I don't envy Mitch Kupchak's job in the slightest. The Lakers have slipped a notch below the league's most elite teams, and don't have many assets -- whether in draft picks, young trade prospects, or salary flexibility -- with which to improve the team, and are working against a very punitive CBA.
Meanwhile, the Kobe Klock is ticking.
No offseason in L.A. is an easy one, but an argument can easily be made this one provides Kupchak his stiffest test as Lakers general manager. I don't know how he gets it done, but fortunately he's better at his job than I am, so there's hope for fans.
Wednesday in El Segundo, Kupchak met with the media and relative to his normal "You'll never get the launch codes from me, reporter! Never!" standards, was frank about the need for improvements, and that the Lakers would explore just about every option available in order to facilitate them.
Here are a few choice quotes. Click below the jump for full video coverage of his press conference.
On Pau Gasol: "I don’t suspect that he’ll ever be the same based on what took place this year. I thought personally that he did the best anybody can do, being professional and saying the right things, being a good teammate and having a really good season up until I met with him a couple hours ago. He’s the consummate teammate, consummate professional. But what took place is hard for a player to deal with and I’m sure there’s a little bit of trust that’s not quite the same. But, like you said, he understands and our exit meeting with him was really good. I think he and I are on the same page. I have not met with ownership. I do not know what direction the team is going to go, what the parameters are going to be going forward so there wasn’t really anything additional to share with Pau or to share with you people about what may take place between now and the draft, or now and July 1st or post July 1st."
(Note: Asked what he meant by "I don't suspect he'll ever be the same," Kupchak said he was talking only about the trust issue between Gasol and the organization, not his on court performance.)
On whether the Lakers would be active in the trade market: "Why not? Sure. When you lose, and we went through it last year and we didn’t make really, other than at the trade deadline, we didn’t do anything last year, but when you lose before you think you should have lost, you have to open up all opportunities."
On considerations created by the new CBA: "There are quite a few restrictions. The rules are different. The penalties are more punitive. Options or assets, avenues to improve the team, the exceptions that existed with the last CBA are fewer and not the same as they are today with teams that are beyond the cap. I don’t see us being below the cap anytime soon, so the only way we’ve been able to improve our team over the last 10 years really has been through exceptions and via trade. The exceptions route is severely limited right now.
I can’t see us avoiding the tax. Dr. Buss, under the correct circumstances, has always been willing to pay a tax, but if you just look at the levels of the new tax in a year from now, you can see that tax being paid a year or two ago or even this year is dramatically different two years from now. So, that would have to be a consideration and I know every team in the league is aware of it as well."
On Andrew Bynum: "He’s aware of all the things you mentioned [regarding maturity and effort questions]. I guess I said it a couple months ago. He’s handled situations publicly, going back to the thing that people refer to about Kobe several years ago, I think his comments at that time were great. So he’s handled some things publicly probably better than you expect. And he’s handled some things publicly probably not as good as you expect him to handle. It’s always brought to his attention. He’s a good kid. He’s a bright kid. He’s his own man. But he listens and I’m hopeful going forward that the things we’re disappointed with at some point are maybe not as disappointing as they were this year or in the past year or two."
On whether he has concerns regarding Ramon Sessions following the postseason: "That’s a leading question. Understandably so. Ramon was in yesterday and we had a long talk. He had never played in a playoff game. His stints in Mil Min and Cleve, they had not been in the playoffs. This is really his first exposure to postseason basketball. I think he would admit it was a little overwhelming at first. I thought in the first round he did a good job. I sensed he wasn’t as confident as he was during the regular season. And he wasn’t as aggressive. But I thought he played well enough to build on. Then the next round comes around and everything kind of ratchets up. There's a little bit more pressure. The team that we played against had 9 days to prepare for what we do. I thought it took him a couple games to get comfortable with being in the second round. Our veteran players have been through this so many years, they can kind of adjust on the fly. But for a younger player just starting out, I think it’s a tougher challenge. He acknowledged as much and it was a great experience. I think he’s going to be better for it."
On Mike Brown: I haven’t had a chance to sit down with him. I thought he did a fine job, considering everything that took place this year. Certainly going into the season, he did not expect a lockout, he did not expect Lamar Odom to be traded. He thought he’d look down at the end of the bench and there would be the 6th Man of the year coming in to play. Those things were beyond his control. And limited practice, limited training camp, limited preseason games, two mid-season trades, losing a veteran like Derek Fisher. Under those conditions, I thought he did a fine job.