EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- After months (and months and months and months) of speculation, the trade finally bringing Dwight Howard to Los Angeles came together quickly. So, too, did the press conference. Howard and Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak met the media Friday afternoon, and to say the least there was a buzz at the team facility in El Segundo.
For what it's worth, Howard seemed genuinely excited not just about the end of the Dwightmare, but more specifically to be in Los Angeles. And seated next to him, Kupchak looked equally satisfied. Given the challenges facing them heading into the offseason -- zero cap space, no draft picks of value, only a mini-mid level and veteran's minimum contracts to offer, trade chips difficult to turn into superior talent since they're already very good (Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol) -- this becomes one of the most impressive offseasons in modern league history.
After the big Howard show ended, Kupchak answered more questions for the assembled writerly hordes and delivered some interesting comments on the evolution of the deal, Bynum, Mike Brown's reaction to getting Howard while keeping Gasol, and the willingness of the Buss family to spend what's required to win.
The transcript is below...
Going forward, having Dwight, your payroll is huge. Any concern about that?
“Absolutely. Sure, it’s a concern, and if you’re familiar with the collective bargaining agreement, there have been some significant changes made for teams that exceed certain thresholds.
"But once again, over the last year there has been some criticism. When we traded Lamar, that it was just a way to save money, and I think this proves when it comes down to it, and I’ve always said it, certainly nobody who owns a family owned business doesn’t want to make a profit so their business can survive and prosper. But when it comes down to it, Dr. Buss is a very competitive owner, and his family is also very competitive. And when it comes down to making a decision about a couple dollars or a million dollars or 10 million dollars or putting another banner up? He can’t help himself. He chooses to go for the banner."
LOL: If ever there was a quote summarizing why Lakers fans should raise a monument to Dr. Buss, that's it. "He can't help himself. He chooses to go for the banner."
Based on your conversations with team Dwight, how much of a risk is it he’ll walk?
“You know something, we’ve had no discussions? The press conference started at four o’clock. They came into my office at about a quarter to four, and I had a little private chat with Dwight that maybe lasted four or five minutes, and that was it.”
So no point, you never had anything in there to measure his interest in staying here?
“No, in fact our decision was independent of anything you may have read about what maybe his desires were or weren’t. Our feeling was, no matter what anyone says, let’s just get him to Los Angeles and we’ll take our chances.”
Is the thought process that winning takes care of it?
“It’s the organization, ownership, the city of Los Angeles, our ability to win games, surrounding Dwight with players that will make it easier for him to play the game and not have to burden a load that’s maybe not fair."
What concerns did you have about his back?
“It’s a concern of course. Somebody had back surgery, but I had two back surgeries, and I had it when they were using rocks and rebar to open up a back. So today, 35 or 40 years later, they’re so sophisticated. Players come back in six, seven months, and we feel very assured that he’s going to be back. We’re hopeful he’s back for camp, we’re hopeful he’s back to start the season, but we know he’s going to be back and playing at a high level at some point in time.”
How much do you have available to you to learn what is going on with him health wise?
“Just today, this morning, we were given permission to talk with his physician. He expects a full recovery.”
Before or after the paperwork, you talked with him?
“That was before, yes, but all players are subject to physicals anyway, so it didn’t matter if it was before or after.”
Thoughts on Bynum’s career in L.A.:
“He played seven years here, he had a great career. Unfortunately, there were two freak injuries that set him back a little bit, but we’re talking about the starting center in the East getting traded for the starting center in the West. I don’t think anybody has to defend Andrew Bynum’s accomplishments. He’s going to an area that’s a little closer to home. He’s going to continue to grow, on and off the court. We had no concerns. In fact, as I mentioned on Wednesday Jimmy came by and we were sitting down looking at our team and talking about this is the team we’re going to have going forward, and we felt great about it.”
What motivated you to make the trade, then?
“We got the best.”
What have you said to Andrew?
“I did not speak to Andrew. I texted him and I left a message for him. I spoke to his representative. I will talk to him at some point in time. When we traded Derek Fisher, I did the same thing. Subsequent to the trade I ended up speaking to Derek. It took a couple, maybe more than a couple weeks, but it’s a shock to be traded and I think it’s a shock to be traded from Los Angeles. I think this is a location where players want to play. I don’t think – in fact, in all my years there’s only one player that left Los Angeles, and I’m still not quite sure why he did it, and that’s A.C. Green. So it’s a shock to be traded. I don’t think Andrew wanted to be traded. Certainly, he’s very aware of the rumors so he’s not shocked that it took place. It’s an adjustment.”
At times, he seemed indifferent to being here. Statements about getting paid anywhere.
“I think that’s just the way he says things. I think he embraced Los Angeles, and we could have kept him for a long time here.”
As talented as Dwight is, were any of the maturity issues with Andrew a consideration?
“That wasn’t a concern for us. At least not for me.”
LOL: While I do think the Lakers were absolutely willing to keep Bynum around for a long time, his answer regarding Howard's status as the league's top center -- totally truthful, by the way -- allowed him to simultaneously deflect any potential concerns about maturity issues regarding Drew. I don't know if Kupchak was being entirely truthful, but it doesn't matter. The Lakers ultimately made the trade because Howard is better, making the other stuff moot.
When you talk about it being a frustrating negotiation, what was it that made you feel that way?
“I just never felt that there was a deal that they thought they would do. Without going into great detail, I just felt the Magic were just canvassing the league – which is the job. There’s a timetable for everybody, but our timetable really should have no effect on their timetable. Up until Wednesday, I didn’t think there’d be a deal. It got really quiet a couple weeks ago. Before that it was really crazy, and then it just died. We had kind of moved on. We re-signed Jordan Hill, we signed Antawn Jamison. Thought it was over.”
Did you guys have a timeline in mind on how long you would keep talks open?
“We were about there, really. It can’t go on forever. Our feeling was that Orlando wasn’t going to let it go on forever, either, but they always had the option to wait. We never gave them a deadline, there was intimation that there were deadlines that we had to deal with, and there were. We were signing players, and filling out our roster.”
Along the way, were there times you thought it was coming? The deal would happen?
“Yeah, you do. Rob, I don’t have a relationship with him like I do with the other general managers because it takes time to get to know somebody, so I have to learn his style. But looking back on it, he did exactly what he was supposed to do. He took his time, he looked at every opportunity, narrowed it down, negotiated, went back to a different team and negotiated some more, and kept on coming back to you. I never thought it would be a four-team deal, I thought it might be a three-team deal. So even when I thought there might be a deal, he went out and found a fourth team to make it a better deal.”
Who brought in Philly and Denver?
There was confusion Thursday as to whether Gasol would be part of the deal.
“He was never part of a deal ... No deal this summer.”
How significant is it you were able to keep him?
“I think it speaks for itself, to be able to have both players. We never really contemplated trading both players, but they’re in a different spot, too. I think if you asked them, they would probably tell you they would probably say that they never wanted both players. When you take two players like that, you’re assuming you have certain obligations. And if you’ve decided that you want to rebuild the team, then that’s probably not how you do it. But to be able to keep Pau Gasol and get a player like Dwight Howard? I know I’m ecstatic, I know Jim Buss is ecstatic, and I know our coaches [are as well].
When I told them yesterday in the office after we had the conference call, I told Mike that I thought we had a deal. He looked at me and he said, “Who are we getting?” I said, “Dwight Howard.” He said, “Who’s going out?” I said,” Andrew.”
He looked at me and said, “That’s all?” And of course, Josh [McRoberts], and draft picks [were going, but in terms of principles that was it].
I said, “Yeah, that’s all.”
And he got up and hugged me.”
What tipped it? Why did things change on Wednesday?
“I have no idea, however one thing that may have been a part of it, players – rookies who were signed – they can’t be traded I believe for 30 days. And Moe Harkless was signed I think 31 days ago. So that may have had something to do with it. Maybe they were waiting, and maybe they were going to do something with Philly and weren’t going to tell us about it until they were sure. I know Denver was a late entry. They really didn’t commit until recently. So I’m starting to think there was always something there between Orlando and Philly, but they had to wait.”
Is the starting five for this year's Lakers team the best you have ever seen?
“Certainly they’re an accomplished starting five. I wish they were all 22. I’d feel a lot better than I do, but I feel pretty good now.”