Byron Scott’s outlook hasn’t been dimmed, record-setting lows be damned.
He was optimistic Friday when asked if he thought he would return next season as the Lakers’ coach.
“Yeah. Absolutely,” he said Friday.
At some point over the next week or two, Scott will have an informal lunch with Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Vice President Jim Buss. They’ll discuss Scott’s future after “things settle down a bit,” Kupchak said Friday at his end-of-season news conference.
“I think Byron has done an excellent job under the circumstances that he’s had to deal with the last two years,” Kupchak said. “This year in particular was a difficult year for a coach to wade his way through.”
The Lakers have until June 1 to decide whether Scott will be retained, as per terms of his contract, according to a person familiar with the situation. He has one more guaranteed year for about $4 million.
Kupchak showered Kobe Bryant with praise, up to and including the stunning 60-point finale Wednesday against Utah, but acknowledged Scott’s job was tricky because of Bryant’s in-and-out lineup status.
Bryant, 37, played 66 of 82 games but almost never practiced with the team or came to morning shootarounds on game days.
This affected the Lakers’ numerous young players. Erratic play became the norm for a team that barely won 20% of the time.
“I thought it was tough to really evaluate progress through the season,” Kupchak said. “I didn’t think it was anything that was a consistent pattern.”
Spinning things forward, he looked forward to free agency in 2½ months, knowing the Lakers would have almost $60 million to spend if Brandon Bass opted out of his contract, as expected.
Kupchak couldn’t predict if they would spend all that money or, the word he kept using, be more “prudent.” He also didn’t know if Bryant’s retirement would be viewed positively or negatively by free agents.
Despite the Lakers missing out on big-name free agents the last three off-seasons, Kupchak thought better days were ahead.
“It’s tough to sell a team that doesn’t have players on it to a free agent,” he said. “We do have more this summer. Granted, they’re young [players].
“We do know that we’re better off now than we were a year ago and certainly better off than we were two years. And we’ll sell whatever we have to sell to try to encourage players to come here.”
Point guard D’Angelo Russell had more downs than ups this season, losing his starting job 20 games into his rookie campaign before getting it back in February and soon embarking on an eight-game spree in which he averaged 23.3 points and 4.8 assists.
“I don’t think it’s a fluke,” Kupchak said. “That’s part of our challenge going forward, is to find out how we’re going to best use his talents. The two things that I know he can do is he can score and he’s got a gift to pass the ball, a unique gift. Do you want to convert D’Angelo into a passer and not utilize his ability to score the ball or do you want to encourage him to score the ball and not utilize his passing game?”
Unlike Russell, Jordan Clarkson was more attacker than passer, Kupchak said, adding that he agreed with Scott’s assertion that better defense was needed from the soon-to-be restricted free-agent guard.
Power forward Julius Randle led second-year players with 34 double-doubles but needed to show he was capable of “dependably finishing” around the rim, Kupchak said, adding that Randle also needed to “draw defenders when he’s on the perimeter,” a fancy way of saying his much-nitpicked outside shot could use some help too.
“That’s fine,” he said. “They’re not in there every day. They’re not in there in practice. They have no clue. To be honest, I’m much smarter than all of them when it comes to basketball.”
Scott, 55, never felt pressure to win from anyone above him in the franchise, he said, mentioning Kupchak and Lakers President Jeanie Buss.
“I think we’re all still on the same page. We have a lot obviously to dissect, a lot of things to go through, and we’re going to go through them,” he said. “And then after that whatever happens, happens.”
Despite all the losing, Scott still called this his “dream job,” cognizant he won three championships as a player with the Lakers in the 1980s.
Follow Mike Bresnahan on Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan