Lakers pull curtain on Byron Scott era, part ways with their coach after two years

Fewer than 48 hours after Kobe Bryant had authored one of the most graceful and fitting exits basketball had ever seen, Byron Scott sat in front of the Lakers logo he loves so much and faced questions about his own future with the franchise.

“I haven’t made any bones about it,” Scott said on April 15, “this is where I want to be.”

He reiterated that coaching the Lakers, the team with which he won three championships as a player, was his dream job. He said he wanted to be the coach to turn things around after the team had set records for losses in three consecutive seasons.

However, sprinkled throughout his 30-minute exit interview were warnings that Scott saw the writing on the wall. Four times, Scott said he understood “the business” of basketball.

The Lakers decided to “part ways” with Scott on Sunday, less than two weeks after his team finished 17-65, the worst record in franchise history. The organization opted not to exercise a third-year option on Scott’s contract.

“We would like to thank Byron for his hard work, dedication and loyalty over the last two years,” General Manager Mitch Kupchak said in a statement, “but have decided it is in the best interest of the organization to make a change at this time.”

In the season’s aftermath, Kupchak praised Scott for doing “an excellent job under the circumstances.”

Scott was tasked with shepherding the Lakers through the final two seasons of Bryant’s illustrious career, culminating with Bryant’s 60-point finale on April 13. Those efforts were complicated by the Lakers’ need to develop emerging talents such as Jordan Clarkson and especially lottery picks Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell.

Scott’s “old school” dictum rubbed players the wrong way, and late in the season, the 55-year-old coach acknowledged he had struggled to communicate with young players. Scott was often lambasted by national media for being behind the times, and indeed, he was slow the embrace analytics, the numbers movement that has dominated the modern game.

In his first season at the helm, Scott said no coaching decisions had been based on analytics. In his second year, he had softened, welcoming more 3-point shots – some of which was a byproduct of Bryant’s trigger-happy approach to year No. 20 – after the Lakers front office built in an additional layer of analytics experts.

The Lakers will look to hire their fourth coach in the six seasons since Phil Jackson retired in 2011. Attempts to resurrect the organization’s championship heritage fell flat under Mike Brown, Mike D’Antoni and now Scott.

As always, the Lakers are expected to cast a wide net in their coaching search, although many around the league expect the team to zero in on Golden State Warriors assistant Luke Walton. The former Lakers forward won championships with the team as a player in 2009 and 2010, and he soared to acclaim this season after guiding the Warriors to a 39-4 start as acting head coach while Steve Kerr was out with a back injury.

Walton has the pedigree the Lakers clearly value, and at a fresh 36, is even younger than Bryant, and some believe he would have an easier time relating to the young players who make up the Lakers foundation.

The Lakers are expected to have to compete with Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks for Walton’s services. Walton acknowledged last week that he and Jackson have spoken recently, but told reporters that it was not an interview for the Knicks coaching opening.

In the coaching free agency bonanza, two of the most intriguing candidates are already off the board. Tom Thibodeau was announced last week as head coach and president of basketball operations in Minnesota, and former Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks reportedly agreed to terms to become the head coach in Washington.

The Lakers took their time deciding not to stick with Scott. Kupchak said on April 15 that the team would take a few days to regroup, and that he, along with Vice President of Basketball Operations Jim Buss, would meet with Scott over an “informal lunch” to discuss the team’s future.

Scott had said he planned to stay in town for a few weeks, and recent Instagram posts showed him at dinner with members of his coaching staff and with family at Disneyland. Earlier Sunday, Scott’s girlfriend, Cecilia Gutierrez, shared a video on Instagram of Scott hiking in Temescal Canyon. He wore a purple Lakers T-shirt.

Scott was hired in July 2014 after a months-long search in which he had always been the top candidate.

“As I told you guys from day one and it’s still to this day, this is my dream job,” Scott said two days after the Lakers season ended. “And you want the opportunity to turn it all around. You hope to get that, but you understand the business of basketball.”

Scott was 454-647 in 15 seasons as a head coach with the New Jersey Nets, New Orleans Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers and Lakers. His .232 winning percentage ranks second-worst in Lakers history, behind only George Mikan, who coached the Minneapolis Lakers to just nine wins in 39 games during a short stint in 1958.

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