LA Lakers Brass Still Can't See Obvious Path Forward After Byron Scott Firing
LOS ANGELES — There was a temptation for Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak to keep Byron Scott on as head coach. At least it would've projected some semblance of stability for the proud Los Angeles Lakers.
Ultimately, there were too many voices howling that Scott was just not good enough at his job.
Here's what one person inside the organization—one whose voice was among those criticizing Scott as a fail—texted in the aftermath of the decision Sunday to let Scott go:
"What a mess."
See, even with this wholly logical choice not to exercise a team contract option to move forward with Scott's antiquated ideas, nothing is solved.
The Lakers remain confused about what to do—and who they should be.
Buss and Kupchak weren't sure what to do with Scott, but there's uncertainty everywhere.
Team president Jeanie Buss isn't sure what to do about her brother Jim, head of basketball operations, and Kupchak, the team's general manager—all while her fiance, Phil Jackson, remains very much a possibility to join the Lakers front office next year.
And no one is sure what to do about life after Kobe Bryant. That's why they put off dealing with that reality as long as possible.
Who might come in free agency to save the day? They don't know.
It is a mess, and it probably was destined to be a mess transitioning from a visionary leader and decision-maker such as Jerry Buss, operating from an NBA playbook he'd mastered, to a new leadership group unequipped to anticipate a changing NBA landscape.
What Scott's departure creates, though, is a unique possibility for the fragmented Lakers to rally behind one fresh, familiar face: Luke Walton.
There haven't been many easy decisions for the club since Buss' death in 2013. So far, L.A. is determined to make this one more difficult than it needs to be.
According to team sources, the Lakers intend to put together a long list headed by Walton, San Antonio Spurs assistant Ettore Messina and University of Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie. Execs will spend indefinite time determining who should be their next head coach when they should only be plotting the best pitch to Walton.
Kupchak might not be as convinced of Walton's coaching chops as many people. Jim Buss wants to explore options despite being partial to Walton—and is among the countless folks the amiable Walton has made feel comfortable over the years and closer to him than he really is.
Walton's the great guy who shares his cell number with so many people that he can't possibly respond to the number of texts coming in to him. And the fact he doesn't respond to everyone and is cool with that shows his strong sense of self.
He downplays his sharpness with basketball concepts, offers the Lakers an ongoing link to good friend Bryant, invigorates a fanbase that rolled its collective eyes at Scott, is young enough at 36 to connect with the Lakers' young crew of players and would command rare immediate respect from Lakers millennials, based on his success with the modern-day Warriors.
Considering how much Warriors coach Steve Kerr was molded by Gregg Popovich and Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue was mentored by Doc Rivers, Walton is the best fruit to come off Jackson's coaching tree. That would mean something after the Buss family passed over Jackson's preferred successor, Brian Shaw, for Mike Brown and Jackson himself in next hiring Mike D'Antoni.
"Bill may be his father, but he's really my son," Jackson said about Luke during the Lakers' championship ring ceremony in 2010.
Not that it's necessarily Jim Buss' priority—and who knows now if Jackson returns or stays in New York—but hiring Walton would be respecting Jackson as Lakers family and making the right move for the future.
Regarding the pull Walton feels to stay with the Warriors while he's still learning, his team seemingly a dynasty in the making, it'd be shocking if he's not gettable. He truly loves L.A., and deep down he knows it's Kerr's show up north. He would be in line to lead the Lakers as long as he wants.
The Lakers' reluctance to keep changing coaches is one reason Scott had been a possibility to stay. Kupchak appreciated that Scott achieved the goal of getting Bryant to the finish line healthy enough for that glorious end game that enriched the franchise all over again. And Buss was conscious of how his father always envisioned Chick Hearn's "Scotty" becoming Lakers head coach.
It wasn't as clear-cut to drop Scott as it should've been.
But Buss and Kupchak are understandably uneasy having to chase their losses with more and more changes. They've lost so many more games than they've been accustomed to losing.
They've also lost a lot of people's confidence.
It's why the Lakers are a mess, even correctly moving on from Scott.
After all their steps on such firm footing, it's an uncertain feeling trying to slog uphill.