archaic style of basketball and regularly calls his team out for being “soft.” They need a coach who can improve the quality of the product on the court and attract potential free agents.
That said, there aren’t many coaches who are currently available. Luke Walton is a former Laker who’s displayed his coaching dexterity during Steve Kerr’s absence. Walton carved out a 10-year career in the NBA largely due to his basketball IQ and ability to run an offense. The Lakers ran the Triangle offense to perfection whenever Walton was on the court to orchestrate it. If the Lakers find a way to agree to a deal with Walton to become the head coach of the Lakers next season, he’d be well worth the wait.
If not, perhaps the Lakers could sign Mark Jackson so that we don’t have to listen to his commentary during games.
Kendrick: I prefer they fire Byron at the end of the season. His record will absolutely be the worst two-year stretch of any coach in Lakers history, so his firing would be 300 percent just. Mitch Kupchak and Co. will have one of the biggest chances in sports history to build a winner in a short period of time a la the Miami Heat because with Kobe’s slot available and the new cap, the Lakers could potentially reel in two stars and even three if everything goes perfect.
That brings me to the last ramification of firing Byron late. This will prove unequivocally that Jim Buss isn’t qualified to make big-time decisions for the organization and force my girl Jeanie to bring in a top-notch basketball guy to help Lakers Nation begin life after Kobe the correct way and give them hope in the future. Because as the way things stack right now, even Stevie Wonder can see how terrible things are in Lakerland.
Tyriq: I actually like the thought of Walton. It’s only been a few games, but he’s looked impressive in GS. The Lakers need to do away with the archaic offense and Scott has proven he’s not up for the job. As far as free agents go, it’s been the same story for s few years now and no one has come. What’s the difference this time around? Maybe Bryant’s contract being off the books might help, but they should fire him now to allow someone to come in and make an impact to attract free agents.
Jason: I’ve seen Tom Thibodeau’s name be thrown around as an option. Do you guys think he’d be the right type of guy for this young team? I have my doubts, although you’d like to think he’d instill discipline and defensive principles.
Kendrick: Tom Thibodeau is a good coach, but not the right guy for the Lakers due to his controlling nature and the fact that he simply isn’t an LA type of guy.
Whomever the Lakers pick to replace Byron Scott, he must excite Lakers Nation and be someone who can grow with the team as they rebuild and get back to the standard the franchise has set. On paper someone like Luke Walton would be a great fit, but let’s face it, how much coaching is Luke really doing with the best team in the league with an established core.
If the Buss family and Mitch Kupchak want to make a big splash, they should do everything they can to lure John Calipari from Kentucky. Calipari is a great fit because he’s a certified Hall of Fame coach who relates to today’s NBA player and will be extremely motivated to win at the NBA level after what happened 20 years ago in New Jersey.
If they can’t lure Cal away from Kentucky, getting someone such as Mark Jackson who, like him or not, built the foundation for the defending champion Golden State Warriors and understands the magnitude of what it takes to survive under the bright lights of Hollywood. For his and the Lakers’ sake, hopefully he’s learned how to get along with management.
Jonathan: I thought of Tom Thibodeau as a potential replacement for Byron, but while he’d help the team tremendously on defense, I realized that the hiring of Tom would be a lateral move. I can definitely see Thibodeau mimicking Byron in a lot of areas, such as running the team into the ground during practice for no reason, playing Kobe way too many minutes like he did with Jimmy butler and Luol deng, and trusting the veteran players over the rookies and young players.
Nonetheless, Thibodeau would still be an upgrade over Byron. It’d be interesting to see how much defense Tom could squeeze out of this Lakers team, and while his simplistic offensive schemes have been heavily maligned, Derrick Rose won MVP playing in that offense. Still, I’d rather see the Lakers hire a coach who would instill a modern offense a la Tom’s replacement in Chicago, Fred Hoiberg.
Jason: Yeah, I don’t really like the fit there with Thibs. The Walton idea is a good one considering he’d be a young coach for a young team and he’s got experience coaching the best team going right now. Plus, former Laker!
Anyway, this has been mostly negative, so let’s end this on a positive note. What’s been the most encouraging thing you’ve seen out of the Lakers’ young guys?
Tyriq: Randle and Clarkson are going to be stars. Russell has potential, but he could use some veteran leadership from a guy like Steve Nash or one of the greats. It would be great if the Lakers still had Nash. The future isn’t all that bright as it is, but with the emergence of these younger players, the Lakers could very well find themselves back in the contention conversation in a few years if the right moves are made.
Kendrick: The most encouraging about the Lakers so far has been the play of Julius Randle. After watching him up close in Summer League in Las Vegas, I was very underwhelmed by him to say the least. Now after watching him in real games, I’m impressed with his ball handling for his size and his tough tenacity to never back down from anyone, which shows me he has the potential to become a good leader for the Lakers for years to come. Randle’s ability to hit a consistent jump shot will be very key towards his development, because if develops a consistent jumper and learns to finish with his right like he does his left, he’ll have the potential of becoming another great. If these things don’t happen for him, he’ll be just another player.
As far as Russell is concerned, he must learn from his mistakes and hopefully by the end of the year we’re watching him hit consistent open jumpers and improving mightily on the defensive end. I know he has more to work on, but doing those two things first will go a long way towards helping him reach his potential.
Jonathan: Just like last season, Jordan Clarkson has been one of the very few bright spots for the Lakers. He’s aggressive and constantly looking to attack whenever he has the ball. He’s displayed the necessary athleticism to dash to the hoop and finish around the basket. Also encouraging is his ability to play off the ball and make three-pointers. He’s shooting a remarkable 46.7 percent from beyond the arc thus far.
Julius Randle is a behemoth in the paint who also possess various perimeter skills. Randle uses his broad shoulders to bully his defenders down low and get to his sweet spots. For someone of his size, Randle has excellent body control and touch around the basket. Additionally, his ability to lead fast breaks and facilitate makes him a vital weapon for the Lakers.
D’Angelo Russell is taking more time than the players mentioned above to develop. His lack of speed and athleticism is a glaring issue, as he’s struggling to penetrate and finish at the basket. Creating space for himself to score will remain a weakness for Russell until he becomes more aggressive and gets acclimated to the NBA game. Regardless, the 19-year-old has shown glimpses of great court vision and touch from mid-range and beyond the arc. It may take him awhile, but Russell certainly has the potential to one day become the league’s best floor general.