For those who are wondering how long it takes an NBA franchise to change the collective morale of its entire fan base, the 2015-16 Los Angeles Lakers can give us a rough answer: about five days. Five days was how long it took between the firing of Byron Scott (April 24) and the hiring of Luke Walton (April 29). Now to provide context to this, let us give a quick recap of what Byron Scott did to demoralize most of the Laker faithful.
Byron Coached the Worst Laker Team in Laker History
Let that sink in: in the long and storied history of the Los Angeles Lakers, Byron Scott coached them to their two worst seasons in franchise history. While not being completely his fault (the Lakers had extremely young players, mismatched parts, lack of talent, etc.), Scott had a huge influence on a terrible season. In addition to out-of-date offensive schemes, baffling personnel rotations, and game management, he would routinely insult his players and use recycled and tired clichés without taking any responsibility for his own mistakes. Too many times, he told his players through the media to “man up,” “stop playing soft”, and that he would not trust them in a foxhole. Many feared that the rumor that he would be retained one more year so Jeanie Buss can enforce Jim Buss’ self-imposed 3-year deadline and clear out both the front office and head coaching positions to bring in Phil Jackson as head of basketball operations would come to fruition. In addition to the possibility of Jeanie wanting to start over in a year, Byron had ardent supporters with his old Showtime teammates and “Coach” Dave Miller, who almost always agreed with Byron’s methods and rarely if ever criticized him for his mistakes. Magic Johnson’s silence regarding Byron’s ineptitude was especially glaring because he harshly criticized Mike D’Antoni, even though D’Antoni had the Lakers performing at a higher level. While he still had some supporters among the fans, many within the Lakers fan base wanted him fired. Let us recap some key dates and events that happened between the last game of the season and his firing:
April 15, 2016:
Byron had his exit interview and addressed the media. The majority of the fan base was still in an emotional high because Kobe Bryant was able to lead the Lakers in a come-from-behind victory by scoring 60 points in his last NBA game ever. However, Byron’s comments during the exit interview quickly changed the mood for many fans. One of the biggest complaints Laker fans had against Byron was that he rarely held himself responsible and placed most of the blame on others. Instead of using the exit interview as an opportunity to hold himself accountable, he doubled down on his stance regarding his coaching. He states that he’s smarter than his critics and he fully expected to be back, infuriating large amounts of the Laker faithful.
April 15- April 20, 2016:
Many Laker fans (including myself) awaited news that Byron had been fired. Personally, the first thing I did every morning so to check Twitter to see if there was any news that Byron was fired. Many fans were getting impatient from a lack of movement from the Laker front office while rumors that great and/or solid candidates like Tom Thibodeau and Scott Brooks would be interested in the Lakers head coaching position. Things looked even more ominous when news spread that the Minnesota Timberwolves were interested in giving Thibodeau both front office and coaching positions and the Washington Wizards were interested in Brooks, while Byron still remained the Lakers head coach. While those two were not necessarily the best candidates (especially if Thibodeau wanted a front office position), the fact remained that the Lakers did not even look like they were making progress because they still had Byron as head coach and were not even interviewing candidates.
April 20, 2016
News broke out that Tom Thibodeau has accepted the Timberwolves’ offer while Wizards officials flew out to California to meet with Brooks regarding their head coaching position. Meanwhile, Byron is still coach of the Lakers, infuriating and frustrating many Laker fans. The Thibodeau hiring irked some Laker fans because there were some accounts stating he was at least willing to listen to the Lakers, but they did not even interview him because they still had Byron as head coach.
April 21, 2016
Reports spread that Scott Brooks has been hired by the Washington Wizards. This hire bothered some Laker fans for the simple fact that they did not even get the chance to interview him because the Lakers still kept Byron. Scott Brooks also represented a possible coach who could not only develop the young Laker players but also play as a recruiter for Kevin Durant. While the chance to get Kevin Durant is slim, to these Laker fans, at least it would give them a better chance to get him, unlike retaining Byron, which would reduce those slim chances even more.
April 21-24, 2016
With each passing day, it seemed more likely that Byron would be retained as head coach. The Lakers are notorious for being silent with their thought process, which can be good and bad. It is good because it prevents other teams from taking advantage of knowing what the Lakers want to do but it is bad in the sense that everyone start guessing, which can lead to false assumptions. The two top candidates not named Luke Walton and Ettore Messina were off the market, so many Laker fans assumed that Byron coming back was inevitable. Many fans (including myself) believed that the Lakers did not do anything to deserve receiving the benefit of the doubt regarding their direction (besides their draft picks). There remained a possibility that Byron could be fired and the Lakers could get Walton, Messina, or other qualified candidates but the chances seemed slimmer as the days went by.
April 24, 2016 – THE RECKONING
According to Harrison Faigen, Byron was spotted at the Lakers practice facility on that Sunday afternoon, which seemed ominous to many of his critics at the time. Many wondered why he would be at the Lakers facility at that time unless he was there to do his obligations. 11 days had passed since the end of the season and yet no word from the Lakers on what Byron’s future job status would be. There was a possibility that he was there because he was called in to be fired, but to many, it seemed unlikely because of a lack of traction from the Laker front office. However, about an hour later, reports stated Byron Scott had been relieved of his coaching duties. Many Laker fans (including myself) celebrated, not only because it means Byron would no longer be coaching the Lakers, but also because it meant the Lakers were showing signs of progress and self-awareness. Also, regardless of the Thibodeau and Brooks hirings, there were still great candidates available for the Lakers.
April 25 -28, 2016
Speculation was rampant about who the Lakers were going to hire as their next head coach. Many were still basking in the afterglow of Byron’s firing because it symbolized a clean slate for the team and its willingness to show progress and move forward. There was tremendous joy and happiness within the vast majority of the Laker faithful, yet cautious optimism because another bad coaching hire could bring the Lakers back to the same place it had been during the Byron Scott era. Nevertheless, Laker fans in general were excited about what the future could hold for the team.
April 28, 2016
News broke that the Lakers asked and were granted permission by the Golden State Warriors to speak with Luke Walton. This news made many happy Laker fans even more excited because he was the clear number one candidate for them. His style of play and his relative youth seemed like a perfect match for an extremely young Laker core. In addition, it was a major sign that the Lakers had the self-awareness to know what their needs were and how to address them.
April 29, 2016 – A Milestone Date in Laker History
On this Friday afternoon, it was announced the Lakers have hired Luke Walton as their next head coach. Many Laker fans could not believe this happened because it took an extremely short time for the Lakers to fire Byron, get permission to speak with Walton, and hire him as their next head coach. Many fans were in shock because they also announced this during a Friday afternoon (a time period that teams avoid when announcing major good news because it is too close to the weekend, which could take away any positive press). According to reports, it only took six hrs between the start of the meeting and for them to come to an agreement that Luke Walton should coach the team. It seemed nearly impossible for those things to happen in such a short timeframe, but it did occur, which made many Laker fans rejoice and celebrate. The future seemed bright and Laker front office seemed like they knew what they were doing all along. All in all, in about five days, the collective mood of the Laker fanbase went from being dour to having joy and optimism for the team’s future and potential. If the Lakers manage to keep their pick in the upcoming draft lottery, it would be great. However, if they do not, it seems the Lakers have already had a pretty good offseason because Byron is no longer the coach and the anticipation for Luke Walton is tremendous.