It’s getting to the point where you just have to be convinced that the Lakers are employing Byron Scott in order to keep their draft pick. If Los Angeles works its way toward a terrible record and the NBA’s draft lottery determines that the pick stays within the top three, the Lakers keep it. If it falls out, it heads to Philadelphia.
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This seems like all the more reason to play rookie guard D’Angelo Russell, who is 19-years old and hasn’t had a good season thus far. He’s shooting just 39.7 percent from the field, he’s taken just a shocking five free throws in 169 minutes, and he’s averaging only 8.6 points and 2.6 assists in 24 minutes a night. Those minutes seem to be drying up as games move along, as Russell has routinely sat out long stretches of both close and blowout losses.
He sat out the final 17 minutes of Los Angeles’ blowout loss to Miami on Tuesday night, as per Byron Scott’s wishes, as sensible veteran Nick Young played the entire fourth quarter. Nobody, not even Russell, knows why.
Not because D’Angelo Russell doesn’t get. But because Byron Scott didn’t bother to tell him why:
(Now, there is always a very good chance that there are things going on behind the scenes, conflicts we’ve never heard of, entirely good reasons why Byron Scott chose not to play a franchise cornerstone that needs development minutes in a blowout game featuring Nick Young missing all three of his fourth quarter shots and Marcelo Huertas playing nearly nine fourth quarter minutes on the same night he did this.
That’s Byron Scott’s last defense. That we don’t know about something that a 19-year old did. Impugning him without any proof. Something we’re entirely making up in our own heads, away from the cameras, that somehow makes it OK to run an NBA team like this.)
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Kobe Bryant sat out on Tuesday, abdicating the shooting guard position that he’s played in Los Angeles since the Eddie Jones deal in 1999 (Bryant starts at small forward now), seemingly handing D’Angelo Russell all the minutes he could handle. The rookie did not play well in the first half, and the Lakers were +12 as he sat for the better chunk of the second quarter, with Young and Lou Williams helping make the game competitive.
So what? Russell didn’t damn the team with his play in the third quarter, the Lakers were bound to lose as Miami pulled away, and Scott was hired to keep this team in the lottery.
Byron Scott was also hired to mind the kitchen. Sometimes that means throwing a few steaks away – IN NOVEMBER – after the kid with the tongs turns something that was supposed to be pink in the middle into something charred all the way through. The point is for this kid to grow into an adult, fill the whole dining room up again with what comes off of those tongs, and make the lean years tolerable.
And Byron Scott chose Nick Young. And didn’t tell D’Angelo Russell why.
Listen, we don’t know if D’Angelo Russell is going to be a star, or even a good player. Sometimes high end lottery picks just don’t work out. Sometimes talent doesn’t translate. These things happen, but you’ve got to let it actually happen first – and Nick Young already happened.
Kobe’s not exactly coming out and speaking up for Russell, his beloved franchise’s best hope at a great future. He doesn’t have to stump for the rookie, but Bryant has never been shy to speak out against any of his previous coaches, and yet he’s kept mum in the press only with Byron Scott – his former teammate and mentor during Kobe’s rookie year.
Bryant doesn’t have to call for Scott’s firing, though. What he can do is leave the best going-away present possible for the same franchise that gave a 35-year old, coming off an Achilles tendon tear, a $48.5 million contract. He can, for once in his Laker career, think of doing something for the Los Angeles Lakers’ future.
Kobe runs this team. Everybody knows this. If Kobe Bryant made some sort of statement – private at first, then public if the private plea was ignored – about D’Angelo Russell and his importance to this legendary franchise. Things would change. Byron Scott is the guy that won’t tell Kobe to table his shot selection when he’s airballing three-pointers and missing 68 percent of his shots, you think he’s finally going to stand up to Kobe when it comes to garbage time development minutes for D’Angelo freakin’ Russell?
Kobe Bryant doesn’t need to call for his buddy’s job as head coach, as these Lakers were never going to do anything this year anyway. Again, we’re not sure the Lakers want to part with Byron Scott, because he could help guarantee that they finish with a lower-rung record, giving them a shot at keeping their first round draft pick.
If Kobe Bryant cares about his beloved Los Angeles Lakers, however, he’ll stand up for his team’s future and make sure the franchise is handing all the minutes and reps that it can to its future – because Byron Scott doesn’t seem as concerned with as much. D’Angelo Russell might be playing like a 19-year old right now, but he needs to learn on the job. This has to end.
The question is, when are Byron Scott and Kobe Bryant going to stop thinking about their own bad coaching instincts and bad shooting habits, and start thinking about the fans that are going to still be cheering for this team long after they move on?
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