As votes of confidence go, it wasn’t the greatest.
Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak declined to speak in depth about Coach Byron Scott while being interviewed by reporters Wednesday.
“Byron is under contract and until that changes, or if that changes, we’ll let you know,” Kupchak said.
He was asked a follow-up question on whether Scott had done a good job this season, the Lakers sitting at 11-44, with the second-worst record in the league, after returning from the All-Star break.
“Once again, I don’t want to get into a Byron discussion right now. I’m not going to really answer any questions about Byron because I’m concerned that one question will lead to another,” Kupchak said. “If his status changes, I’ll let you know.”
A team publicist later cut off a third question about Scott, who has only one more guaranteed year on his contract. He went 21-61 last year and was expected to finish this season despite the Lakers’ stumbling toward their fewest victories ever.
There is some feeling within the organization that Scott deserves a shot next season with an improved roster. Another sentiment, however, is that his “tough love” has been a little too tough at times on the Lakers’ young players.
Scott is in the second season of a four-year, $17-million contract. The fourth year is not guaranteed.
Kupchak was chattier while talking about other topics, including Thursday’s trade deadline at noon Pacific time.
It was “unlikely” anything would happen for the Lakers, though there was “an awful lot of interest” in their young players, he said, without mentioning specifics.
He then appealed to the team to continue playing hard to ensure roster spots in the future.
“Show me your best so it helps us during the off-season when it comes time to evaluate our needs,” he said.
If nothing else, the young players will likely get more time over the final eight weeks.
Kobe Bryant’s playing time will decrease, Scott said Wednesday, and it’s only a matter of time before D’Angelo Russell rejoins the starters. It won’t happen Friday against San Antonio but might come quickly after that.
Kupchak was kind to Russell on Wednesday, calling the rookie guard “light years ahead” of where he was when the Lakers drafted him last June.
“For a 19-year-old, moving to Los Angeles, being on your own and adjusting to the city, playing in the NBA, playing big minutes, the number of games, the travel … it’s a big adjustment,” Kupchak said. “We are seeing progress. I think the off-season for all our young players is going to be really important.”
The trade deadline used to be important for the Lakers. They obtained a centerpiece a couple of weeks before it in 2008, acquiring Pau Gasol for Kwame Brown, two other players and two first-round draft picks and the rights to Marc Gasol. Of course, in more recent years after the Lakers won two championships with him, Pau Gasol’s name appeared in countless trade rumors leading up to deadline day.
Nowadays, there just aren’t many pieces to consider. Lou Williams has two more years and $14 million on his contract, but the Lakers won’t simply give him away because they like his scoring potential.
Nick Young can be had for a second-round draft pick but he has two more years and $11.5 million remaining on his contract. In fact, he was surprised, and happy, to not have been dealt when he returned to the team’s training facility Wednesday after the All-Star break.
“He thought he was gone,” Scott said, adding a chuckle.
There are few easy answers as the Lakers slide toward another new low — missing the playoffs for a third consecutive season.
One thing was certain heading into Thursday’s deadline.
“Of course, Kobe’s not going anywhere. That’s 100%,” Kupchak said.