Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak publicly backed Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni on April 18, 2014 following Lakers exit interviews. In this file photo, Kupchak sits alongside D'Antoni shortly after the coach was hired.
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni was not fired.
“He’s under contract for two more years. If anything changes, we’ll let you know,” Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak started out his press conference at the Lakers practice facility in El Segundo, Ca.
For Kupchak, it was business as usual.
D’Antoni would go away for a few days to decompress after the season. Then, at some point in the near future, Kupchak would sit with D’Antoni and co-owner and Executive VP of Basketball Operations Jim Buss to review the season that was.
“There is no timetable, but while it’s still fresh in everybody’s mind, I would expect [the meeting] to be sometime in the near future,” Kupchak told reporters on Friday as the Lakers GM sat down for his end of season press conference.
The Lakers GM was quick to point out that this type of meeting occurs every year.
From Kupchak’s comments on the day, he did not believe the coach’s performance was entirely to blame for the 55-loss season that finally concluded on Wendesday--the worst season in the history of the Lakers since the team moved to Los Angeles.
Kupchak referred to the overwhelming number of injures to explain his assessment, “Under the circumstances, I’m not sure anybody could have done a better job than [D'Antoni] did.”
For those fans who expected to hear Kupchak express disappointment in the defense and discard the coach, that type of thought was as non-existent as, well, the Lakers' defense.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt it’s changed. He’s 100 percent correct,” Kupchak agreed with earlier comments from D’Antoni stating that the NBA was a new league with a new style predicated on playing smaller, playing faster and spacing the floor.
Kupchak continued, “It’s just how they play today. It is fun to watch. I thought at the beginning of the season, this year, we were fun to watch. It was exciting. We were relatively healthy. The way the rules are today, it promotes that type of play.”
As Kupchak continued on, it was clear to see that his vision of where the game was at present and where it was going in the near future was in line with D’Antoni’s brand of basketball.
“Players love to play that way, and I think it’s here to stay,” Kupchak continued. “Our challenge, or teams that have a more mature or older roster, is ‘how you do…incorporate the talents of certain players on a team into a style of play.’”
For those who do not understand the language of NBA general managers, Kupchak was saying the Lakers would continue to shoot three-pointers and race ahead for lay-ups, but where exactly Bryant fit into this style of play was still open for debate.
Speaking of Bryant, Kupchak admitted that he had no idea the world famous superstar, who earned roughly $30 million for the season, opted to take a flight to vacation in France before the season ended: “I did not know he was leaving town.”
Kupchak contended he was not bothered by Bryant’s actions. Truthfully, the message from the Lakers GM on Friday was better served without Bryant present to contradict the direction and location of the team. The Lakers were doing their best to rebuild and climb out cautiously. Bryant would prefer the team go all-in for his final two seasons.
Kupchak acknowledged, “If he’s in Europe watching this, you know, I’m sure [he is] saying ‘why is Mitch using the word patience?’ He is not the most patient person in the world. That’s never going to change.”
The Lakers GM credited Bryant’s impatience as one of the driving factors that led to five championships. Kupchak tried to find common ground that both wanted more titles for the Lakers, but the conflict between the player’s goals and the team’s goals derived from Bryant’s two-year timeline.
“We both want to win as much and as soon as possible, but once again, it takes an organization a long time to get into a position that we’re in where we have options financially going forward for the next year or two or three. And you just have to make wise decisions using that space.”
The message was clear enough: the Lakers are rebuilding, and Bryant’s career came second to returning to the Lakers to long-term prominence.
Kupchak added, “If you don’t make wise decisions, you can set yourself back six or seven years, and we don’t want to do that.”