The story has often rolled off the tip of Byron Scott’s tongue. Sometimes it has become as frequent as when the Lakers’ coach reflects on his “Showtime Days,” expresses admiration for Kobe Bryant or calls on his team to provide a better effort.
But amid the Lakers’ struggles his first year as the team’s head coach, Scott often preached patience. He then repeated what Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and executive Jim Buss said during last year’s coaching interviews. Then, Scott has often reported that Kupchak and Buss both asked for and promised patience for a possible rebuilding process. There remains no indication the Lakers feel otherwise about Scott, who has three years left on his contract.
“I thought he was great last year,” Kupchak said on Thursday, mindful the team’s 21-61 record coincided with the Lakers missing an NBA-record 324 games because of injuries. “Under really tough circumstances, I thought he kept the group together in the locker room, on the bus, on the plane and on the court They played hard every game. They had a bunch of injuries. I don’t know if that would have changed our record much anyway. But that can really demoralize a coach and a staff. But he had them working hard every game. They played hard every game and every practice was organized. He was always upbeat. I never sensed a down moment. When he went home at night, it had to hurt. But I thought he did a great job.”
How will the Lakers evaluate Scott’s performance in his second season?
Kupchak tempered his pre-season expectations, refusing to outline the usual expectation that every season ends with the Lakers hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy and hosting a parade in downtown Los Angeles.
“There’s always going to be pressure to win, make the playoffs and win a championship,” Kupchak said. “Every year that will be our goal. But we’re realistic with where we are. We do feel we have an interesting mix of older players and younger players, win a bunch of games and hopefully be in the mix somewhere down the line.”
The Lakers’ roster looks much different than last year’s team.
The Lakers used their No. 2 pick to draft Ohio State D’Angelo Russell. Both Kobe Bryant and Julius Randle return from respective right shoulder and right leg injuries that kept them out for significant chunks of last season. The Lakers acquired center Roy Hibbert, forward Brandon Bass and guard Lou Williams in free agency. The Lakers did not retain any of last season’s free agents, including Ed Davis, Jeremy Lin, Wayne Ellington, Ronnie Price, Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill and Wesley Johnson. The only returning players include Kobe Bryant, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Nick Young, Ryan Kelly and Robert Sacre.
“I thnk he has more to work with this year,” Kupchak said of Scott. “I would think he would agree to that. So I’m hoping he’s rewarded with more W’s .I don’t expect him to conduct training camp any differently than he did last year.”
Scott has developed a strong reputation for running conditioning-heavy practices in training camp. Although he has sparked criticism for not adapting to the modern NBA in valuing the 3-point shot and analytics, the Lakers have repeatedly praised Scott for holding players accountable with their effort. Kupchak also praised Scott for the steady flow of Lakers players visiting the practice facility this summer for workouts.
“The last six weeks in this building, We’ve not had this kind of activity every day in this building with the kind of energy for as long as I’ve been here,” said Kupchak, who was worked in the Lakers’ front office for the past 28 years, 15 in his current role. “Our coaches have been here and available to rebound. The players just show up. They’re all out there working and asking our coaches, ‘Can you work with me on this? Can you work with me on that? I’m not talking two or three guys. Every day for the last four or five weeks, we’ve had players out there. That’s encouraging.”
It appears Kupchak will look at another variable to evaluate Scott for the 2015-16 season.
With the Lakers’ roster featuring a mix of veterans and young players, Kupchak sounded intrigued on how Scott will balance the priorities between maximizing his record and developing for the future.
“We’re going to try to win every game. It may come down to a close game and Byron looks down the bench and sees a couple of veterans down the bench and he’s going to say, I want to win. He may take out a couple young guys and put the veterans in. That will be completely his call,” Kupchak said. “It’s a balancing act that coach will have to get comfortable with. There may be times throughout the year where it’s a learning experience. Byron may say, ‘He is better there because he’s been in the league for 10 years. But this is a learning moment. Let me go with this kid.'”