Lakers’ Byron Scott reports having a “good conversation” with Mitch Kupchak

Lakers coach Byron Scott downplayed Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak declining to talk about his job performance publicly. (photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles News Group)

Lakers coach Byron Scott downplayed Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak declining to talk about his job performance publicly. (photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles News Group)

Through all the debilitating losses, Lakers coach Byron Scott still clung onto a conversation he had during his job interview that left him encouraged.

Scott often shared that Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and executive Jim Buss asked him how much patience he had for a potentially long-term rebuilding process. Scott indicated he did before asking Kupchak and Buss how much patience they had themselves. Scott reported the two feeling the same way.

Yet, the Lakers’ patience could have worn thin.

Kupchak declined to talk about Scott on Wednesday before reciting that he remains under contract in a two-year deal worth $8.5 million. But even without Kupchak offering a vote of confidence, Scott still expressed confidence about his standing after talking with Kupchak on Wednesday afternoon.

“It was good,” Scott said after practice on Thursday at the Lakers’ facility in El Segundo. “Our conversation was a good conversation.”

Scott then downplayed on whether Kupchak’s refusal to comment on him publicly suggested that his job is in jeopardy. Scott has two years left a contract worth $8.5 million, and has overseen the Lakers going a combined 32-105 with 27 games left in his second season.

“You guys are going to speculate anyway,” Scott said, referring to media members. “So what the hell?”

Still, Scott admitted that “everybody’s being evaluated.” Moments earlier, Scott outlined how he will evaluate himself through the Lakers’ 27 remaining games.

“If they are buying into what I’m talking about they have to do on a night to night basis to get better and be in this league for a long time,” Scott said. “If our communication is still going great and they understand I want the best for those guys to play for their very best. I’m still going to be a little tough on them as I always have been. I’m going to demand a lot from them. But at the end of the day, if they know I got their back and I’m doing all this for the right reasons, which is to make them better basketball players and make them professionals in this league for long periods of time, then I’ve done my job.”

No one on the Lakers (11-44) are happy with having the Western Conference’s worst record or a missed playoff appearance for the third consecutive year, obviously. No one can dispute that the Lakers rank 27th out of 30 NBA teams in total defense (106.1 points allowed). No one has debated the challenges Kobe Bryant has encountered with his health in his 20th and final NBA season.

But Scott defended himself on Thursday with how he has handled the Lakers’ young players, most notably D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle.

“You guys call it tough love. I just call it being disciplined,” Scott said. “This is what I expect from you and this is what I want. If I’m not getting it on a night to night basis, then I have to look at a different direction. Those guys understand what I’m doing and they understand what I want from them on a night to night basis. If I’m not getting that on a night-to-night basis, I have to look at a different direction.”

In early January, Randle expressed frustration on the bench after being yanked in a closing minutes in a game. In subsequent games, Scott criticized Randle’s maturity level and consistency. But in Randle has started in the past 13 amid limitations to Larry Nance Jr. and has averaged 12.8 points and 11.8 rebounds.

Russell had acknowledged feeling confused over his role and losing his starting position 20 games into the 2015-16 season. But Russell has since downplayed the importance of that. Russell has also shown marked improvement. Russell’s season-long averages of 12.2 points on 41.5 percent shooting, 3.3 assists and 2.4 turnovers nearly mirrors his monthly contributions. But both Scott and Russell have reported improvement in his decision-making. Scott plans both to start Russell and close him in games, though that will not happen in Friday’s contest against San Antonio at Staples Center.

“Next time I put him in starting lineup, hell get a chance unless he’s playing terrible,” Scott said of Russell. “If he’s playing reasonably well, he’ll get a chance to close them out.”


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