It took three months before clarity ever emerged on who would coach the Lakers. They narrowed in on a familiar face in Byron Scott, whose four-year, $17 million deal with a team option on his last season was officially signed on Monday.
“After an extensive and thorough search, we’re proud to welcome Byron back to the Lakers family as our next head coach,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement. “Byron has proven himself at the highest levels of the game as both a player and a coach in his almost 30 years of NBA experience. His leadership skills and track record for success make him the ideal person to lead this franchise forward.”
That may bring closure to a frenetic offseason in which the Lakers drafted Julius Randle, struck out on LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, lost Pau Gasol and added a flurry of players to fill a once vacant roster. But what’s next in the Lakers trying to restore their prominence after finishing last season with the word record in L.A. franchise history? Below are five things to watch for pertaining to Scott’s role in turning this proud organization around.
1. Scott already has plenty of equity.
Lakers fans already like Scott for reasons going beyond not being named Mike Brown or Mike D’Antoni. Scott has extensive ties with the Lakers stemmed from winning three NBA championships during the Showtime Era and playing 10 of his 14 NBA seasons here. That puts Scott at an immediate advantage in winning over the public and having organizational even amid a rebuilding period.
“I am ecstatic to once again be a Laker and to have the opportunity to work alongside Mitch and the Buss family,” Scott said in a statement. “I know firsthand what it takes to bring a championship to this city, and as someone who both grew up in L.A. and played the majority of my career here, I know how passionate and dedicated our fans are. I will give everything I have to fulfill the championship expectations that our supporters have for us, and that we have for ourselves.”
2. Will Scott’s strong relationship with Kobe Bryant pay off?
Scott fulfilled one huge check box the Lakers conceded would play a major factor in evaluating their next head coach. Scott has Bryant’s respect, rooted in a long-lasting relationship that began when Scott became a mentor 18 years ago during Bryant’s rookie season.
Both will harp on Bryant’s supporting cast. Both believe Bryant is best served playing in the post in a deliberate offense. But will this relationship enable Bryant to become a one-man show? Or does Bryant respect Scott enough that he could limit his minutes and ensuring team balance to protect the aging star from himself?
3. Will Scott bolster the Lakers’ defense?
Scott will likely emphasize that area after the Lakers finished last season 29th in total team defense (109.2 points per game), 24th in defensive field goal percentage (46.8) and 30th in fast-break points allowed (16.7). It has remained fashionable to blame D’Antoni’s fast-paced system. But the problem also rooted in the team’s personnel.
Scott compiled a proven track record in coaching both New Jersey and New Orleans into top defensive teams. But in his three years in Cleveland, the Cavaliers finished in the bottom five in defensive efficiency. Obviously, Cleveland lacked the personnel following LeBron James’ defection. But that just illustrates why the verdict remains undecided whether next season’s Lakers will mirror the teams Scott coached in New Jersey and New Orleans or the seasons he would rather forget about in Cleveland.
4. Expect some intense practices.
No one will mistake this year’s Lakers team for Showtime’s star-studded lineups. But the current Lakers could experience similarly grueling practices. Scott has adopted Pat Riley’s approach in having intense practices full of live scrimmages, yelling and instruction. This should bolster the Lakers’ competitive juices.
But it also establishes a fine line on how Scott handles aging players, such as Bryant and Steve Nash. Scott hardly needs a reminder how such hard practices may have contributed to his own hamstring injuries that made him sit in the 1989 NBA Finals.
5. How will Scott handle a fluid roster?
The Lakers may have wanted to match their personnel to the next head coach. But that may prove counter intuitive considering the Lakers’ roster will likely fluctuate in future seasons because of short-term contracts to various role players. That puts added pressure on Scott to show enough flexibility and creativity in juggling various in-season and off-season roster changes without straying away from his principles.
Whatever the case, it appears Scott already has some ideas on how he will formulate his coaching staff. Paul Pressey is considered a favorite to be Scott’s lead assistant, according to league sources, after coaching on his staff in New Orleans and Cleveland. Scott’s son, Thomas, is also expected to join the staff after coaching with the D-Fenders, the Lakers’ Development League affiliate. It is also possible Scott could retain the team’s remaining coaches, including Johnny Davis, Mark Madsen and Larry Lewis.
Follow L.A. Daily News beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org