It’s Time for the Lakers to Move On

You know that feeling when you’re in a toxic relationship and you don’t want to let go of each other yet because you’re both scared of change even if you know that it really is for the best? Well, I don’t. I have no idea what that feels like. I’ve never been in a relationship before so the only thing I can do now is try to relate it with a basketball experience I’ve seen to try and feel that feeling because I’m a nerd like that.

The relationship between the Lakers and Byron Scott has been a train wreck the past couple of years in Los Angeles. It has gotten to the point where the only reasonable option right now for both parties is to finally break apart for both of their sakes. However, it didn’t really start out that way. Remember when everyone thought that this was a match made in heaven?

“A Laker legend coming back to Los Angeles to try and revive this team and bring another championship.”

“The Lakers will finally get a defensive coach in Byron Scott to finally fix their problems on defense.”

“It’s so fitting that Kobe would end his career with Byron Scott who mentored Kobe when he was still a rookie in the league.”

Everyone in Lakerland had high hopes for Byron Scott and wished him nothing but success once he took over the reins formerly held by Mike D’Antoni in the 2014–2015 season. Laker fans knew that the upcoming season didn’t have championship expectations but they were hopeful for another playoff berth. This was supposed to be a fresh start for the franchise, being led by someone that could be a consistent presence that would bring this team to some sort of success whether it be just reaching the playoffs or hopefully even winning it all.

But things went historically bad for a franchise that isn’t used to anything but winning basketball. In Scott’s first season with the Lakers, they won a franchise-low 21 games which put them at the bottom of their division for the second straight year. Steve Nash never suited up for any regular season game, Julius Randle broke his leg after playing 14 minutes in the opener and never returned for the season, and Kobe tore a rotator cuff in his shoulder. The 2014–2015 Laker season was a real life example of how Murphy’s Law works because anything that could have gone wrong for the Lakers probably did go wrong. Scott wasn’t able to instill a defensive discipline which was supposed to be his forte as a coach, he jumbled lineups after every game, and he wasn’t too optimistic about developing younger players. Even after the terrible season, Laker fans still tried to be patient with Byron Scott even though he did deliver well under anyone’s expectations.

Fast forward to October of 2015: Kobe is back from injury, the Lakers get veterans like Brandon Bass, Lou Williams, and Roy Hibbert, and they draft promising young rookie D’Angelo Russell along with the return of Julius Randle and the emergence of Jordan Clarkson. Going into the season, it looked like things might be looking up for the Lakers, maybe not a championship in sight but hopefully a shot to compete for the playoffs. I predicted at least 25 wins and maybe even as much as 35–40 wins if they got lucky. This didn’t mean that they’d make the playoffs but I was hopeful that they would take that next step in the rebuilding process. The last thing I expected was for this team to be worse than last season’s team because of all the talent this team had.

I have never been more wrong in my entire life.

This Lakers team is on pace to finish with less wins compared to last year’s team. Almost everyone knew the Lakers weren’t going to be good but no one really expected them to be this bad, even worse than last year. The defense has been atrocious even with the addition of Roy Hibbert who was supposed to be the long-coveted rim protector the Lakers needed. Opponents have been scoring at will because of a lack of defensive discipline leading to the Lakers giving up 107 points per game which is 2nd-worst in the league.

The offense hasn’t been any better though. It has been as stagnant as it can be. While watching Laker games, it becomes obvious that most of the players don’t know where to go during set plays which leads to a lot of contested jumpers from isolations. It also has not given a lot of opportunities for the younger players to exhibit their talent. Byron runs most of his offense either through Kobe or Lou Williams who, more or less, end up hoisting contested jumpers.

However, what I think is the most concerning issue is Byron’s focus on Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour and winning. Since this is Kobe’s last year in the league, Byron has given him all the freedom in the world to take as many shots as he wants and to play for as long as he wants. What’s alarming is that even during blowouts, Kobe, along with the other veterans, close the game for the Lakers. Byron insists that his top priority right now is to win games, but looking at the team right now, it just isn’t a team that’s built to win.

This season should be all about player development but Coach Scott, being as stubborn and as old-school as ever, denies that it should be what the team should focus on. The focus right now should be the development of the young stars the Lakers have so that the organization will be prepared for life post-Kobe Bryant. This year was supposed to be about handing the reins to Russell, Clarkson, and Randle; giving them all the opportunities to grow and develop as players and become the future torchbearers for this team. In relation to a recent Kobe interview in which he said “Torches never get passed. You’ve got to earn that.” here lies the problem the Lakers face as a team: we don’t actually know which young Laker is worthy enough to earn the torch from Kobe because of how Byron is running this team. The young guys have not been given enough opportunities to showcase their talents this year. Byron has been inconsistent when it comes to how many minutes they play, Russell, for example, plays 35 minutes one game then just 20 minutes the next. This inconsistency and lack of faith by a coach hinders this development which is so valuable for a young star like Russell.

To be honest, despite this disappointing stretch, I’m pretty excited for the Lakers next season. They’re going to be without Kobe and Byron, two remnants of the past Lakers tradition that everyone respected too much even to the point of thwarting the future. Why wasn’t Byron fired in the middle of the season? Because he was a respected Laker. Why was Kobe taking all those shots and playing all those minutes? Because he’s an all-time great that deserves respect. The Lakers need to learn that it’s best to move on from their historic past and focus on rebuilding the team towards a successful future by letting go of Byron Scott and finding a coach that actually knows how to develop players. If and when they do that, it’s just going to be a matter of time before they become a contender again.

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