In July 2014, the Los Angeles Lakers hired Byron Scott to be their new head coach. In April 2016, he was fired.
In those two years, his Lakers compiled a 38-126 record, and have now missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons — the single worst stretch of basketball in team history. Los Angeles regularly looked completely outmatched, and even more often looked out-coached. And a vast majority of the blame that us spoiled LA fans have heaped onto the team that we feel is, at this point, personally wronging us has been laid on Scott.
Which is exactly why the Lakers, and their fans, should be thanking him all the way to our next title.
Let me explain.
After an incredible career in the NBA — one that included three championships as a starter on the Showtime Lakers — Scott took up coaching. His teams haven’t generally fared well, as he maintains a lifetime .412 winning percent. He runs an organization like a basketball Neanderthal — disgusted by new-wave analytics and a distributor of some of the toughest love you’ll see in today’s “buddyball” league. Plus, he runs an offensive system that was designed to beat the 1987 Celtics.
Yet, he remains perfectly respected among league circles. Hell, the guy won a Coach of the Year award.
Scott is a willing leader, no matter how crashing and burning his team happens to be. He takes a dumpster fire and makes them competitive faster than just about anyone. In his first year in New Jersey, the Nets went 26-56. The next? 52-30, on their way to a finals appearance. He took a 18-64 Hornets team, with only one above-average player in Chris Paul, to an eventual game seven against the Spurs in the 2008 Western Conference Semifinals.
He was hired to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers exactly six days before Lebron James announced he would be leaving for Miami. Ouch. But within four years, the Cavs were respectable enough to lure James right back in free agency. You think Lebron comes back to a Cavaliers team that doesn’t have budding superstar Kyrie Irving and the rights to draft Andrew Wiggins? Come on.
And the Lakers in 2013 were a comedy of errors.
They completed perhaps the biggest trade ever to acquire Chris Paul, only to have the league veto the move because it would literally make them too good. They traded future picks for an aging Steve Nash and swapped one of the best young players in the league for quasi-superstar Dwight Howard only to watch him leave after a single disappointing season. They hired Mike D’antoni to coach over Phil Jackson and saw Kobe Bryant tear his Achilles during a playoff push. They also hired Mike Brown for a bit, destroyed Pau Gasol’s confidence by including him in every trade rumor and forced him to leave, and signed the injured Bryant to a contract that paid him about $25 million a year.
But you get the picture. Scott was hired to right the ship.
And now he’s gone, and the Lakers have brought in the young and charismatic Luke Walton to vault them back to their rightful greatness.
During Scott’s tenure, the Lakers acquired D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. — prized youngsters who can all do great, perhaps eventual All-Star level things on a basketball court. Russell especially will shine from Scott’s harsh tutelage — the same crucible of expectation that helped forge Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving into the stars they are today. The Lakers will also be adding the No. 2 overall draft pick to the party this summer, and it looks like it will be either “generational talent” Brandon Ingram or Ben Simmons. All this, coupled with more than $60 million in cap room to play with.
And Scott is the main man to thank for it all. He played the scapegoat willingly and sacrificed his candidacy for head coach so a debilitated Bryant could have a proper farewell season. And now, as the Lakers look to be on the brink of relevancy once again, they can look back at their time with Coach Scott as a necessary evil.
So long and thank you, master of rebuild.