Byron Scott ’s tenure as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers started out positively enough, what with that nice press conference announcing his hiring, accompanied by some of his teammates from the great 80s championship teams.
There Scott stood with Kareem, Magic and Jamal Wilkes, a glimpse into the Lakers’ glorious past and what was supposed to be a precursor of what Scott was to recreate with the current squad.
Then the 2014-15 NBA season started and all that hope and warm, fuzzy feelings surrounding Scott at the press conference quickly dissipated by the disaster of the Lakers season which set the mark for their worst in franchise history.
As a reward for their futility the Lakers were able to take Ohio State standout D’Angelo Russell with the 2nd overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft and with him formed a promising young nucleus that included 2014 lottery pick Julius Randle and the steal of that same draft Jordan Clarkson.
Scott looking to rebound from a horrible first season set out to do the arduous task of depending on the veteran leadership on this year’s Lakers team to remain competitive while at the same time give his young core enough time on the floor to develop.
Despite Scott starting all 3 of the Lakers’ main core prospects to begin the season, Clarkson, Randle and Russell, and the three ranking in the top 4 in minutes played per game on the team through the 20 first games, he was obliterated with criticism in the media and by the fans for not playing the youth enough and hindering their development. The cries of Scott stunting their growth were especially loud when it related to D’Angelo Russell.
Russell and the team struggled through the first 20 games: the Lakers were 3-17 and Russell was not living up to the expectations of a number two overall draft pick by shooting 41 percent from the field, playing poorly on defense and averaging just 11 points per game up to this point.
Despite the struggles Scott was letting the Russell play and learn from his mistakes, at least from this observer’s position. Russell was tied for 4th in minutes per game for rookies through December 6th, 2015 (first 20 games), averaging 27.7 minutes per game which was only 5 less minutes than the leader Jahlil Okafor.
I keep referencing the first 20 games because it is after this point that the good portion of the media and fans who were already bashing Scott for his approach with the youth on the team grew exponentially louder when he decided to take both Randle and Russell out of the starting line-up.
From this point in the season and on Scott got lambasted from everywhere.
The NY Post ran the above pictured headline and It’s first paragraph in the article started like this:
“Byron Scott is hindering the development of the Lakers’ youngest players, while giving Kobe Bryant free reign to shoot once he crosses mid-court as Los Angeles craters towards another disastrous season.”
Even Deadspin, who is not known for sports coverage got in a few shots at Scott. Their headline was just as disparaging as that of the NY Post: “Byron Scott Is Still Saying Baffling Things About D’Angelo Russell”.
The author of the article started his barrage of critique inline with the rest of the angry mob:
“Halfway through the season, Lakers coach Byron Scott is still giving asinine quotes to the media and ham-fistedly messing with the development of his number two draft pick, D’Angelo Russell.”
Former NBA players got their shots in too and of all people famed haymaker of the Malice in the Palace Stephen Jackson. During an interview with 120 Sports Jackson gave some advice to Randle and Russell about dealing with Coach Scott:
“Don’t listen to anything he says.” said Jackson to 120 Sports.
Jackson was a rookie on the 2001-02 New Jersey Nets that was coached by Byron Scott.
The fans showed their disgust of the way Scott was handling the youth by venting loudly on social media channels and calling in to local L.A. sports radio shows.
Fire Byron Scott websites, petitions and twitter handles popped up faster than Starbucks coffee shops.
How things have changed…
Now fast forward to today where the Lakers are about to host the New York Knicks in their 67th game of the season.
D’Angelo Russell has returned to the starting line-up (a Byron Scott tactic) as of the last 10 games and he has exploded offensively.
Russell’s breakout game came in his 5th game returning to the starting line-up where he scored 39 points and hit 8 three-pointers, both highs for a rookie this season. Russell has scored at least 20 points in 7 of his last 8 games; compare that to not scoring more than 17 points in his first 20 starts this season.
The other main young prospects have been progressing as well this season. Clarkson is following up his surprise rookie season where he earned a spot on the first team All-Rookie team by averaging 15.7 points per game which is 2nd on the team and among 2nd year players.
Julius Randle is averaging a double-double with 11.7 points and 10.1 rebounds and has risen to the top big man out of his draft class. Randle leads both the Lakers and his rookie class of 2014 in rebounding and double-doubles (28 which also ranks 15th in the NBA.)
While Larry Nance Jr’s numbers have been modest he’s shown potential in the time he has played, especially with his play on the defensive end and headiness of a veteran on the court, to the point of being considered by many the steal of the draft.
Now the bickering about Scott has died down from the fans and media. In a few cases he’s even received praise. I almost ran my car off the road one day after work when I heard local L.A. sports radio host Max Kellerman and Marcellus Wiley both agree that Scott’s approach was beneficial in the development of Russell and the other prospects and that it was the right way to go all along.
Why didn’t Byron get the benefit of the doubt?
When a person has a history of success in a particular area that person usually gets the benefit of the doubt even if his methods seem off or against the grain. That didn’t happen with Scott despite having a successful history of working with young guards taken high in the draft which comes with high expectations and those players reached their high potential quickly.
When coach of the New Orleans Hornets Scott brought along a promising young point guard by the name of Chris Paul who was taken 4th overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. Under Scott Chris Paul excelled as a rookie and quickly developed into the star we know today. By year three Scott and Paul were competing against the Lakers for the top seed in the Western Conference. In that 2007-08 season Paul finished with his highest votes in the MVP voting when he came in 2nd only behind the MVP of that season Kobe Bryant.
When Scott was fired shortly after the season started in 2009 Paul expressed just how much Scott meant to him and his development as a player.
“Coach was more than a coach to me. He was a mentor, someone who has made me the player I am today,” Paul said.
Contrary to Stephen Jackson’s criticism of Scott, Paul spoke highly of coach’s communication.
“Coach had an open line of communication,” Paul said. “Guys would feel a certain way about playing time, and Coach was always honest with you. He was always straight-forward with you from Day One.”
Scott then got to work with the number one overall pick in 2011, Kyrie Irving, during his time as the Cleveland Cavaliers head coach and had similar success as he did with Paul.
Irving became an NBA All-Star by his 2nd season under Scott which is hard to do when on a bad team.
In 2013, like Chris Paul before him, Kyrie Irving was distrought over the firing of Scott and expressed what Scott and his methods of developing meant to him.
“I feel like a piece of me is missing now,” said a somber Irving. “The relationship I developed over the two years with him has been very special. It’s hurtful.”
Irving went to call Scott what I believe should dispel all thoughts that he can’t connect with young players or his abrasive ways of coaching do not have an impact.
“This is all new to me right now, emotions are running high. I’m just trying to get over the loss of my basketball father, as I’ve called him.” said Irving.
Yes I placed the term that Irving used to describe Scott, BASKETBALL FATHER , in bold above and in all caps here for emphasis.
The stories of Scott employing his old school coaching methods with Irving sound the same as those he used on Paul and this season with Russell. Prior to the start of his first season in 2011 Coach Scott refused to name Irving as the starter to begin the season even though the Cavs had just made him the first overall pick in the draft and were expected to be one of the worst teams in the league that season. The player that Scott was contemplating staring over Irving? Former Laker point guard Ramon Sessions who was not exactly an established talent in the league himself at the time.
More proof that Scott’s tough love approach with the youth works you only have to look to last season to Jordan Clarkson who sat the on the bench and played sparingly for a big part of the season despite having a great showing in Summer League, showing promise in limited time early in the season and the team mired in another losing season. Scott unleashed Clarkson in the last 38 games and his excellent play propelled him to the top of the draft class. In those 38 games that Clarkson started he averaged 15.8 points, 5 assist, 4.2 rebounds and shot a respectable 45.8 percent from the field.
Time and time again, grumpy old Coach Scott exercised his old school methods of developing young talent and in each case those players responded by reaching their great potential quickly. It is happening yet again this season with the Lakers, most notably Russell who was at the core for most and loudest of the criticism.
Yet, Scott’s stellar history of developing talent was illogically dismissed as irrelevant and was blasted immediately. Why? He obviously knew what he was doing because he’s done it before.
Earlier in the year before Russell had returned to the starting line-up and not receiving the playing time he is now, Scott was asked about his approach with limiting Russell’s playing time and in particular his 4th quarter minutes.
“You don’t let a guy go out there and just almost embarrass himself or kill himself by playing 35 minutes and creating 10, 12, 15 turnovers. I mean, the one thing it can do is self-destruct him as an individual. So what I try to do, as far as teaching him, [is to] also protect him from making mistakes like that, and from getting ridiculed after a game like that. My job is to help these guys develop and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.” said Scott.
How does this line of reasoning not make sense and how does it get ridiculed by the masses when it is coming from a guy that’s already has numerous examples of his way of doing this working with great results?
Even if you don’t agree with Scott’s approach to development you have to admit that it’s logical and not a revolutionary way to handling young talent. Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, Chuck Daily are all examples of hard nosed coaches that weren’t too keen on giving rookies playing time and demanded that they earn their spots. Just about every great sports movie cast a dominate, demanding, no-nonsense head coach in the mold of Byron Scott; such as Coach Norman Dale in Hoosiers played by Gene Hackman and the role of Coach Herman Boone that Denzel Washington played in Remember the Titans.
— raining3s (@raining3sdotcom) March 6, 2016
So here we are today with the Lakers youth looking promising as any young core in the NBA. Russell has removed all tags of becoming a “bust” and now probably farther along in reaching his high potential than any in his draft class other than Karl-Anthony Towns.
Byron Scott’s way of developing worked. Period.
Now it’s time for those that bashed him mercilessly all season about how he was ruining the youth, hindering their growth, and similar nonsense to do the right thing and profess a big, genuine and loud apology to Coach Byron Scott. He deserves it.
I know it’s hard for someone to say they were wrong so I’ll help to get things moving by providing some options as to how to construct your apology.