Should Lakers Look To D-League For Next Head Coach?

Updated: February 5, 2016

Byron Scott’s coaching tactics have come under fire in the media this season in regards to the development of young players like D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle among others.

Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak conceded, however, that the development of its young talent would take a backseat to the Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour:

“This [season] is really a justified farewell to perhaps the best player in franchise history. And, God-willing, he’s going to want to play every game and he’s going to want to play a lot of minutes in every game, because that’s just the way he is.

“And as long as that continues, which it should, then that’s 30-35 minutes that you might give to a young player that you can’t. How do you get a feel for your team going forward when you know that your best player is not going to be there next year? So it’s really hard to go forward until he’s no longer here.

“That’s not a bad thing. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing at all. It’s something that I think is a good thing. In some regards, there’s a silver lining. Our younger players can make mistakes, and it can kind of go under the radar because Kobe garnishes so much attention. Every game, it’s about Kobe. Even when he doesn’t play, it’s about Kobe. So in a lot of regards, there’s a silver lining that our guys can develop under the radar and maybe make a mistake or make two mistakes and it not be a big deal.”

Kupchak is not without fault, however. His signing of Metta World Peace instead of retaining D-League call-up Jabari Brown still remains a puzzling decision. The 36-year old Artist Formerly Known As Ron Artest has appeared in 19 games this season while averaging 4.9 points and 2.5 rebounds per game.

Meanwhile, Brown played in 19 games last season and averaged 11.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game.

But in the end, does it really matter when development is not at the epicenter of this franchise?

Bryant’s hostage-like hold on the Lakers is in stark contrast to other superstar players who are also riding off into the sunset. Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan have both accepted smaller roles for the sake of their team and their franchise but Bryant seems to be the exception to the rule. Kevin Garnett has fully embraced being a mentor to his younger teammates and is constantly coaching them up from the sidelines.

Though development is handcuffed by Scott’s inconsistency with his players’ minutes and movement from a starting role to coming off the bench, as well as the Black Mamba’s tight, coiled grip around the franchise. There are a number of factors which also hamper the effective ability to build, grow and cultivate talent in the organization, including communication.

Like a Magic 8-Ball, Scott’s answers often change when asked by the media. Rather than an ‘ask again later’ response, Scott prefers players answer for their own development rather than being direct with the media.

From Mark Medina of the LA Daily News on Tarik Black:

The question seemed fairly innocent and inconsequential for a second-year NBA player at the end of the Lakers’ rotation. But it led to a curious inquiry.

What did Lakers coach Byron Scott envision Tarik Black could provide in the 2015-16 season after the undrafted rookie showed promise the previous year?

“Go ask Tarik what I told him this summer,” Scott said before the Lakers hosted the Houston Rockets on Sunday at Staples Center. “Just ask him what I told him he needs to do to stay in this league for 10-15 years. When he gives you the answer, come back and tell me and I’ll tell you if that’s exactly what I told him.”

From the same article:

“He has been OK. What he gives me off the bench, I don’t know,” Scott said. “He hasn’t done anything spectacular. But he hasn’t done anything devastating where you say, lets send him down to the D-League. But when you’re bringing guys off the bench. You want them to have an impact. He doesn’t have that.”

That marked a stark contrast from the impression gave the Rockets for 25 games last season before they waived him to sign free-agent Josh Smith.

“He’ll rebound the ball and doesn’t’ back down from anybody and accepts the challenges,” Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “He gives that energy boost and physicality.”

In covering the D-League, one of the most important traits a coach can have is his ability to communicate with his players. This includes strategy, realistic expectations, and being approachable and honest with their talent.

That communication isn’t happening when the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft has questions but not the answers. From David Aldridge:

“One thing that D’Angelo Russell said this morning, I thought was very telling is that he literally does not know what questions to ask Byron Scott about how to get better. I mean, he wants to get better, he knows he makes mistakes, but he is so young at age 19… He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. In terms of getting better as an NBA point guard, he’s just lost.”

When asked about his developmental approach with the young roster, Scott again deflected and offered few answers as to exactly what his or the front office’s plan is for their young core. From Robert Morales of the Long Beach Press-Telgram:

“We talked when we were on the road and just talked about some of the things we’ve been doing, what we’re trying to do with the guys, and we’re just going to continue to do it,” said Scott, whose team plays host to the Milwaukee Bucks (10-15) tonight at Staples Center. The Bucks handed the Golden State Warriors their first loss on Saturday.

“The one thing with these guys that we’re trying to do is just keep banging it in their heads how important it is to keep that work ethic, keep working hard,” Scott said. “And Kobe (Bryant), obviously, if these guys really have watched him in his career, he is the poster child when it comes to working out and making sure that you’re ready to play every single night. We’re trying to instill that in our young guys right now.”

After the Lakers started the season 0-4, Scott acknowledged winning took a priority over development of the team’s young core, the future of the franchise.

From Baxter Holmes of ESPN:

Generally speaking, Scott said the goal is winning games, first and foremost.

“That is the reality,” Scott said. “But the second part of that goal is you’ve still got to develop the young core of guys that you have. That’s my job, to try to win basketball games and in the meantime try to develop young people.”

He added, “I’m not always thinking about necessarily developing them. I’m always thinking about trying to win. I’m always thinking about trying to win. The development part comes secondary to that, but in practice and everything is where you really work on the development part.”

While Scott’s remaining two-and-a-half months with the team are a ‘trial of sorts’ according to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, but ‘all signs point to yes’ that he won’t be with the team after this season.

Which begs the question, where do the Lakers go from here? Do they try and land a big name head coach and make a splash in the media? Or should they find a name with an emphasis on development in their resumé?

The allure of playing for a large market franchise with such storied history like the Lakers, currently, does not exist. The team desperately needs to find a way to develop the talent it has and acquire the necessary assets to build a suitable team that can contend in the future.

Though there is the possibility of earning more in sponsorship deals among other financial opportunities found in larger markets like LA or New York, the inflated salary cap combined with the growth of social media has changed the NBA landscape.

While big markets do offer more exposure, superstar players have their own publicists, brands and other financial power other than the team itself. Those that are truly superstars do not need the leverage of a large market to brand themselves.

The Lakers, for example, have over four million followers on Twitter. Kevin Durant, has over 13 million followers alone while LeBron James has over 27 million himself. Stephen Curry has over 4 million followers himself.

One superstar is not enough. The challenge for the Lakers is to not find one, but two possible superstars interested in joining the Lakers in their journey to become relevant again. Magic Johnson had James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kobe Bryant had Shaquille O’Neal and to a lesser extent, Pau Gasol.

Though Lakers history would dictate otherwise, this is not a quick-fix situation. This is not a simple scrape or scratch in need of a Band-Aid. It is a second, possible third-degree burn requiring skin grafts to repair.

Quin Snyder, head coach of the Utah Jazz, came to the organization having been a head coach for three seasons with the Austin Toros (now known as the Spurs). Snyder was even named Coach of the Year in 2009.

Snyder has helped foster and develop a young, talented group in Utah that have improved with each passing season. Whether the Lakers want to admit it or not, they are in a much similar situation.

Scott’s old-school approach with his young team and communicative style is akin to the days of blowing into an NES cartridge. You thought it fixed the problem, but in reality it didn’t help a single bit.

There’s been plenty of discussion that the Lakers should hire Luke Walton this offseason to lead the team towards the promised land the franchise is known for.

Walton did, in fact, spend a season as a player development coach with the Los Angeles D-Fenders during the 2013-14 season while working with former head coach Bob MacKinnon.

“He’s got the total package,” MacKinnon said when asked about Walton’s experience with the D-Fenders. “His willingness to come to the D-League as an assistant says a lot about his character.”

Growing up around the game of basketball, and coaching at all levels including a short stint with the Memphis Tigers during the 2011 NBA lockout puts Walton ahead of the curve according to MacKinnon.

“He has a lot more experience than guys who do get NBA jobs,” MacKinnon said. “Luke showed people what he could do when he took over for (Steve) Kerr.”

It is this natural charisma and connection with players that sets Walton apart from other potential candidates according to MacKinnon.

“He has a great way with people and has instant credibility with players,” MacKinnon said. “People gravitate towards Luke.

“A lot of times you have a short roster in the D-League and when we had nine guys Luke would practice with the team. As he’s practicing you could see the intelligence as he played,” MacKinnon said.

If Walton is offered the job, Walton will likely seek the counsel of Kerr according to MacKinnon, who believes Walton isn’t in a rush to find a head coaching gig.

“What makes Kerr so great is not only has he surrounded himself with a great staff in Golden State, but he actually uses them. He listens to others and that’s why he’s seen so much success,”  a league source said, who worked with Kerr previously when he was the General Manager of the Phoenix Suns.

“You have to manage people, manage situations, media, personnel,” MacKinnon said. “He’s got a great way of dealing with people, fans, the media.”

Will Walton accept a job with the Lakers? MacKinnon noted the Lakers opted to not retain Walton after the 2013-14 season with the D-Fenders, which may impact whether he decides to return to the franchise in the near future.

Editor’s Note: Upon publication of this article, the Los Angeles D-Fenders offered to clarify MacKinnon’s previous statement. From the D-Fenders:

Walton had a great opportunity with the Warriors, accepting it was a no-brainer. He would have been free to return to the D-Fenders had that opportunity not presented itself.

While the Lakers are at the ultimate crossroads of their franchise, they have a tough decision to make regarding their future. While the quick answer is to find a recognizable name to take the helm next season, the best move is to hire the right head coach for the job.

Whether that is Walton or someone else, the Lakers should look to someone with D-League experience who can develop Russell, Clarkson, and Randle, into either players for the future, or assets that can be dealt in a trade.

The organization needs to decide whether they want to keep playing games with their young talent, or take a step in the right direction and hire a new coach that can not only engage with his players, but also change the current culture as well.

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