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Mitch Kupchak: Exit interview

June 22, 2009 |  4:27 pm

As long as I've been around the Lakers, General Manager Mitch Kupchak has been inclined to keep thoughts close to the vest.  Specifically, a vest that resides under several layers' worth of additional vests, and the material is Kevlar, not wool or cotton, which further prevents information being stolen.  To put it mildly, the guy can be cryptic.   Thus, it was a shock when his exit meeting wound up a gossip fest capable of prompting a double take from Perez Hilton!  I don't know if Mitch was giddy over the recent championship or stoked knowing his critics of yore were now eating crow, but I couldn't believe some of the stuff that left his mouth:

The exact dollar amounts the Lakers are willing to spend to retain Trevor Ariza, Shannon Brown and Lamar Odom!   Which players he'd love to trade because they're flat out annoying!  How he pulled the trigger on the Gasol deal without even running it past Dr. Buss because, and I quote, "that senile old coot wouldn't know the difference. He thinks Magic is still running the point."  

Actually, I pretty much made all that up.  As expected, Kupchak didn't reveal a whole helluva lot to us media types. Yes, he did acknowledge a preference to keep the roster intact, but I could have told you the first order of business wasn't blowing up a championship team.  He described himself as "hopeful" of that goal (although it should be pointed out, he chose that adjective after being given just two options).  I was, however, amused by this statement:  "We're very familiar with the rules of the salary cap and collective bargaining agreements..."

Honestly, that falls heavily under the category of "Knowledge I just assumed," but it's always nice to get a confirmation, I guess.

It's no secret that Phil Jackson is visiting a few doctors to (hopefully) get a clean bill of health before deciding whether he's still physically up for coaching. For obvious reasons, PJ was given a time line to make a call. And for obvious reasons, Kupchak said the date is more "flexible" than "drop dead," especially in light of Jackson's busy recent schedule and the decision being tied to health, as opposed to a lingering desire to tour New Zealand in December.  As for how far the organization will dip into the piggy bank to retain free agents, Kupchak labeled that a "Dr. Buss thing."  As Kupchak explained, "It's not my decision. That much we know for sure."

Our currently lousy economy adds another wrinkle to the offseason questions. As Kupchak notes, the salary cap and luxury tax threshold (which fluctuate in tandem) aren't projected to rise the customary, annual 3-4%. Instead, they're likely to drop.  "Certainly, it's going to affect teams that have cap room," noted Kupchak.  "Because if you thought maybe you'd have twelve million dollars of cap room, if the numbers are correct, you might only have eight million."  On the plus side, that means certain teams may not have as much bidding power as expected.  On the minus side, assuming I'm understanding this correctly, that means the Lakers sink even deeper into luxury tax Hades. 

Between that climate and a desire to keep this roster of fourteen players intact, BK wondered if the organization would be inclined to either trade their late first round pick or draft a foreign player they can tuck away for a while in lieu of paying someone right this second.  Unless a dude too good to pass up takes a serious tumble or payroll space is somehow created, sounds like that's exactly what the tentative plan is.

After he drafted Andrew Bynum and turned Kwame Brown into Pau Gasol, Brian Cook/Mo Evans into Trevor Ariza, Vlad Radmanovic into Shannon Brown and future cap flexibility, it's hard to fathom that not too long ago, people used to regularly question whether Kupchak could build a model airplane, much less a competent roster. Clearly, he can, and I wondered how much personal satisfaction this title brings the Lakers' G.M. Kupchak tends to be rather modest and unassuming, and didn't break from character over the opportunity to crow.  That's just not his style.  Plus, as he noted, this line of work doesn't leave much downtime until maybe August.  Kupchak did, however, share a moment that touched his heart.

"I will share when we were on Chick Hearn Way in the parade and we made that right hand turn onto Figueroa and there was just 40-50 deep in people, that was emotional. That was an emotional sign of support for his organization and that was comforting."

So what are the odds that Kupchak will have no time to celebrate achievement right around this time next year? Nobody knows right this second, but Mitch explained why he's "hopeful" Dr. Buss will pay a pretty penny to remain a contender. He's always seemed to do the right thing in terms of putting this organization in a position to compete. And that's all I can rely on. He makes really well thought out basketball business decisions. That's been his m.o. since he purchased this team."

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