After the trade deadline expired, Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak sat down for nearly half an hour to answer questions about where the team was, what the organization was thinking and where the Lakers were heading.
“It’s reasonable to think that every now and then, or maybe once every 10 years or once every 15 years, you might have a bad year,” Kupchak explained the Lakers sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference. “And we are not having a good year.”
“What this team went through this year is really no different than what we went through in the year after we traded Shaquille (O’Neal). It is the exact same thing,” Kupchak contended. “I remember radio and TV and print and fans just going crazy--and Kobe--just going absolutely crazy.”
Obviously, having Dr. Jerry Buss alive and soundly functioning helped the fans trust that the Lakers would be back sooner rather than later. To this point, Jim Buss has not yet earned that level of trust from the fans.
“I think it’s natural when you lose an owner like that, Dr. Buss, to say, ‘Well, what’s going on?’ But you have to trust the organization," Kupchak said. "Everybody is on the same page. You know, we have a plan, and I can’t guarantee that you can execute a plan in six months or 12 months or 18 months, but we’re well positioned.”
If he intended to reflect the team’s approach, the mentality of the Lakers was calculated and patient.
“It may take more than one year to build,” Kupchak said. “Because we have a lot of money this summer doesn’t mean we’ll spend it all. We’ll spend it wisely.”
What was the short-term goal?
“Our hope and our desire is that our next year will be a lot better than this year,” Kupchak continued. “And we certainly have the tools to begin that process.”
What were those tools?
Along with having money to spend in free agency, the Lakers appear en route to collecting a "valuable" draft pick in what is judged to be a talent-rich draft. Also, Kupchak believes Kobe Bryant is that third vital piece in the puzzle. In the GM’s eyes, Bryant has been a master of adjusting his game throughout his career. Even with the reservations about age and injury acknowledged, there is still enough cause to trust that Bryant can will his way back to an elite level.
“He’s shown over the years that he can adjust his game to his age,” Kupchak said about Bryant. “Based on what I saw in the last week before he injured his knee, I was completely confident that the Achilles injury was going to have no play on his effectiveness.”
For the fans that were distraught with the Lakers’ single trade at the deadline, Kupchak explained his decision to trade Steve Blake to the Warriors as a way to better evaluate Jordan Farmar and Kendall Marshall for the remainder of the season. He contended that the Lakers were never interested in a “salary dump.”
Kupchak said, “The organization is not motivated by saving ‘x’ amount of dollars.”
The plan is to draft a quality player, use the extra money and the city of Los Angeles to lure coveted free agents in the near future and bank on Bryant to go out with a bang.
“With this organization and the support that we get from this city, I think this will always be a destination for players,” Kupchak said confidently. “We’ll always be in the hunt because of the franchise, ownership, the legacy and the city itself. Los Angeles, our fans, our support here--that’s an advantage we always have.”