Developing young players means pain — you have to put them out there in situations where they will struggle, watch them fail a few times, and help guide them to make better decisions the next time that situation arises. It takes time. It means some losses.
Which is why this comment from Lakers’ coach Byron Scott, via Baxter Holmes at ESPN, from before the Lakers beat the hapless Nets on Friday makes no sense to me. Scott talks about benching his young players D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson to teach them a lesson.
“I think when you make a mistake over and over again, sometimes that wood has a good way of talking to your butt a little bit, too,” Scott said Friday before the Lakers’ 104-98 win over the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. “Getting a couple splinters here and there, sometimes that has a great way of communicating how important it is to play on that [defensive] end of the floor.”
The Lakers have the second-worst defense in the NBA this young season, allowing 109.3 points per 100 possessions — they do need to focus more on that end of the floor. And after the game, Scott admitted Russell and company need minutes.
But if you’ve watched the Lakers this season, you’ve seen Scott coaching like someone looking to win games now. Which is why Lou Williams is closing out games and not Russell (and a hundred other little decisions that show they do not want a repeat of last season’s win total).
That’s backwards. The clear top priority for this team is not to win games now, it’s to develop players who can be a core part of a team that wins a lot of games a few years from now. This is not a playoff team, not anywhere close to it. (Not that I suggest tanking, their pick is just top three protected or it goes to Philly, that’s not when you tank. It’s a question of priorities.)
Threatening a rookie’s minutes is a thing Scott does, this is not the first time this has happened, last preseason Scott threatened Randle’s minutes with Carlos Boozer. It’s a pattern. And it’s not one you see in Utah or Milwaukee right now, or back in the day with OKC, or with other franchises that have shown to be adept at developing young players. You live with the mistakes and teach from the lessons.
The Lakers organization has never had to develop talent in this way before. They have had a good young players — Kobe Bryant, young Andrew Bynum, etc. — but they were always surrounded by veterans who could guide them along. The Lakers never had to rebuild like this. More often they let other teams do the development work (Shaq, Pau Gasol, the list goes on) then swooped in and grabbed them fully formed. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement (plus the power of social media to market a brand outside a major market) have changed the rules, and the Lakers are still adapting. They are going to have to get a development program in place that can build a base elite free agents want to play with (think Greg Monroe going to Milwaukee over larger markets).
Byron Scott has yet to show he is the guy to build that program. He’s run players into the ground with old-school training camps two years in a row. He instituted an old-school offense. He has yet to show he can coach a good defense; this team will make five of his in a row in the bottom 10 in the league. Now he’s calling out young players in the media. Phil Jackson would send messages to veterans that way, but it’s different with young stars, and if you’re trying to recruit free agents next summer things like this get noticed.
Scott was put in a difficult spot, anyone who took this job knew the first few years were going to be tough. The question becomes is he doing enough to make the next few years better?
That said, I don’t expect the Lakers to let Scott go, at least not in season. There’s a sense he’s a Laker teaching the Laker way. I’d say that is magical thinking, but it will keep his job safe for now.