After overseeing the Lakers finish with their worst record in franchise history for two consecutive years, Byron Scott will not coach the Lakers in the 2016-17 season, according sources familiar with the situation.
It is not immediately clear who will replace Scott or if any of his assistants will be retained, including Paul Pressey, Mark Madsen, Larry Lewis, Jim Eyen and Thomas Scott. The Lakers lost out on potential coaching candidates after mulling Scott’s future for the week. Those possibilities included Tom Thibodeau (Minnesota) and Scott Brooks (Washington). Possible replacements for Scott could include Golden State Warriors assistant Luke Walton, former Rockets and Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy, UConn coach Kevin Ollie and San Antonio Spurs assistant Ettore Messina.
Accounts initially categorized Scott’s third year of his contract as guaranteed. But Scott’s third year is actually not fully guaranteed, according to a league source familiar with the terms. The Lakers also had a team option on Scott for the 2017-18 season.
Scott will end his two-year stint with the Lakers with a combined 38-126 record, which pits up just above George Mikan for the franchise’s worst all-time winning percentage among their 20 coaches. Scott compiled a .232 winning percentage, while Mikan had a .231 winning percentage when the 1958 Minneapolis Lakers went 9-30.
Though the Lakers finished with a 17-65 record, second worst in the NBA, they had sympathy for Scott amid the numerous challenges surrounding the 2015-16 season.
After facing season-ending injuries for three consecutive seasons, Kobe Bryant nursed nearly season-long soreness in his right shoulder. Although he played 66 games, Bryant averaged 17.6 points on a career-low 35.8 percent shooting and often did not know his playing status until just before tipoff.
The Lakers were also mindful of how they assembled their roster, which featured an intriguing core of young players and newly arrived veterans.
Rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell, second-year forward Julius Randle, second-year guard Jordan Clarkson, rookie forward Larry Nance Jr. and rookie forward Anthony Brown all represent the Lakers’ long-term future with potential. Yet, the Lakers also saw Russell and Randle, in particular, struggle with playing consistently. The Lakers liked the veteran presence from Roy Hibbert, Brandon Bass, Metta World Peace and Lou Williams, but none of those players made enough of an impact to change the bottom-line results.
Yet, Kupchak declined to offer any vote of confidence for Scott on Feb. 17, 2016. Instead, Kupchak only cited that Scott remains under contract. During his exit meeting, however, Kupchak added that the Lakers normally evaluate everyone, including coaches, after each season.
Still, Scott faced season-long criticism on a number of fronts.
During his introductory press conference two years, Scott vowed to revamp the team’s defense after former Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni oversaw a team that ranked 29th out of 30 NBA teams in points allowed (109.2) and 24th in defensive field goal percentage (46.8).
Yet, the Lakers have finished with similar numbers under Scott. In the 2014-15 season, the Lakers finished 29th in points allowed (105.3) and defensive field-goal percentage (46.6). Last season, the Lakers fared 26th in points allowed (106.9) and 29th in defensive field-goal percentage (47.3).
“They’re starting to understand what we need to do. Over those two years, there’s been a lot of changes as well,” Scott said. “You got to keep a core of guys together more than a year to really kind of develop that kind of a bond on that end of the floor. Again, it’s a work in progress. Hopefully our young guys are going to understand that and the guys we bring in are going to understand that.”
Scott also faced varying degrees of support and concern internally about how he handled the Lakers’ young players.
Some lauded Scott’s no-nonsense approach. He yanked the starting spots from Russell and Randle 20 games into the season amid frustration with both the team’s slow starts and their consistency. Scott rarely dialed back the intensity of his practices during the season. He never hesitated to critique them both privately and publicly.
Some found the approach counterproductive. They thought it inhibited the young players’ growth and confidence. Scott’s continuous support of Bryant and other veterans also sent mixed signals on both how he would hold all of his players accountable and divide up playing time.
Kupchak deferred to Scott on how he handled roles and praised him for his demanding expectations. Yet, Kupchak conceded uncertainty how that approach affected the Lakers’ young core. Nonetheless, no Lakers player publicly questioned Scott’s methods despite various sentiments suggesting frustrations at times with his approach. Bryant and Metta World Peace often supported Scott, too.
“I know he’s hoping that he coaches here forever,” Kupchak said of Scott during his exit meeting. “But a lot of times, what we do, is we’re really preparing for the next GM or the next coach, and that’s tough sometimes.”
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