None of this is about Kobe Bryant. While you’d like Bryant to be a bit more accepting of his current state after 20 years in the NBA and major injuries to his body the last couple of years, he does seem to be realizing that what he once did with ease now comes as a great struggle for him. Whether or not it’s fair to criticize the way someone is built mentally, which helped him achieve such historic success, and their inability to turn the dial down at the end of a career is an entirely different conversation.
This conversation is about Byron Scott’s inability to set a proper tone or proper standards for the basketball team he’s supposed to be leading. That’s the Los Angeles Lakers‘ biggest problem, as they’re on pace for their worst season in franchise history — for the third straight season in the Los Angeles era. He has set up a double standard that doesn’t promote the team play he’s claiming to want his group to enact, and instead has created a fraternity environment in which legacy means more than doing what’s right as a coach.
Scott met with the media on Monday, following another bad loss on Sunday. The topic of what the young guys are doing wrong and Kobe Bryant’s shot selection came up, which led to some very disappointing answers by the Lakers’ coach. Here’s the video, via Serena Winters:
Let’s take this quote by quote and try to figure out what the game plan is with Scott and the way he’s handling the Lakers’ roster this season.
After Serena Winters asks Scott about the defense of D’Angelo Russell and whether or not the coach is noticing the same mistakes on video, Scott immediately begins discussing a mistake Jordan Clarkson made against Damian Lillard when the Lakers played Portland.
“Yeah, and like I said last night, like I said our game plan against Damian, the first play of the game they run Jordan goes under [the screen], and that’s not our game plan. Like I told him, it’s a lack of focus. Things like that are the things that are really, really hurting us at times. And D’Angelo did the same thing in the fourth quarter.
“I think guys are maybe getting a little too comfortable. They have to be held a little bit more accountable for their actions out there. Like I’ve said, I’ve been lenient towards it because they are young and they are learning, but it’s that time now when you’ve got to start getting it.”
I know there is an overall point about the young guys being focused enough to follow the game plan, but what is the point of answering a question about Russell with something Clarkson did incorrectly? Yes, Russell eventually got lumped in there as well for making the same mistake of going under the screen against Lillard, which is just asking to be lit up on the court. However, the idea that young guys are getting too comfortable under Scott’s “tutelage” right now seems laughable.
Russell has had his minutes jerked around and only the last two games has he seen a minutes increase. Considering he’s been on record as saying there are times in which Scott isn’t communicating to him regarding what he’s doing wrong in the early parts of this young season, I’m not sure how there is a process of keeping players accountable. The Lakers don’t need to blindly give Russell minutes in a trial-and-error environment. They’re deep at the guard, and making him earn minutes can do wonders for development. But to develop someone, you typically need to set standards that are properly communicated at all times in an effort to teach them how to improve.
The standards here are the real issue.
Reporter Bill Oram asked Scott about Kobe Bryant’s shot selection, especially early in the game, and whether or not that sets the tone for other guys to play isolation basketball and the ball sticking. This was Scott’s response:
“It could, but first of all, he’s got 20 years in this league. We might not have six players who have 20 years in this league combined. He has that privilege. From a coaching standpoint, I want Kobe to be Kobe. Other guys haven’t earned that right, yet. So when it gets to their hands and it’s sticking and you’re a first or second or third year player, you haven’t earned that right yet.
“We’re going to keep talking about that on the offensive end as far as moving the ball and moving our bodies and sharing the ball and being a little bit more unselfish as a basketball team because I don’t think we’re doing it maliciously. I think guys want to win and they want to do the right things but they just don’t know how to go about it.”
This has been the concern with the Lakers, and it gets lumped onto Kobe’s plate far too often. Scott’s hiring was an effort to remind people that the Lakers were once great and he was a peer of Bryant’s who could help rein him in if necessary. The need is there, and instead of finding ways to control Kobe’s play on the court, Scott is simply allowing it to happen and point to Bryant’s Basketball-Reference page as an excuse for why it’s acceptable.
He’s become Kobe’s personal assistant, instead of his coach in many respects. This is the issue. Against Portland Sunday night, Kobe took 10 shots in the first quarter of the game, making just three. The offense was mediocre, the defense was bad, and the Lakers found themselves in a familiar hole. They’re the worst first-quarter team in the NBA this season with a net rating of minus-13.7 per 100 possessions.
Bryant takes the most shots for the Lakers in first quarters, but shoots just 31.6 percent. I get that Scott wants Kobe to be Kobe and to set the tone by doing his thing. The majority of us watching these Lakers games want the same thing. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. It hasn’t happened in three years.
This isn’t a fraternity where you get to do things because you’ve been there for a long time. Everything should be about the quality of play on the court and not creating a country club mentality. The Lakers are ranked 28th in both offense and defense. Who is holding Scott accountable as he pretends to hold others accountable?
Byron Scott appears to be running a fraternity and not a basketball team. (USATSI)