James Worthy steeled himself, then offered a blunt assessment.
The Lakers, in the midst of a losing season, had reached their nadir with a 48-point loss to the Clippers. The Hall of Famer glared into the camera and did what many other analysts would have.
He blamed the coach.
“(Mike) D’Antoni’s got to get into these guys a little bit more,” said Worthy on that night nearly two years ago. “He’s got to make them really a little bit more responsible, maybe call guys out.”
Worthy, an analyst with Time Warner Cable SportsNet, said the Lakers’ problems could be traced to the locker room, that they should practice only defense and that an offense focused on pace of play and 3-pointers simply wasn’t working.
Such frank analysis was welcomed by fed-up fans begging for a change on the bench. It’s also the sort of criticism from which Byron Scott, a teammate of Worthy’s from 1983-93, has recently been spared during an 11-43 season.
Worthy is one of four former “Showtime”-era Lakers navigating the potentially murky waters of analyzing a team coached by a close friend.
While sports analysts frequently call games involving former teammates, coaches and rivals, the dynamic gets more complicated when the analysts are day-to-day observers of the team.
Former Kings guard-turned-analyst Bobby Jackson turned heads last week when he called for a coaching change in Sacramento.
Scott has been under a microscope since he was hired in 2014 after D’Antoni resigned at the conclusion of a 27-55 season.
In Scott’s tenure, the Lakers are 32-104.
Bashing Scott is fashionable among fans and he has been widely panned by national media. He appears at or near the top of any list of coaches on the hot seat.
The Lakers are not believed to be considering a mid-season coaching change, but it is a results-driven league. Five NBA coaches have been fired since the start of the season, including former Lakers guard Derek Fisher with the improving New York Knicks.
Worthy is aware of a perception that he has taken it easier on Scott than he did his predecessor
He even agrees.
“People have opinions based on Byron and I being close,” Worthy said after a recent Lakers practice, “but that has nothing to do with it.”
Instead, he argued, D’Antoni’s Lakers were built to win with Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and a healthy Kobe Bryant.
“I had an opportunity to be more critical then,” Worthy said. “But I see what Byron’s doing. I’m in the film room, I see the practices, I see the guys buying into it. They just haven’t been able to transfer it out to the court yet.”
When Scott made the unpopular decision to move D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle out of the starting lineup on Dec. 6, Worthy initially recoiled with surprise.
By the end of that night’s broadcast, he had come around.
“I think Byron’s right,” Worthy said. “Sometimes you have to allow younger players to watch from the bench.”
Video of the segment was posted on the network’s Facebook page. The first comment, from a user named Lynne No, said, “James Worthy was always so candid about D’Antoni. Where’s your truth now James regarding Byron?”
When Worthy has called out the Lakers this season, he has typically focused on players rather than the coaching.
“We expect effort and we criticize (the team) for that,” Worthy said. “We criticize them for points in the paint. But for decisions made by Byron right now, going through this experimental growth period, there’s nothing to be critical of.”
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