Why are the Lakers hiring Byron Scott as head coach?

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The Lakers waited almost three full months to make a firm decision on the franchise’s next head coach, after Mike D’Antoni resigned back on April 30. And while the apparent choice to bring in Byron Scott was somewhat expected all along, it remains an underwhelming one, at best.

The reason for keeping the position open for so long had to do with the front office wanting to see how the roster came together, while it chased free agents in LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony that the team never truly had a shot at landing.

Once the new players were in place — a list that includes serviceable players in Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer and Ed Davis, along with others like Nick Young, Jordan Hill and Ryan Kelly who returned from last season’s lottery team — the offer went out to Scott.

The question, however, remains why.

The Lakers interviewed Lionel Hollins, Alvin Gentry and George Karl, all of whom have recent track records of success coaching at the NBA level, and would have been legitimate long-term solutions. Scott, meanwhile, has a career won-loss record of 416-521, and has had just one truly successful season in his last 10 as a head coach, while flaming out somewhat miserably in his last position, an ill-fated three-year stint with the post-LeBron James version of the Cavaliers.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles outlined the reasons from the Lakers side of things, but even when looking at things through the team’s eyes, they don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.

It wasn’t just about his ties to the Showtime era, but that surely helped. It wasn’t just that he was around the team all last season as an analyst for the Lakers’ television station, Time Warner Cable SportsNet, and had an intimate knowledge of what went down, but that helped too.

The Lakers franchise also wanted to establish a clear defensive identity after being atrocious on that end of the court last season, and Scott’s credentials include a strong defensive-minded reputation.

Wait, what’s that about defense, now?

From John Schuhmann of NBA.com:

The Cavs ranked in the bottom five in defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) in each of Scott’s three seasons. That’s not just bad. It’s unprecedented.

Before Scott, the last coach to lead his team to the bottom five in defensive efficiency in three straight seasons was Mike Dunleavy, who did it with Milwaukee from 1993-94 to 1995-96, a streak that started when the league had only 27 teams. So Scott is the only coach to do it in a 30-team league. …

You could look at those Cleveland rosters (2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13) and note their youth and lack of talent. Indeed, Scott didn’t have much to work with. But bottom five for three straight years speaks for itself. Scott had a No. 1 defense in New Jersey and top 10 defenses twice with the Hornets, but he wasn’t able to coach the young Cavs up. Under Mike Brown last season, Cleveland jumped from 27th to 17th in defensive efficiency.

The evidence shows, at least defensively, that Mike Brown did a better job coaching than Scott — think about that for a second, Lakers fans, and then perhaps get a friend or two to restrain you from leaping off of the upper level of Staples Center.

So, fine, the Lakers aren’t all that tuned in to Scott’s ability to coach on the defensive end. The other reason he’s getting the job, however — and it’s a big one — is making sure that Kobe Bryant is sufficiently placated during his last couple of seasons in Los Angeles.

But really, the Scott hire comes down to one man: Kobe Bryant. L.A. invested close to $50 million in Bryant over the next two seasons when he’ll be 36 and a 19-year veteran and 37 and a 20-year veteran. …

Whichever coach the Lakers decided on would have to mesh well personalitywise with Bryant first and foremost and, beyond that, play a system that would help Bryant continue to be productive even as Father Time is taking his toll. …

The Lakers have always operated with championships on the mind, but with a title pretty much out of the picture in the short term, they simply want to get back to having their team and everything that surrounds it be an accurate reflection of all the winning the franchise has already accomplished.

Again, this is the Lakers thinking — realizing that winning anything of importance next season is completely out of the question, the team decided to make sure Bryant is happy instead of adequately planning for a not-too-distant future when he’s gone from the team forever.

Hiring retreads, especially those without a recent history of succeeding in their profession, is a practice more and more teams have gone away from, for reasons that should be obvious. The Celtics hired Brad Stevens, a young and successful coach at the college level, and gave him a relatively unheard of six-year deal to give him time to put a winning culture in place. The Suns hired a former player in Jeff Hornacek, who immediately overachieved in his first season and had a relatively undermanned Phoenix team within one game of the playoffs in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. And the Cavaliers are perhaps the best example of a team willing to take a calculated risk with a new head coach, hiring David Blatt following his successful run coaching overseas, and doing so even with the looming possibility of LeBron James returning to Cleveland for what will be Blatt’s first NBA season.

Teams aren’t gambling wildly with these types of hires. Instead, they’re taking well-educated guesses about which up-and-coming coach might have the best chance of setting up a franchise for years of continued prosperity.

Now, maybe Scott will exceed expectations, and if he doesn’t, maybe he’ll be gone at the same time Bryant is, and a new coach will be brought in to guide the team into its next era. But all this hire does is reflect the Lakers glorious past, while doing nothing to set them up for success in the immediate future.

James Harden is playing with a bruised right knee

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James Harden, Chris Paul, and the Houston Rockets are on a 13-game winning streak. They have a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. But it’s not all rosy in Space City.

Harden suffered a bruised right knee against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, and almost had to sit out the Rockets’ win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.

Speaking to reporters after the win over the Bucks, Harden said that he was in some pain but a doctor told him he would be able to play and that he would not make the condition worse.

Via ESPN:

“I wasn’t feeling well at all, but the doc came in and just told me that there’s going to be pain for a bit, but you can play through it,” Harden said. “It can’t get worse, but it’s going to be pretty painful until obviously you give it some time. Once he said that, I was like, ‘Let’s go.'”

“I wasn’t moving like I usually move, but we won,” said Harden.

If Harden wasn’t feeling well, it sure didn’t show. He had 31 points, although on 8-of-21 shooting against Milwaukee. Chris Paul chipped in with 25 points, six assists, and five rebounds.

It doesn’t sound like Harden will be missing a game any time soon, which is par for the course for him. He’s played in a minimum of 89 percent of his team’s regular season games since entering the league in 2009.

Meanwhile, the Rockets are blasting their way into 2018. They play the Warriors next on January 4.

Nuggets say Paul Millsap won’t return until after All-Star break

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The Western Conference has been a blast this season, with the Houston Rockets playing strong after the arrival of Chris Paul. The team has 13 straight wins, and a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors.

That’s just part of the results of the West getting a boatload of stars sent its way over the summer. One team is lacking their new addition, however, and his absence has been a quiet disappointment. The Denver Nuggets still sit in sixth place out West, but new forward Paul Millsap has been sidelined with a wrist injury.

The original timeline for Millsap said he would be out for three months, which would put him back around the beginning of March. That plan was confirmed by Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who said that he expects Millsap will be out until at least the All-Star break, which starts on February 16.

Malone also seemed to indicate it’s possible Millsap is out longer than that.

Via Twitter:

At least Millsap is on schedule? It’s hard to tell inflection from text, but let’s just hope Malone’s “at the earliest” isn’t an indicator of slow recovery on Millsap’s part. The Nuggets certainly don’t need to rush Millsap back. They have a 16-13 record and instill more confidence than most the teams floundering below them in the standings.

LeBron James on talk with Lonzo Ball: “Some things could be held private”

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LeBron James was caught on a hot mic this week speaking with Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The conversation came after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers in Ohio, 121-112.

In their talk, LeBron told Ball that he needed to stay in his zone and be aggressive. Pretty generic stuff, to be honest.

Meanwhile, LeBron was asked about whether he thought having microphones record those types of conversations between players was good for the league. He was less than enthused.

Via Cleveland.com (response is at 0:50 in the video above):

Some things could be held private. Like my conversation with Lonzo. Everything doesn’t need to be said. Should be some type of privacy. I’m OK with it.

It does raise an interesting question in terms of player privacy and separation between media, fans, and players. On one hand, you could see how what they say on the floor, in a public arena meant for spectators, could be deemed public and therefore fair game.

But it’s also common for media not to publish — or for TV not to broadcast — the things players say during the game. We don’t hear trash talking, even if we see it, and if you’ve ever sat near the floor at an NBA game you hear a lot more colorful language than you do watching the game on TV.

However you come down player privacy on the court, it doesn’t seem like LeBron needed to speak with Ball in front of media like that. He could have spoken to him in the tunnels below the Q, or got his phone number and texted him. He could have sent him a DM on Twitter and it would have been more private.

It feels like there was a performative aspect to this, like LeBron wanted to create a mystery around his conversation with Lonzo but it got turned on its head. It’s just too bad what was said between them wasn’t actually that interesting.

LeBron James on possibly winning fifth MVP this season: ‘It would mean a lot’

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LeBron James is destroying the NBA’s traditional aging curve. Over the years and looking at thousands of players, we know that at certain ages and years in the league, guys start to decline. Look at the guys still in the league from the 2003 NBA draft: players still in the league, such as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, are seeing their games deteriorate in their 15th NBA season. As expected.

Not LeBron.

About to turn 33 and having played more regular season games than Michael Jordan did, LeBron is averaging 28.1 points, 9.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9 that would be a career high, and a PER of 31.5 that is right at his career high for a season (31.7). LeBron has not lost a step.

LeBron is in the middle of the too-early MVP conversation, where he and Houston’s James Harden have separated from the field a third of the way into the season. At shootaround Saturday LeBron said winning the NBA MVP for a fifth time would matter to him, but what he really likes doing is opening the door to future NBA players to blow up the aging curve. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you’re able to accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you’re past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you’re past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.’ Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break.”

He’s broken it.

Part of it is that today’s players know more about nutrition and training than past generations. They tend to take better care of their bodies, there are improved medical treatments, and much better diets — and nobody takes all that more seriously than LeBron.

Also, he is a physical freak of nature. Always has been.

It’s too early to have a serious MVP conversation, we have two-thirds of the season remaining, but as of now LeBron and Harden are the front runners (with guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and others on the next tier). If LeBron can keep up this level of play, and continues to carry the Cavaliers to a top two record in the East, he will be one of the top vote-getters. No question.

And that would break a mold, too, and put him in a conversation with Michael Jordan again (Jordan won five MVPs, the oldest at age 35).