The affection James Worthy holds for the Lakers’ franchise seems as versatile as the skillset he once brought during the beloved Showtime Era.
Worthy has remained one of the organization’s longtime television analysts first with KCAL-9 and currently with Time Warner Cable Access SportsNet. He happily represented the Lakers during the NBA draft lottery two years ago when they received the seventh overall pick. Last season, James helped the Lakers’ players as a consultant.
Yet, Worthy argued on Monday that the Lakers should have retained his former teammate Byron Scott as the franchise’s head coach for the 2016-17 season.
“I’m not surprised,” Worthy said on TWC SportsNet, mindful of Scott’s combined 38-126 record through two seasons. “I just thought they’d give him at least until February or half the season before they made that decision.”
Instead, the Lakers decided on Sunday night they would not exercise their team option to retain Scott for his third season. Worthy acknowledged the “coach is responsible” as the Lakers finished the last two seasons with their worst records in franchise history. Yet, Worthy cited external variables that he argued became more difficult to hold Scott at fault.
Kobe Bryant experienced season-long challenges with his health before appeared in 66 out of 82 games in his 20th and final NBA season, including the season-finale where he posted 60 points on 22-50 shooting. Though he did not suffer a season-ending injury as he did in the previous three seasons, Bryant averaged only 17.6 points on a career-low 35.8 percent mark from the field. Meanwhile, the Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Anthony Brown all sparked both intrigue with their long-term potential and angst with their short-term growing pains.
“For the young players, it’s going to take them some time,” Worthy said. “It was almost like a baby was born on Monday and you expected them to be walking on Friday. I know that’s hard for fans to understand.”
It became hard for some fans to understand Worthy’s on-air critiques.
Worthy often expressed criticism about former Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, his two years coinciding with a flux of injuries, overlapping player agendas and sub-par defensive performances. Yet, Worthy resisted criticizing Scott, who won three NBA championships with Worthy during the Lakers’ Showtime Era.
“One thing we respect about each other is honesty. Byron just didn’t have anything to work with,” Worthy said. “If Byron had half of what D’Antoni had….”
Worthy trailed off for a few moments. Then he argued that Scott would not have emulated some of D’Antoni’s decisions that sparked criticism. Worthy questioned D’Antoni featuring two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol in a bench role for part of the 2012-13 season. Worthy criticized D’Antoni’s resistance to modify his offense until Steve Nash’s expected return from a right leg injury. Based off of conversations with D’Antoni’s former players with the Phoenix Suns and Lakers, Worthy added D’Antoni rarely spent any time in practice coaching defense.
Worthy did not mention how D’Antoni went 27-55 in his second season with the Lakers in 2013-14 through different challenges. He inherited a roster full of unproven players on one-year deals. Players missed a combined 319 games due to injuries, including Bryant and Nash playing in only a combined 21 contests.
“I saw what Byron had, up and close and personal and working with some of the guys,” Worthy said. “That’s why I gave them the benefit of the doubt. If I hadn’t been in their practices and seen for myself what was going on, I probably would have been a little bit more critical. But I saw what was going on. I did the best I could.”
Worthy struggled, though, on what the Lakers should do next.
He professed love for former Lakers forward and Golden State assistant Luke Walton. Worthy referenced how some NBA teams have recently hired accomplished college coaches, such as the Boston Celtics (Butler’s Brad Stevens) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (Florida’s Billy Donovan). Yet, Worthy argued the Lakers’ next head coach will have the same challenges Scott faced.
“I know they got instructed well, they practiced and they drilled properly,” Worthy said. “The next coach that comes in is pretty much going to be doing the same thing. He’s going to be having to deal with the same personalities. He has to find a way to make it mesh where what they practice transfers over into the game.”