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What Should Byron Scott Do?
I was thinking about writing this last week but it didn't happen, and now it is becoming a real topic so I will weigh in on the state of the Lakers.
There are four things I want to touch on: 1. The Kobe farewell tour 2. Playing the young guys 3. Tanking 4. Byron Scott's role in all of this.
1. We are on the first leg of the Kobe farewell tour and the outpouring of support is probably even beyond what he imagined. Kobe has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way over the years and to be honored and cheered and chanted on the road must overwhelming at times for Kobe. I think the farewell tour was a little different for Derek Jeter who was the first in recent memory to have announced retirement ahead of time and given the fans an opportunity to honor him as well. The difference with Jeter is that in baseball they play 3 and 4 game series so the Yankees were able to sit him out and still let the fans get an opportunity to see him play. Also, in a 9 man sport, he was able to hide in the lineup whereas in a 5 man sport like basketball, each player is heavily involved in every possession of the game. With Kobe and this farewell tour, Kobe has decided to still be Kobe and I think he is doing this for a couple reasons. First and foremost, Kobe still thinks he is one of the best players in the league, and the best player on the team. Second, Kobe probably believes that because this is his final ride he is entitled to take as many shots as he wants, and was given that backing by Byron Scott. And last and possibly most important, Kobe cares about records. Kobe has been chasing Jordan since the day he entered the NBA and records are very important to him. Most people don't notice but something I always noticed about Kobe is that down the stretch in games, in blowouts either ahead or behind, Kobe continued to score. Games where the Lakers were down 30 and there was a minute to go, Kobe would always go down the middle and lay the ball in and take those concession baskets when the other team has stopped playing. I remember games where Kobe would add on 6 or 8 points in the last 2 minutes of a blowout and I would always wonder why. There are guys in the game who don't get to play much, there are guys who could use the opportunity to gain NBA experience even if it is a blowout, and every time Kobe would go down the lane and score. He wouldn't shoot 3's to try and get the Lakers back in the game, he would always take the ball down and lay it in. And here is the reasoning I came up with. Kobe cares about numbers. That's it. He cares about averages, all time statistics and everything that will be set in stone the day he retires. So it is in his best interest to make those numbers as impressive as possible when the time comes that people start talking about his legacy and where he fits in the conversation about greatest of all time. So Kobe thinks, garbage points count the same as points in the first quarter. In 20 years when they look at Kobe's all time points, they won't say, well 1000 of them came in garbage time blow outs so they shouldn't count. So bringing my point back to this season. Kobe knows this is his last chance to tally points and his last chance to move himself up on the all time scoring list. I believe that is why Kobe keeps having games with 25-30 shots even though he knows he doesn't have it anymore. He sees the season as lost and his last chance to add more statistics to his final tally.
2. The Lakers need to play the young guys. I don't want to get ahead of myself talking about Byron Scott, but why would he sit Randle and Russell in favor of anyone? This season is an 82 game exhibition season. There is no chance of a playoff run, so why not play the young guys. Not only does it let them develop for the future. It also shows the fans the future of the franchise. I understand everyone wants to see Kobe play, but why not think long term and let these guys go out there and take their knocks and learn the league and learn how to be successful in it.
3. Again, I don't understand what the Lakers franchise is trying to do moving forward. When last years off season hits and the Lakers draft Russell, we look at the roster and still see a team that has no chance to do anything in the West. With the usual suspect still being good, as well as teams loading up to try and play with the Warriors, the Lakers clearly weren't going to be a team of relevance this season. That was fine knowing that the Lakers 2016 first round pick is only theirs if it falls in the top 3. So all the Lakers have to do is throw away the season and get this pick. And I know the Lakers don't do that but the Lakers franchise and Laker fans need to think long term. This is the only pick the Lakers have in the first round. And they lose it if it doesn't fall in the top 3. Top 3 or none. Top 3 or NONE. So what do the Lakers do? They sign Lou Williams, Brandon Bass, and Roy Hibbert. Now the Lakers were interested in all the big name guys, most notably LaMarcus Aldridge but weren't able to sign any of them. Now I understand that move and I think if you sign an Aldridge, or a Marc Gasol, that changes everything. A player you can build a team around and can just fill in pieces around makes you a playoff contender and in a few years hopefully a title contender. The problem is when you don't get any of those guys and you sign mid level players like those named above. This is where the tanking actually happens. Tanking doesn't happen on the court. Tanking isn't where guys on the court are losing on purpose or the coach is benching the best players and trying to lose. That's throwing games and that has major penalties associated with it along with disrespecting the integrity of the game. Tanking occurs when you put a team on the floor that isn't good enough to compete at the NBA level. Tanking occurs when you take your best players at the All-Star break and shut them down for the season with a made up injury. That is tanking and that is what the Lakers should have done. Instead they signed 3 nice players. Lou Williams has been solid his whole career, Bass is a hard worker and an excellent role player, and Roy Hibbert is the guy no one understands why he isn't better than he is. And what scares me, and what scares other intelligent Laker fans, is that these 3 guys are just good enough to make the Lakers better than one of the worst 3 teams in the league. And if that is how the Lakers end up, then they lose the first round pick and the possibility of getting Ben Simmons who looks to be the next generation of Lebron James.
4. So what does Byron Scott do in all of this? He is in a really tough spot with the new young guys, Kobe's farewell tour, and the draft pick. Here is what I think he should do. First off let Kobe start. That gives him the introduction, the ovations from the fans every night, and start the game letting him try and get going. Then I think he needs to immediately go to the young guys and work the rest of the rotation around them. He has come out and said he is not going to cut Kobe's minutes, and he said that Kobe has earned the right to take bad shots. Are you kidding me? What is this teaching the young players? What does this tell Nick Young? Kobe is not the best player on the team. That is a fact. So by telling the team that Kobe can take bad shots, then why wouldn't players, who are better than Kobe, think they can take bad shots as well? Scott is sending a horrible message to his young players by allowing Kobe to take these shots. On top of that, you have guys playing for contracts, playing to stay in the NBA, and just trying to make a name for themselves in the league. And I personally have been on team where a coach has told the best player he can shoot whenever he wants, and guess what, it had a horrible impact on the team. Because when that player did pass the ball, the guy who got it said well I better shoot it because I might not see it again. So he takes a bad shot, then the next guy and the next guy and the guy who doesn't get many shots, they all say I better shoot it because this is my only chance. And you have a snowball effect that kills the team chemistry.
Furthermore, what I don't understand about Byron Scott is the shortsightedness of his decisions having to do with Kobe. Yes, the fans want to see Kobe the last few times, yes Kobe deserves to be honored. But is the trend of superstars announcing their retirement to get a farewell tour going to be a thing? It seems like it may be as David Ortiz has now done the same thing. Since Bryon Scott coached the Nets to the NBA Finals, he has been a bit of a failure as a head coach. I don't know how many more chances he is going to get and with the Lakers being a bottom of the barrel team again this year, he may lose his job. I think that if he gave Kobe fewer minutes, gave the young guys the important minutes, and started building a culture of unselfishness. Also, if he shows progress with the young guys, he is more likely to keep his job. Tell management how the young guys are developing, how he had to play Kobe, and how they are moving in the right direction as a franchise. Coming full circle the problem is for that to work, the Lakers would have to get better, and then lose the pick. Shit.