What Byron Scott And Jeremy Lin Can Learn From Each Other


I’m going to make a statement without reaching out to a single “source” or doing anything that even remotely resembles “responsible reporting.”

Jeremy Lin will not be a member of the 2015-2016 Los Angeles Lakers, in very large part because he and Byron Scott have been incompatible all season.

Obviously, there’s plenty of time between now and July. Stranger things have happened than a reunion between Lin, a budding free agent, and Scott, who’ll presumably have a voice at Mitch and Jim’s table. Back in 2005, NOBODY could fathom Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson forging a player-coach bond for the ages. Couples marry, divorce, then remarry again. The Eagles famously vowed that hell would freeze over before they played again, then unfortunately went back on their word. (Like The Dude, I hate the f—— Eagles.) Thus, I could be eventually be exposed as a man talking out of his ass in declaring the Lin-Scott partnership as one-and-done as Jahlil Okafor and Duke.

Photo Credit: ESPN
Photo Credit: ESPN
But were I a betting man, my money’s on halfhearted handshakes and goodbyes. (And to a large degree, that’s fine, because the first round pick accompanying Lin from Houston automatically justified that deal for the Lakers.) However, that’s not to say neither man couldn’t learn from having clashed due to starkly different personalities. In fact, those differences are what make this campaign a potential learning experience.

If you haven’t yet read Pablo S. Torre’s ESPN The Magazine recent profile of Lin, by all means correct that. Torres paints a compelling portrait of a season-long struggle fueled by anxiety. Anxiety over on-court fit. Anxiety over reluctant status as an icon of sports and race for countless fans worldwide. Anxiety that’s perhaps a given for someone with a bright, active mind. Lin is a cerebral basketball player in the purest sense. He literally thinks on the court. At times, way too much. And this propensity for trapping himself in his own head butts heads with a coach who places a far higher premium on, broadly speaking, “toughness.”

Training camps that features four trashcans for vomiting.

Belief that a 36 year-old shooting guard, despite two previous season-ending injuries, serious career mileage, and recurrent post-game comments like, “I’m tired” can handle 35 nightly minutes by virtue of a legendary will.

On anything that’s not “soft,” the continual descriptor when assessing a negative performance by the Lakers.

Scott takes tremendous pride in being an old school cat, which is why he’s treated Ronnie Price, a career-third string journeyman, as a more valuable commodity than Lin, the younger, more talented player.

At the risk of sounding crude or misogynistic, Scott considers Price tough and Lin a p—-.

And more than any other single factor, I think that speaks to Scott’s generally dismissive attitude towards Lin. He regards Lin as the embodiment of a direction in basketball he doesn’t much care for. Scott appears to disdain anything that melds progressive thinking and hoops. He’s openly disdainful toward analytics. He insisted three-pointers don’t win championships, despite serious evidence to the contrary. There’s the disinclination to establish games through the use of pick-and-roll, which happens to double as Lin’s specialty. To say the least, the NBA has become a pick-and-roll dominated league, but Scott’s basketball universe still revolves around iso, postups, long two’s, and this particular season, Kobe.

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Scott’s explanation that pick-and-roll encourages “standing around” is confusing on its best day. (I’ve rarely seen less ball and player movement than whatever the hell system the Lakers ran this season.) But more importantly, it represents a willingness to let Lin flounder, and I imagine reflects a lack of respect for Lin. Since the All-Star break, Scott has for whatever reason relented, and Lin’s responded with consistently strong play. Had Scott been more flexible earlier, Lin could have been better showcased for a deadline deal, which would have landed even more desperately needed assets, or simply solidified himself as part of the Lakers’ core as they (fingers crossed) successfully rebuild.

Instead, Scott largely — and in my mind, pointlessly — wasted Lin.

In a vacuum, this is trivial. It ain’t the first time a coach mismanaged a player, nor will it be the last. But this particular waste is troubling because it seems to reflect inflexibility fueled by aesthetics. Had Scott deemed Lin worthier of his respect, he might have bent more. And were Scott simply more in tune with the modern NBA, he’d have been more eager to capitalize on Lin’s strengths in the first place. To be clear, the Lakers would be crappy this season no matter how Scott coached. As I’ve continually reiterated this season, among my many issues with Byron as a coach, zero involve wins or losses. But his mindset concerns me, and this clash with Lin reflects what I worry is a general unwillingness to utilize unfamiliar weapons. I’m not saying Byron should become a slave to analytics. It would just be nice if he appeared less resistant to change. And unless Scott starts willfully bending more towards the modern NBA, his experience with Lin feels like a template for issues throughout his tenure as coach of the Lakers.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
But even acknowledging Scott’s stubbornness, Lin’s struggle without pick-and-roll as a security blanket speaks to limitations the guard must overcome to get the most of his career. His season has reminded me of three seasons ago when Ramon Sessions arrived mid-season to theoretically goose a stagnant Laker offense. Like Lin, Sessions is a pick-and-roll specialist, and given the green light, can orchestrate a reasonably dynamic offense, particularly when surrounded by the likes of Kobe, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. And for a couple of months, Sessions played like a conquering hero. But as the season progressed, whether because a) Sessions’ limitations exposed themselves (particularly under the playoffs’ bright lights), b) Kobe began distrusting Sessions and took the ball out of his hands, c) Mike Brown enabled Kobe, or d) all of the above… Sessions steadily evolved into an off-ball player, which ain’t his game in the slightest.

As a result, Sessions failed to make his hoped impact, and his L.A. stay proved short-lived.

This season, without the ball in his hands, Lin often suffered the same visibly uncomfortable fate as Sessions. But here’s the difference: Even under these circumstances, Lin is a much better player than Sessions. He’s a better shooter. He’s a better natural scorer. He’s been gifted with physicality the diminutive Sessions can’t possibly match. (Lin’s most underrated quality as a player is unquestionably his physical strength.) Lin may not be the “Linsanity” star from New York, but he can be more than just watered-down “Linsanity.” More importantly, he’ll need to be if he wants to become more than just a career as a quality backup point guard when operating in his comfort zone. And since Lin openly wants more, beyond simply improving weaknesses (and to his credit, Torres’ article mentions a stress on building mid-range proficiency), Lin must overcome a propensity for over-thinking.

Pre-All-Star break, strong opening minutes generally signaled a strong game in the making for Lin. On the flip side, if his shot didn’t fall early, or the ball was turned over a couple times out of the gate, you could write off whatever came next. In this particular sense, Scott’s hasn’t been completely out of line suggesting a mental weakness within Lin. To be clear, that’s not the same thing as calling Lin “soft.” You don’t arrive at Lin’s place in the NBA as an Asian player from Harvard amid D-League stops and undeniable stereotypes without a wealth of mental toughness. Still, a periodic mental weakness held Lin back in ways that can’t be blamed on his coach.

Under better circumstances, Scott could have offered his player some valuable wisdom about “toughness.” Just as his player could have taught his coach a thing or two about coaching.

What remains to be seen is whether either learned anything moving forward.


Byron Scott On Possibility Of Jeremy Lin’s Future In LA


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