Should Byron Scott Go?
This one is hard for me to write. I think I’ve changed my mind three times over just the last weekend about whether I think Byron Scott should go or not. There are perfectly valid reasons why he should go. There are perfectly valid reasons why he shouldn’t. In an effort to fully evaluate Byron as a coach, I’m going to split this post into three sections – one for each of the major coaching job requirements as I see them: Forging a team identity, developing young talent, and gameplanning.
Forging a Team
I don’t think there is a lot of question that Byron Scott has been successful at building team identity and cohesiveness. When he arrived in New Orleans in 2004-2005, it was too late for the team he had inherited from Tim Floyd. That year Scott had to cope with a team in full disintegration mode as Mashburn retired, Baron Davis quit, and Magloire got injured and then wanted out himself. In my opinion he did a masterful job. That team may have only gone 18-64, but I watched every minute of that team play and after Baron got “injured” and front office began to blow things up. Not once that season did I see that overmatched team not compete. Under Byron’s direction, the team knew what it was going to do, and they relied on each other despite their obvious weakness.
That’s been a hallmark of all the Hornets teams since he’s arrived, and it should not be underestimated. The Hornets were a franchise in seemingly constant turmoil as it skipped between three cities and had to rebuild the team from scratch. Through it all, Byron was a rock. He told his players what he thought. The players who got time were the players that would buy into what he was selling. Knuckleheads were not tolerated. That’s Byron Scott. Even during the struggles this season, did anyone see real cracks in the teams facade? The most I saw was some frustrated comments from Julian Wright early in the season, and some random speculation by outsiders. Recent comments by Posey and West bear witness to that. The team still felt like a team.
Despite recent popular opinion, Scott has given young talent the chance to excel. As we watch the struggles of Julian Wright to be a contributor, it’s important to remember that Byron Scott has developed young players successfully. Chris Paul was going to start for any coach anywhere, but David West? He was injured and wasn’t even the backup to the backup in Byron’s first year(West’s second year) – but that off-season he insisted West would be starting, and the team moved Magloire to make room for him. The only real memories I have of West’s previous two years were energetic rebounds and missed putbacks, followed by West clapping in frustration and getting back on defense. I thought Byron had lost his damn mind when he insisted he’d be starting him.
West wasn’t the only young player either. When Tyson Chandler arrived he was coming off of his worst pro season, and started off very rockily for the Hornets before Byron pushed him to be all that he became. That core of West, Chandler and Paul? It wasn’t a sure thing. It was built into an effective core under the guiding hands of Byron Scott – and that’s something to respect and not forget.
To me, the way Byron handles players like JR Smith, Kirk Snyder, Cedric Simmons, and our own Julian Wright and Hilton Armstrong has been perfectly reasonable. They may have gotten limited time – but every one of them got at least a couple 15-20 game stretches with about 20 minutes a game to show what they could do. Every one of them showed as many flaws as they showed ability, and Byron, in normal Scott fashion, made them accountable for those mistakes. I’m not about to argue with that.
The only player I don’t think he gave a fair shake to was Brandon Bass, but I’m able to let that slide for a variety of reasons I won’t get into here.
In the end, I’m fine with Byron’s handling of the team’s youngsters.
All of the above is possible because of the very nature of Byron Scott’s personality. Scott is a self-assured, strong personality. He’s got a sizeable ego, and has no difficulty telling the players under him what he thinks of them and their abilities. It’s that ego that allowed him put his stamp on the team and build it into a playoff contender.
And that ego may also be Byron Scott’s downfall when it comes to gameplanning.
That ego allows Byron to be certain his way is best. It makes him certain that what he is doing is right. That may allow him to sleep well at night and control the team, but it also makes him stubborn and inflexible. That inflexibility shows up in his gameplanning – and has in every year he’s been with the Hornets. Byron installs a gameplan during training camp, and from that moment on, it will not change.
Injuries be damned. Personnel be damned.
How else can you explain the force-feeding of Desmond Mason in the post two years ago, when Mason couldn’t post a comment on a blog. How else do the Hornets insist on using the high pick and roll with Tyson out and Hilton Armstrong in, when Hilton sets crappy screens, can’t finish an alley-oop, and has stone hands? How else do the Hornets continue to use a hedging perimeter defense that funnels players into the big men when Hilton Armstrong and Sean Marks pick up fouls like Captain Kirk picks up green women?
Despite the decline in results, there really was no difference between the systems our team ran last year and this one. The difference was the personnel trying to execute it due to injuries. Despite the fall from the third most efficient offense to the twelth, I saw no meaningful adjustments to what the Hornets were trying to do as the season went on. Defensively, other than a few games where Byron was willing to give a zone a try, there weren’t any changes. Granted, I’m not sure the backups were capable of all that much – but shouldn’t Scott at least try something new for a time?
And that’s where I struggle about Byron Scott. That tells me that if the Hornets manage to field a fairly stable team with limited injuries, we can expect a pretty good season. If we suffer through injuries again, we can expect another excercise in frustration. With Peja and Tyson looking increasingly injury-prone – can we expect a healthy team? Do all the benefits Byron brings outweigh him not being flexible?
And what worries me the most: when the team is in the playoffs and facing a coach with the ability to make changes and be flexible, what happens then? When the Hornets played the Spurs last season, they didn’t make any substantial adjustments at all from game to game. Is that what we’ll see in the future? Is Byron a closer – or is he a starter? Is his best skillset taking poor teams and turning them into contenders, but in general being unable to finish the deal? Should Byron move on to a rebuilding team like Sacramento, rumored to be interested in hiring him away from the Hornets?
Today, as of this moment, I’m leaning towards yes. Unfortunately, ask me again tomorrow and I might have another answer.
What do you think?