Mitch Kupchak, on the Lakers and the NBA Draft
Just wanted to pass along a summary of what came up this afternoon when Mitch Kupchak discussed tomorrow's draft. To be honest, there's not much you didn't already know or at least likely suspected after watching his exit interview. The closest thing to news earth-shattering was talk of Phil Jackson returning as a "road less traveled" coach put to rest. But for those who enjoy the finer points of what could be a fairly uneventful Thursday for the Lake Show, I'm your man.
- Hoping to keep their roster intact as possible and aware it'll cost a pretty penny, the organization is still heavily leaning towards drafting a player to stash/send overseas or simply trading the pick altogether. I got the vibe that, all things being equal, they'd choose the latter, and assuming I'm correct, Kupchak seemed confident they'll find a partner. "There's a lot of interest."
Mitch declined to ballpark the odds of the 29th pick specifically getting moved, but did think there's a "better than even likelihood that we'll move one of our picks."
- Should the first round pick be kept, whoever gets selected will likely be foreign or a red-blooded American with a valid passport, because he's looking at a season or two overseas. Wanting no part in a player insistent on joining the squad ASAP, the Lakers would "do their homework in advance" and make sure whomever they draft is amenable to leaving a tender unsigned, taking the organization off the immediate hook for guaranteed money. Bringing a second rounder to camp is less an issue, because no dollars become set in stone.
Kupchak did lay out circumstances unusual enough to stray from this plan: A dude that seriously slipped. "It would have to be a player that we had ranked in the top 18 or so, that we thought could have an impact on our team right away." Otherwise, they're not counting on anybody taken to be on next season's club. In a perfect world, they're hoping to bring thirteen players into camp, so if "Operation Bring Back Trevor Ariza, Shannon Brown and Lamar Odom" becomes "mission accomplished," that doesn't leave a ton of real estate available for a newbie.
There were actually fourteen players on the 2009 roster, so I asked Kupchak if "thirteen" being thrown out reflected any disinclination to keep a specific player. (I didn't throw out names, since Mitch wasn't about to tell me if Sun Yue is getting cut loose, but that's who I was thinking.) Mitch said the number had more to do with recognizing how tough retaining all three unrestricted free agents will be, as opposed to ruling out a truly Xeroxed team.
"We won a championship, sure. What's wrong with that? That would be great. We're not looking to make a change. You can nitpick and we need this and we need that. Or we could do better in this area. But this is a team that played well until the end. If you could snap your fingers and bring them back, why not?"
- Should they keep the pick, Mitch expressed little confidence the next Tony Parker would fall into their laps. "It doesn't appear to be a strong international draft. There are a couple, three players that we think would be first round picks. Everybody else falls into the second round." This would be the exception to the current rule, and Kupchak thinks this decade's global growth will continue. Of all places, India is beginning to make its roundball presence felt. Who knew?
- Should the Lakers end up drafting from their low position, the typical "best player available" approach is a safe bet to continue. But Kupchak did provide a hint as to what position they'd be keeping particular tabs on, if there's a tie of skill to be broken.
"I think with Derek (Fisher) approaching 35 years old, we'd like to sort out that position going forward. We have Jordan (Farmar) who's had moments when he looked like the guy tjat might be able assume that position and Shannon Brown came in and did a great job as well. But that position in the future is still undetermined. We need to figure out who is going to take over that position when Derek retires."
Speaking of Farmar, I don't think it's out of the question he could be swapped for a future pick to clear some space. This is just my gut talking, not a "source." But I don't get the impression the front office is sold on him as a starter, a highly coveted backup or even an essential piece of the puzzle. It's no secret that JF's rep doesn't feature the phrase "highly coachable" and as BK noted in his exit interview, at points during the season, the former Bruin seemed on path to complain his way out of town.
Of course, Farmar redeemed himself nicely after his benching, obviously taking instructions to heart and displaying the most humility I've seen from him since... well, ever. But that may not even matter, but the issue is as much pragmatic reality as a belief in Jordan. He's the only Laker of any value that can be traded without immediately taking back salary. If this becomes a choice between freeing up money to spend on TA and/or LO and keeping Farmar, that's a no-brainer. Especially if they're reasonably confident Shannon- whom I'm positive they dig- can be resigned.
As another writer pointed out, they may want to hang onto Farmar as insurance, just in case they need to replace Ariza or Odom. Package him with Adam Morrison and that's 7 mil in expiring contracts as bait for a better player. That in and of itself could prevent a draft day deal.
Either way, the thought has crossed my mind more than once these days. (And apparently the powers-that-be's brains as well. Right after posting this, I caught wind of the Times' Broderick Turner mentioning that Farmar was offered to Houston, but the deal was turned down. As I said, feelers put out makes total sense.)
- I asked Mitch if he thought the trade winds would keep blowing through tomorrow. I'm pretty sure Kupchak gave his "yes" before news that Jamal Crawford was heading to the ATL. Smart cookie, that Lakers G.M. The "key," he felt, was certain teams having multiple picks, which aren't all going to be kept. Thus, he's expecting more action.
- Mitch's description of draft day: In a word, chaos. Cell phones. 5-6 hard lines. Emails. And in a first today, communicating with a GM by text, hardly Kupchak's typical vehicle for communication (although he does know how to do it) Lotta balls being juggled. Sometimes it's even tough to literally remember who you're talking to. "It gets hectic, but there's a (also) degree of excitement."
- As I mentioned earlier, Kupchak put the kibosh on talk about Kurt Rambis coaching an extended number of roadies. "Phil and I had a long discussion this morning, and I guess the short of it is, what he said, he didn't mean for it to be said, or for it to sound the way it sounded. If he comes back to coach, he will come back to coach home and away games."
As Mitch reminded, the scenario kicked around was just hypothetical and never put to serious discussion. And for good reason. "That type of scenario doesn't work and that's his opinion as well." If medical issues required Phil to miss an isolated road game, no worries. But as for a split even one well below 50/50, not an option.
Mid-July would be the absolute latest Phil can give his answer. But beyond the health, Kupchak can't anticipate any reason PJ wouldn't return. "I think he likes our team. He's very energized by what happened this year. It think it solely rests on his ability medically to come back and coach. I've gotten no indication that there's been a red flag yet."
- Another date to mark on the ol' calender. Kobe Bryant has until June 30th to decide if he'll opt out (probably around 9pm PT) and they don't expect an answer any sooner. Asked what the odds are of that happening, Kupchak said he didn't know.