Another loss added to Byron Scott’s resume nearly any time he coached a game.
So much that the Lakers finished with their worst record in franchise history for two consecutive years. So much that Scott’s combined 38-126 record finished just above George Mikan for the franchise’s worst all-time winning percentage among its 20 coaches. So much that the newly hired Luke Walton compiled more wins as Golden State’s interim head coach (39-4) this season than Scott collected through two years.
Yet, Scott hardly could rely on Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to splash opponents with three-pointers. Nor could he plug in Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala to fill any needed role. Hence, Scott appeared on the “Dan Patrick Show” on Monday and reported feeling “a little blindsided” when the Lakers fired him last week even if he described the last two years as “very rough.”
“That’s what I expected. When I took the job, when we sat down, Mitch [Kupchak] and I and Jim [Buss], that was the whole premise of the conversation,” Scott said, referring to his job interviews he had with the Lakers’ general manager and executive vice president of players personnel. “These next two or three years are going to be pretty tough. Can I handle the situation. I said, I can handle it. I’ll get the team to come to work every single day with a smile on my face and be very positive. It’s my nature to keep working. That’s what I continued to do.”
That sentiment changed last week after Scott went to the Lakers’ practice facility on last Sunday evening.
“Mitch Kupchak called me to come to the office and told me they weren’t going to extend my contract,” said Scott, who had team options for his third and fourth seasons. “That’s basically how it played out.”
Scott stressed, “I don’t have any ill will feelings toward the organization.” After spending 11 of his 14 NBA seasons with the Lakers and winning three league championships during the beloved “Showtime Era.” Hence, Scott maintained, “I still love the Lakers organization. I wish them all the best.”
Despite going 21-61 during Scott’s first season, the Lakers hardly wavered in their support for him. The Lakers had missed an NBA-record 324 games because of injuries, including season-ending ailments to veteran Steve Nash (back) and rookie Julius Randle (right leg). Kobe Bryant also only played 35 games before needing season-ending surgery on his right shoulder.
The Lakers resisted firing Scott during his second season because of two challenging variables. They remained mindful of what Scott called a “juggling act.” How can he manage both Bryant’s workload and farewell tour in his 20th and final NBA season, while also developing their core roster in D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Anthony Brown?
“You have a bunch of young guys you’re trying to develop and get them to understand how to play the right way,” Scott said. “Then you have Kobe, who is basically on a tour playing his final season. As I’ve said from day one, my main objective was to make sure KB finished his season as healthy as possible so he could play in that last game and perform at a high level.”
Scott achieved that objective. Though he averaged 17.6 points on a career-low 35.8 percent clip through 66 games, Bryant capped his career finale with a 60-point effort on 22-50 shooting in 42 minutes against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center.
Yet, the Lakers felt Scott did not accomplish other needed objectives.
The Lakers finished 26th out of 30 NBA teams in points allowed (106.9) and 29th in defensive field-goal percentage (47.3). Private sentiments within the Lakers organization varied on whether Scott’s disciplinarian approach helped or hindered his young players’ development, most notably Russell.
“His work ethic has to get better. His understanding of the game has to get better,” Scott reiterated on Monday. “He can flat out score and really sees the floor extremely well. He has some tools that you can’t teach. But the little integral parts of the game are things he has to learn. He’s 20 years old. He’s a young pup and has a long ways to go. But if he puts in the work, I think the kid can be a great player.”
Even as the Lakers’ No. 2 draft pick, Russell lost his starting spot 20 games into the season amid Scott’s dissatisfaction with both the team’s sluggish starts. A chicken-and-egg debate all season long. While some argued Scott’s deliberate offense and short leash stunted Russell’s growth, others believed Scott’s approach became necessary because of Russell’s maturity issues.
“When some of these guys come into the league, they think they’re entitled. I thought that’s how he felt when he first got with us,” Scott said. “He almost tried to act like he’s a veteran. I tried to make sure he knew that he wasn’t a veteran. You have to earn your stripes. There were times I was a little tough on him just to bring him back down to Earth to let him know this is not an easy task when you’re in the NBA. That’s the easy part, in getting there. The hardest part is staying there, getting better and better. I had some tough love for the young man. Like I told him, ‘When I stop talking to you, that’s going to be the problem.'”
Scott also sounded more than willing to talk to Walton about any questions about the team’s personnel. After Walton played for Scott with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2012-13 season, Scott often argued Walton would become a head coach soon. Scott also joked Walton’s job became easy given the Warriors’ personnel before complimenting his basketball IQ and amenable personality.
“If he asked me about each and every one of the players on the team, I would tell him and give my honest opinion about the guys,” Scott said. “But for the most part, to be honest with you, the first thing I would tell him is you have a bunch of good guys. You have a bunch of guys who want to do the right things and they just don’t know how. That’s the one thing you have to continue to teach them. I would be very positive and very honest with Luke about the situation.”
There marked very few positive things to take away from the Lakers’ 2015-16 season.
Bryant arguable provided one exception with his season-long farewell tour with a 60-point game that Scott argued “will go down as one of the best finishing acts to a career in the history of basketball.”
As the Lakers trailed by 10 early in the fourth quarter, Bryant scored seven points in 53 seconds. He went 8-of-16 during that final period. He nailed a 20-foot fadeaway to give the Lakers a 97-96 lead with 30 seconds left. Bryant’s last play ended in an assist with a cross-court pass to Jordan Clarkson for a dunk that gave the Lakers a five-point cushion with 4.1 seconds left.
Yet, Scott recalled at various points in the fourth quarter wondering if Bryant could still exert any energy.
During a timeout around the 9:30 mark, Scott saw Bryant “breathing pretty heavy.” So Scott put his hands on Bryant’s knees and asked, ‘Do have you 9:30 minutes left in that body of yours?'” Bryant responded, “‘Absolutely.'” Nearly two minutes later, Scott turned to his assistants and remarked, “‘He’s as tired as he can be.'” But during another timeout around the five-minute mark, Scott circled back with Bryant again. Scott asked, “Do you have five minutes left in that body of yours?” Scott saw Bryant take a deep breath before answering, “‘Yeah.'”
“It cracked me up,” Scott said. “I was wondering at that time, how was he going to make these next five minutes through this game. But his sheer will is amazing. He was able to do it.”
Scott could not turn the Lakers’ fortunes around through his own sheer will, though. But after taking a week off to relax and hang out with his family, Scott sounded eager to go to work. He called the coaching vacancies with the Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets “two interesting jobs.” Scott added that he viewed Kings center DeMarcus Cousins as a “superstar.” Yet, Scott admitted neither team has expressed any interest yet.
So for now, Scott vows he maintain affection for the Lakers even as he wonders what he could have done with more time on the sidelines.