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Evaluating Byron Scott's Performance as Lakers Head Coach

Published by Bleacher Report on Sun, 11 Jan 2015

Any way you slice it, Byron Scott gets a proverbial hall pass as first-year head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.The intense pressure to win now that accompanied Mike Brown and Mike DAntoni out the back door of Staples Center just doesnt exist this season. Scott inherited a Lakers team with mild expectations and, after rookie Julius Randle and veteran Steve Nash both were lost for the season to injuries, the bar was further lowered.Closing in on the halfway mark of the NBA season, the Lakers find themselves looking up at 26 other teams and barely treading water. Their 12-25 record is fourth-worst record in the league and keeps them on pace to keep their potential lottery draft pick in June.Scott didnt so much coach the Lakers the first third of the season as allow Kobe Bryant to play as many minutes as possible with the hope that the Mamba might shoot L.A. toward a playoff spot.At least that was the public face Scott wore until recently when he finally gave in to the fact that the 19-year veteran was just plain worn out.Per Eric Pincus, Los Angeles Times, Scott this past week sounded a more realistic tone for the team and its future:"Our plan, when you talk about the organization, is to win the championship, that's the bottom line. I don't know what the time frame is right now. Jeanie and Jim (Buss), obviously that's between them."Asked (by Pincus) how long fans should wait and will the Lakers get closer to that goal next season, Scott said: "I'll let you know in September. That's when training camp will start next year. We'll have our free agents, our draft picks. I'll get a pretty good idea of what we have at that particular time and let you know."Thanks, Byron. That was refreshing to hear.A team doesnt have to throw in the towel, but it should take an honest look at the season. Scott would only discuss playoff spots and winning titlesuntil Bryants arms and legs started to resemble jello over his ridiculous playing time average of 36 minutes.A decision was made by either Bryant or Scott (or both) to manage Kobe's minutes and give him the occasional day off from games and practice.While sitting Kobe, as the team did last Monday when traveling to Portland for the second game of a back-to-back, the time away may not have helped much.Back in the lineup Wednesday to face the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center, a rested Bryant made just two of 12 shots, scoring four points in 28 minutes.Scott gave Bryant the night off again on Friday, and the Lakers easily defeated the Orlando Magic at home. Kobe is scheduled to play Sunday against the Portland Trail Blazers, but it remains to be seen what Scott will decide as the team faces a seven-game stretch against top contenders with a back-to-back Thursday (Cleveland Cavaliersat home) and Friday (at New Orleans Pelicans).Just how Scott relates to and manages Bryant has been the biggest topic of discussion surrounding the first-year Lakers coach. Not far behind in the conversation is the team's apparent inability to sustain defensive pressure on a consistent basis.Even though Scott constantly preaches defensive accountability, the Lakers often look lost and lackadaisical. The Clippers absolutely destroyed the Lakers Wednesday night, and Scott let the team know how disappointed he was.While Scott referred to his squad as "soft," Bryant stated the more obvious.Per Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com: "They're just better. They've just got better players. They just come at you in waves. They're just deeper. Got a lot of shooters on the floor and we're short-handed."The Lakers rank 29th in the league in points allowed (107.9). Only the truly dismal Minnesota Timberwolves (108.3) are worse.Opponents are shooting 44 percent against the Lakers, 38 percent from beyond the arc. L.A. is often a non-factor in the paint, allowing 45 points per game which ranks 25th.With half the season nearly over, now is the time for Scott to really evaluate what he has and what he might still have to come next season. And, to his credit, he seems to be moving in that direction ever since the Kobe management situation appeared to resolve itself.With Bryant uncharacteristically listening to his coach and his body, it clears the way for Scott to assess the rest of the team on a daily basis. His decision to insert forward Ed Davis into the starting lineup was not appreciated by veteran Carlos Boozer, but it seems to have invigorated both players in the process.Scott threw rookie forward and newest Laker Tarik Black into the mix Friday against the Magic and the big forward responded with his best game as a professional. In just 17 minutes, Black scored 14 points on 4-of-4 shooting. He added nine rebounds and one block.For what it's worth, the Lakers are finally starting to feel like Byron Scott's team. It has taken close to half a season for that to happen, but Scott seems more relaxed and in control.Scott is used to taking over teams that were spiraling downward. He joined the Cavs just as LeBron James was leaving to play for the Miami Heat. And he coached the New Orleans Hornets, taking over a club that went 18-64 his first year.But Scott also knows how to win. He took the New Jersey Nets to two consecutive NBA Finals (2002 and 2003) and won 56 and 49 games, respectively, with the Hornets in 2008 and 2009.A ranking of all 30 NBA coaches prior to the start of the regular season placed Scott squarely in the middle of the pack, which may still be accurate at midseason. Per Matt Moore of CBS Sports:Scott has a near-lock to keep his job, because despite the optimism you can manufacture, this team's third-best player might be Swaggy P. They purposefully didn't really go all out to build a playoff team because they wanted to keep cap room. Scott is dealing with the temp guys here, the replacements. The locker room would have to turn on hm something fierce. ...Scott will still be Lakers coach this time next year, and he probably won't be COY. He's basically free from evaluation until the team actually decides to try and go after the ring.We could spend hours evaluating Scott's performance in his first 37 games as the Lakers head coach. For the most part, it has been above-average. What he really needs are better tools to work with.The Lakers have a depleted roster that's missing its exciting young rookie, Julius Randle. They lack an elite point guard, a strong defender, speed, athleticism and just about every other category that comes to mind.Scott is the right coach for the Lakers at this time. He has the patience to teach young players, and the Lakers have plenty of them. Rookie guard Jordan Clarkson is raw with plenty of potential which he briefly showed against the Clippers (14 points in 20 minutes).As a sign that he's determined to evaluate the entire roster,Scott acknowledgedClarkson's ability: "I really think that in the next 15 to 20 games, he'll start getting in a little bit more on a consistent basis and then we'll see what happens."Scott will spend the second half of the season continuing to evaluate the veterans and the young players such as Black, Clarkson, Davis and Ryan Kelly. He'll seek to build a new culture of winning for a franchise that isn't used to losing.Kobe Bryant, Nick Young and Randle are probably the only three players who shouldn't have to worry about their job next season. Everyone else is on Scott's hot seat.Scott will continue to receive criticism as the Lakers trudge through the rest of their schedule, losing the majority of their games. The best outcome would be for the team to play with passion every single night but lose just enough so as to finish in that bottom five and retain that lottery pick they received from the Phoenix Suns in the Steve Nash trade.For Scott, the goals can only be to get better as a team and create that necessary hunger to build a championship contender. He's already achieved much by getting Bryant to fall in step with the "less is more" approach.Everyone, including management, ownership and hardcore Lakers fans, knows this team is in reset mode.Scott seems to have finally joined the party, and that can only bode well for his future with the team.
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