LOS ANGELES: Byron Scott will not be back to coach the Los Angeles Lakers after winning only 38 games over the worst two seasons in the franchise’s 68-year history.
Scott was thanked for his “hard work, dedication and loyalty,” but the team decided it was “in the best interest of the organization to make a change at this time,” according to a brief statement from Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak released by the team about 9:15 p.m. Sunday.
Kupchak and team Vice President Jim Buss made the decision jointly, according to a person who was familiar with the situation. Team President Jeanie Buss “absolutely” did not take part in the process, continuing to allow her brother, Jim, and Kupchak to preside unencumbered over the team’s basketball operations.
Jim Buss told the Los Angeles Times two years ago he would resign his executive position “in three to four years if we’re not back on the top—and the definition of top means contending for the Western Conference, contending for a championship.”
Two potential coaching candidates were hired in the last week: Tom Thibodeau by the Minnesota Timberwolves and Scott Brooks by the Washington Wizards.
The Lakers are expected to compile a long list of possible replacements, including former NBA coaches, current pro assistants and perhaps some college coaches.
An intriguing candidate would be Golden State assistant coach Luke Walton. The former Lakers forward coached the Warriors to a 39-4 record earlier this season while head coach Steve Kerr recovered from back surgery.
Ettore Messina is an up-and-coming assistant coach for San Antonio who was a coaching consultant with the Lakers in 2011-12. Jeff Van Gundy is an ABC/ESPN analyst but has extensive NBA coaching experience. The Lakers are also believed to be intrigued by one of their former assistant coaches, Quin Snyder, but he is under contract as the Utah Jazz’s head coach.
A little more than a week ago, Kupchak appeared to give Scott a vote of confidence, saying he did an “excellent job” under the circumstances of an inexperienced roster mixed in with Kobe Bryant’s final season.
Scott went 21-61 in his first season with the Lakers, setting a low for the franchise. He followed it up with a 17-65 mark this season, again reaching new depths for losing.
Kupchak had also dismissed Scott’s alleged “tough love” on younger players, which included sharp criticism from Scott privately and in interviews with reporters.
“OK, Byron runs a tight ship. There was total and complete respect” for him, Kupchak said. “Byron makes sure the players are where they need to be. They’re ready to practice. Practices are organized. You better be rested if you’re going to practice for the Lakers. You better be ready to work if you’re going to practice for the Lakers.”
Scott, 55, becomes the third consecutive Lakers coach to depart before his contract ended. Mike Brown was fired with $10 million and almost three years left on his contract. Mike D’Antoni was given more than half of the $4 million he was owed after resigning in 2014 with one more year on his deal.
There were two more seasons on Scott’s contract, though the upcoming one would not have become fully guaranteed until June.
Scott was informed of the decision after the Lakers’ minor-league affiliate, the Los Angeles D-Fenders, lost a playoff game Sunday night at the Lakers’ training facility in El Segundo. Scott had been called in for a meeting ahead of time and was told at the facility he would not be retained.
Scott told the Times in February he wouldn’t change his ways despite being criticized by the media for being too rough on young players D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle.
“I am who I am,” Scott said at the time. “Pat Riley wasn’t easy on us. Larry Brown wasn’t easy on me (in Indiana). I think that’s the reason I was successful because I had a coach that pushed me and tried to get the very best out of me.”