After nearly three months without a head coach, the Los Angeles Lakers agreed to a four-your, $17 million deal with Byron Scott on Saturday.
Scott, 53, takes over from Mike D’Antoni, who resigned on April 30 following one of the worst seasons in Lakers history. Scott beat out five other candidates: Kurt Rambis, Mike Dunleavy, Lionel Hollins, Alvin Gentry and George Karl.
It’s believed Scott had the right blend of deep ties to the Showtime era (winning three titles as a player), previous success as a head coach, a good relationship with star Kobe Bryant and knowing the team inside and out after working as an analyst for the Lakers television station, Time Warner Cable Sportsnet, last season, according to ESPN. Bryant was also quoted as saying Scott was his mentor when he entered the league in 1996, a ringing endorsement Lakers brass certainly heard.
But did L.A. make the right choice? Many will point out Scott’s recent failures (and there are plenty), but ultimately it appears like L.A. might have finally found some long-term stability at head coach.
As ProBasketball Talk pointed out, Scott has a sub-.500 career coaching record of 416-521, and has posted one good season as a head coach in the last 10 years when he took the New Orleans Hornets to the Western Conference semifinals in 2008. And in his latest coaching gig, Scott failed to lift the Cleveland Cavaliers from the bottom of the Eastern Conference for three seasons after LeBron James left.
The same report indicates the Lakers view Scott as a disciplinarian who can whip the defense into shape, but the Cavs were among the five worst defensive teams in the league every year Scott was head coach.
Those are fair points, but let’s remember Scott has overcome doubts before and he’s been able to turn teams around by finding and developing point guards.
Before he took over the Nets in 2000, the team had made the playoffs only once in the previous six seasons. After a difficult 26-56 first season, and smartly trading for point guard Jason Kidd, along with Richard Jefferson and Jason Collins on draft day, Scott turned the team completely around and reached the finals for the first of two straight trips.
At that point in his career, Kidd was one of the best floor generals in the league, but he had struggled to get along with coaches, and was a pariah due to his off-court issues, and Scott was able to draw out arguably his best years as pro.
When he joined New Orleans in 2004, he again struggled through a moribund 18-64 season until the team selected Chris Paul No. 4 overall in the 2005 draft. It took another two seasons for Scott and Paul to guide the Hornets to the playoffs, but they haven’t gone further than the West semifinals since he was fired nine games into the 2009-2010 season.
Like Kidd, Paul’s skill and talent were evident immediately. Yet in his last two full seasons under Scott, Paul posted his only two seasons with 20-plus points and 10-plus assists per game. He also picked up his first two All-Star berths.
His time in Cleveland was clearly difficult for Scott, and they finished last in the Central division every year with a very young team. Still, Irving earned Rookie of the Year honors under Scott, and in his first season without Scott on the bench Irving saw his scoring and shooting numbers decline.
Clearly at each spot, Scott has had some luck in acquiring top point guards, but more importantly he hasn’t squandered the opportunities. The Lakers currently have future Hall of Famer Steve Nash on the roster, with the proven Jeremy Lin behind him and rookie Jordan Clarkson next up. That trio should flourish under Scott, and in due time, win.
Nash may have only one season left in his legs and back, and Lin may have hit his ceiling, but in time the Lakers will be able to use their ample salary cap space to sign or trade for a younger top point guard. Next summer Boston’s Rajon Rondo and San Antonio’s Tony Parker are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, and L.A. could use Scott and his ability to coach point guards as part of their pitch.
All told, Scott is probably a step in the right direction as L.A. gets the final good years out of Bryant and prepares for the next generation of Laker stars.