As a player, Byron Scott was a three-time NBA champion for a historic Los Angeles Lakers team. As a coach, Scott, the former point guard, is partially credited for the success Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving have enjoyed in the league since studying under his tutelage. Perhaps that’s why Scott, after being introduced as Lakers head coach prior to the 2014-15 season, was so widely embraced as the logical candidate to resuscitate a team that looked dead in the water. A clear connection to a successful past combined with an innate ability to develop a position where the franchise had no answer made hiring Scott a logical, welcomed and celebrated choice.
At the time, the move was sold as a homecoming, a return to positive public relations and viewed as the first step in restoring winning ways. In reality, Scott was given a roster filled with questions and presented a litany of challenges, some of which he could have never predicted. Julius Randle’s arrival sparked some optimism among a desperate fan base that had just endured the Dwight Howard ‘era,’ but that was short-lived as Randle’s rookie season didn’t even last one complete regular season game. Some believed Kobe Bryant (Achilles) would be able to turn back time for the new head coach he once called a teammate, but Bryant played just 35 less than memorable games before succumbing to another season-ending injury.
That left Scott with a ragtag group of players that simply did not fit together—and played absolutely no defense—in guys like Jeremy Lin, Nick Young, Carlos Boozer and Jordan Hill. You can question the rotations that were utilized, the minutes that were allocated and why Jordan Clarkson didn’t get an opportunity ahead of Lin sooner, but there is no reason to ask why Scott didn’t succeed: Look at the tools he was given.
If you’re placed in a position that doesn’t provide a path to success, it’s not usually going to work out in your favor. In the NBA, where your record is a big part of your resume as a head coach, Scott is going to be routinely judged by the results regardless of the process. This is Los Angeles, these are the Lakers and that’s how it’s going to be.
Now in his second season of his dream job, Scott’s task has only gotten harder. Asked to balance Bryant’s farewell tour with the development of Randle, Jordan Clarkson and No. 2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell, Scott’s losing situation has become more evident as the team continues to pile up defeats. There are obvious flaws in Scott’s relationship with Kobe, a friend, confidant and the Lakers’ franchise icon for the last two decades, but it’s difficult to critique that approach when the organization is dedicated to building a shrine for him instead of a capable team around him. Outside of Randle, who is an absolute bulldozer on the floor regardless of who he’s sharing it with, Scott’s young pupils—and Bryant’s newest teammates—regularly look like they’re sitting in the front row as fans ready to watch the Kobe show rather than serve as active participants in a professional basketball game.
It doesn’t help that Scott consistently makes excuses for Bryant’s waning performance, but what else is he going to do? This was Kobe Bryant’s team long before Scott began to patrol the sidelines, and while celebrating his past is a mistake for a team that far too often still lives in its storied past, tearing down Bryant’s star will do nothing to move the franchise forward. The front office should be criticized for their recent approach to roster construction, but instead it’s Scott who bears the brunt of the blame. The head coach does himself no favors with some of the things he (over)shares in the media, but as the most visible man in the Lakers’ organization whose name isn’t Kobe, Scott, the leader of a team searching for its ultimate direction, is going to be a popular target whenever one of the NBA’s giants slips, stumbles and ultimately falls.
Considering the current (unrealistic) expectations in Lakerland, there is no middle ground for Scott. The organization that brought back the winner has asked him to go through a period of losing, and that can be a painful learning experience for anyone—including coaches. For Scott, a man who prides himself on competing and succeeding at the highest level, it must be intolerable.
More likely than not, the veteran head coach, who is on his hands and knees trying to plant a few seeds in a Lakers garden filled with weeds, won’t be around to watch the flowers bloom. And that’s a damn shame considering the losing role this organization has asked Scott to play en route to winning again.