Byron Scott has had to talk himself into quite a bit this season, working with a Los Angeles Lakers team that was built to lose, but his particular brand of delusion may have hit its peak over the weekend.
The Laker coach, working with a 19-53 record in the months following a misspent 2014 offseason, claimed on Sunday that player have openly approached Scott during games to express their interest in moving to Los Angeles in order to take advantage of the Lakers’ significant 2015 salary cap space. He’s seriously pushing that as something that has actually happened.
“You have a lot of free agents out there who would love to play for us. They’ve been making it pretty clear,” Scott said. “You have guys during the games come by the bench saying, ‘Hey Coach, I would love to be in L.A. next year.’ That makes you feel good there are players out there that want to be here. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we’re taking it in a different direction. They know this organization and the history of the organization is going to be back.”
Again, that’s during a game in full view of all manner of cameras, fans and media personnel. Players openly reaching out to Los Angeles Lakers coach Byron Scott in order to express their interest in leaving their incumbent team as a free agent in order to play for the Lakers.
Medina reports that Scott refused to name names out of legitimate fears of tampering charges, nor would he discuss how many players had come by the Lakers bench to talk about 2015 free agency during a game being played against the Lakers.
Again, we know the Lakers are rebuilding and tanking the season in order to ensure that they have the best odds in place to keep their lottery pick, but we don’t know just how big a role the team’s hiring of Byron Scott has to do with this. The team’s brain trust knew that 2014-15 was going to be a wash when major free agents turned down the Lakers’ max deals and the opportunity to play alongside Kobe Bryant last summer, but is Scott secretly part of his tanking plan? Is hiring Byron Scott, who infamously eschews three-pointers while presiding over some of the NBA’s worst defensive teams over his last four seasons as coach, the sideline version of signing Carlos Boozer?
Are we giving the Lakers’ front office too much credit, as they wait out this season and 2015-16 (likely Bryant’s final year) while gobbling up high draft picks and cap space?
Consider that, in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, the Lakers “rested” big man Ed Davis despite the fact that Davis only averages 23 minutes a game, and despite the fact that Davis is just 25 and hardly winded at this point in the long season. Davis, who had 16 points and 14 rebounds in Los Angeles’ other meeting with Brooklyn in February, was not in favor of the move.
"Honestly, I don't like it," the Lakers forward said Sunday before the Lakers lost to Brooklyn, 107-99. "I didn't ask to sit out or anything. I wanted to play 82 games this year. But, you know, it's not my decision."
Davis is one of the few players on the Lakers that could see his Los Angeles stay carryover to the post-Bryant era.
Jeremy Lin, presumably, will not be one of those returning players. From Pable S. Torre’s excellent ESPN profile of Lin, published last week:
Or take the other viral Lakers Vine this season, from a game against the Grizzlies, down one with 24 seconds left. A clapping Bryant, standing near his man on the baseline, screams at Lin, who's guarding a dribbling Conley at the top of the arc, to intentionally foul. When Lin doesn't do it, Bryant sprints across the court, fouls Conley himself and throws a left hook into the emasculated air, basketball's Last Alpha Male flushing Charmin down the drain.
In reality, Lin couldn't hear Bryant because he had also been telling Scott, on the sideline, "We have to foul!" And Scott kept telling him no.
The Houston Rockets, looking to make their own move in free agency, paid the Lakers the princely sum of a first-round pick for taking the final year of Lin’s contract off their hands. The Lakers made the move for Jeremy knowing full well (we hope, at least) that his style of play is completely ill-suited to work alongside Bryant or under the tutelage of Byron Scott, and despite some impressive recent play (Lin is averaging over 21 points and 5.4 assists in his last four games) the expected results have taken hold.
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Los Angeles is a fantastic place to live, the Lakers basically print money due to their significant local television deal (even though ratings for 2014-15 are understandably down), and the team will have salary cap money this summer and likely the next. Players will eventually want to play there, but believing Scott in this instance is a stretch, especially as the team attempts to punt games.
By sitting contributors like Davis and Jordan Hill, the Lakers are ensuring that they’ll have strong odds to keep their first-round pick this season (though the team has split its last four games, and played competitively in a loss to Brooklyn on Sunday), and the irony behind the team’s “no, you lose first”-matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday isn’t lost on anyone. If the Lakers do drop out of the top five in the NBA draft lottery this year, the team’s pick goes to the Sixers.
The Lakers whiffed in free agency last year, however, and despite those scads of players that Byron Scott swears are coming up to him DURING AN ACTUAL GAME to discuss how much they’d love to be a Laker next season, context, timing and NBA rules will likely influence all of the major 2015 free agent stars to stick with their current teams. This is why the Lakers, with Kobe still around and with Kobe’s hand-picked coach running the show, could look an awful lot like the same current awful Laker team in 2015-16.
This would be by design, as the team would then enter the 2016 offseason with a cleared roster, cap space, and several high-end lottery picks already in place. All with the lure of Los Angeles and Laker legend making their cap space look all the more enticing than some other random team’s cap space.
Whether or not they’d enter that offseason with Byron Scott as coach is entirely up to how much credit you’re giving the Lakers’ front office.
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