Los Angeles Lakers: The Case For Byron Scott

Mar 30, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott during the second quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 30, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott during the second quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

Many view Byron Scott as the source of the Los Angeles Lakers’ problems, but he may be a more capable coach and a better fit than people think.

Throughout the last two tumultuous seasons for the Los Angeles Lakers, one man has been the universal scapegoat. No, it hasn’t been any player. It hasn’t even been either member of the tandem of general manager Mitch Kupchak and part-owner/executive vice president Jim Buss (though some blame definitely is due to each of the two).

The man who has absorbed the bulk of the blame, ridicule and insult is head coach Byron Scott.

When the former Showtime-era Lakers guard initially took over the head coaching position, fans had mixed feelings about the hire but were relieved to have someone other than Mike D’Antoni at the helm after his abysmal tenure.

Past and present members of the organization were overjoyed and welcomed Scott with open arms, with Laker legends and former teammates of Scott in Magic Johnson and James Worthy going as far as to stand behind him at his introductory press conference as a display of their support.

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Los Angeles Lakers
Nov 12, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott reacts against the New Orleans Pelicans during the first quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans defeated the Lakers 109-102. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /

Since then, he has fallen out of favor with Laker faithful due to his brash, hard-knocks nature. Scott has no reservations about shaking up the rotation at will, benching players when he feels they aren’t performing up to par and telling players about themselves both privately and publicly (with the exception of Kobe Bryant).

This demeanor has generated an uneasiness towards him among fans and even some of his players, as evidenced by this clip of Jordan Clarkson advising rookie D’Angelo Russell to tread lightly when answering questions about his head coach:

All of this, added to the fact that the Lakers are a combined 35-116 during his tenure, would suggest that Scott is absolutely indefensible in his management of this team and a candidate for immediate termination.

But what if Scott isn’t the incompetent, stubborn coach fans perceive him to be and what he’s doing is actually … working?

Sure, his sudden lineup changes are viewed as abrupt and sometimes unwarranted, but the players involved seem to be affected positively by them.

Last year, he inserted Clarkson into the starting lineup for the last half of the season. Clarkson made a good return on his coach’s investment by averaging 15.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game in 38 starts on his way to All-Rookie First Team honors.

This season, in a much more high-profile decision, he sent Russell and heralded sophomore forward Julius Randle to the bench in favor of journeyman scorer Lou Williams and energetic rook Larry Nance Jr. While the rotation change received an outpouring of backlash, it actually paid off well for all parties involved.

The benching was just the kick in the pants that Russell and Randle needed, as the two have combined to average 31.7 points a game since returning to the starting lineup as compared to 24.2 prior to being benched. Williams and Nance benefited as well, averaging 16.9 and 7.3 points per game respectively as starters.

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Moreover, the team is playing better as a result, averaging 102.7 points per game on 36.5 percent shooting since February while as opposed to 99.5 a game on 35.5 percent shooting in the first four months of the season.

Scott’s also made crucial decisions that have improved the team’s bench play, namely giving more minutes to the incredibly effective tag team of Marcelo Huertas and Brandon Bass.

Scott has been unfairly vilified for putting the young players on the back burner and focusing on the Kobe Bryant retirement tour — a decision that was less his own and more from the influence of a front office team eager to keep a struggling franchise relevant to maintain the revenue earned from an extremely lucrative TV deal with Time Warner Cable.

However, if one reads between the lines, the case could be made that Scott’s tough love coaching style has served to better the team’s young core, as they look more promising now than ever before.

Am I saying he’s the coach to lead the team to prominence and championship contention? Not at all. What I’m saying is that he might be the guy to do the groundwork for such a team in the same way that Mark Jackson did for the Golden State Warriors.

I know, Lakers fans — at this point, you’ve all got your torches and pitchforks and are ready to run Scott clear out of town if need be.

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But maybe — just maybe — Scott has been just the kind of coach this young Laker team needed.