- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak doesn't expect Kobe Bryant to try to play a particular way in order to make the Lakers more attractive to free agents next summer.
"Kobe is not going to play to lure somebody to Los Angeles," Kupchak said Wednesday, addressing the press in advance on Saturday's media day. "He’s going to play to try to win games. If the way he plays helps lure players to Los Angeles, then so be it. But trust me, in January, February and March, that’s not what he’s thinking when there’s a game being played."
The Lakers have a massive amount of cap space stored for the summer of 2014 when they figure to be major players on the free agency market.
Whether Bryant is the one doing the recruiting or not, the Lakers will have to start to bring in fresh blood as their three best players -- Bryant (35-years old), Steve Nash (39) and Pau Gasol (33) -- are all far closer to the end of their careers than to the beginning.
Kupchak does not seem too worried about getting those players, whoever they might be, to come to L.A. despite the fact that the team was unable to convince Dwight Howard to stay earlier this year, and despite the fact that executive vice president Jeanie Buss' memoir, "Laker Girl," suggests the relationship between she and her brother, fellow VP, Jim Buss has been strained.
"I don’t think [the book] would have anything to do with [free agency]," Kupchak said. "The Lakers and Los Angeles remains a destination place for athletes of any sport. This is a wonderfully supportive fan base in Los Angeles. It’s a vibrant city and the franchises that have been here, our franchise has been one of the best if not the best, once it came here in 1960. We’ve always figured out a way to bring players and put competitive and championship teams on the court. Those things don’t change."
What has changed is the Lakers' philosophy on doling out lucrative, multi-year contracts to role players as the team attempts to adjust its business and basketball practices under the rules of the NBA's current collective bargaining agreement.
"The worst thing you can do is be burdened with contracts that are $6-7-8 million a year that go out 3-4 years and you have just kind of average players," Kupchak said. "Then you’re really kind of stuck in the middle -- you’re not going to get a good draft choice and you’re not going to have financial flexibility. So, in our opinion, we’re set up probably as best as we can be set up for the future."
That set-up involved stacking the 2013-14 roster with a bunch of players whose contracts all expire at the end of the season. That could create an environment full of players who are motivated to play for their individual numbers in order to make themselves more attractive when free agency comes around, but Kupchak did not seem worried about that scenario.
"I think players look at it as an opportunity," Kupchak said. "And they clearly get guidance from their agent, but I’m sure their agents are saying, ‘Listen, if you play well in Los Angeles, they have all this cap room and financial flexibility a year from now. This is a great opportunity for you.’ In years past, when we were so far over the cap, I’m sure a lot of agents said, ‘Even if you play well, they’re only going to sign minimum [contract] guys.’ But I don’t think that’s the case. I’ve talked to a bunch of agents and I think they feel this is a good spot for players."
He better hope so. If not, then Bryant's recruiting pitch might be necessary. The last thing the Lakers want to have happen is to clear all that cap space and not find anybody worth spending it on.