Lakers GM: No blaming Steve Nash
LOS ANGELES -- Despite Steve Nash appearing in just 60 of the Lakers' 135 games since L.A. acquired the aging point guard in July 2012, general manager Mitch Kupchak said he would not change a thing about how the team pursued the two-time league MVP.
"No regrets," Kupchak said before the Lakers played the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday. "You have to recognize where you are as a franchise and we felt we had a two-year window, maybe three, to go for a championship and that's what we did.
"Looking back on it, which nobody can do, that's a different story. But at the time, we knew exactly what we were doing."
Nash, who missed Thursday's game because of nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings stemming from a collision with Chicago's Kirk Hinrich over the weekend, told reporters that he is not giving up on the season and hopes to play after the All-Star break.
"I feel terrible for him, I really do," Kupchak said of the 40-year-old Nash. "Nobody expected him to break his leg in the second game and it's been one thing after another since then.
"Some players would sulk and kind of get depressed and say, 'Well, I'm 38 years old -- or whatever it is -- and maybe it wasn't meant to be.' But this guy has worked harder than anybody to get back and I just feel terrible for him, I really do.
"Someone who's had that kind of career, that's worked that hard, that came here to win a championship, something that's eluded him for years. But those things are out of his control and they're out of our control."
Whether or not Nash is in the fold moving forward, Kupchak isn't simply going to concede losses the rest of the season for his struggling team.
But he's come to grips with the reality that his time is best spent considering the future of the franchise than the present state of affairs.
Someone who's had that kind of career, that's worked that hard, that came here to win a championship, something that's eluded him for years. But those things are out of his control and they're out of our control.” -- Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak
With that in mind, Kupchak nearly chose to scout the Colorado-UCLA game on Thursday rather than head to Staples Center for his team's 107-103 loss to the West-leading Thunder, in which the Lakers set a franchise record with their seventh consecutive loss at home. But he has a trio of other scouting trips planned in coming months.
And Kupchak is keeping that same mentality as the NBA trade deadline comes next Thursday, Feb. 20.
"Our approach to the trade deadline will be different than it's been in years past," Kupchak said. "In general, if there's a way for us to improve the franchise going forward, we'll do it. That may or may not be possible, but if there is a way to improve our positioning, our footing, the picture going forward, we'll look to do something."
Kupchak said that bringing the Lakers' $79.3 million payroll under the $71.7 million luxury-tax level through trades is not a major concern, even with the repeater tax under the new collective bargaining agreement, which penalizes teams with more punitive fees unless they get under the luxury tax twice every four years.
"It's going to be very difficult for us to be a repeater in the next two years just by virtue of all the free agents we have," said Kupchak, noting that only three of L.A.'s 15 players are under contract for next season. "And then even if you're in the repeater tax, if you're in the repeater tax by $30 million, you get killed. If you're in the repeater tax by a $1.5 million or $2 [million], then it's really inconsequential."
Kupchak characterized the trade market as "quiet" heading into All-Star Weekend but said the Lakers hope to make some noise in stockpiling picks for June's draft, which he considers to be the deepest it's been in years.
"I think it's a really good draft," Kupchak said. "Like most drafts, it changes going into the season and when you're in the middle of the season, and I expect it to change still a little bit between the beginning of March until the end of March. But I think it's a good draft, and some players that I don't think anybody expected to be formidable picks in the draft a month ago, you're starting to see some guys you didn't hear about play really well."
Kupchak estimates he can see about 10 first-round prospects in person with a trip to Kentucky to watch the Wildcats take on Florida, a trip to North Carolina to see UNC-Wake Forest and Syracuse-Duke and also a trip to Eastern Europe that his scouting department will arrange.
Even though the Lakers will likely have a lottery selection for the first time since 2005, Kupchak said the team's draft preparation has remained steady compared to seasons when it only held a pick in the second round.
"Our feeling has always been even if you don't have a pick you could always end up with a pick, and if you end up with a pick the day before the [draft in a] trade, you better know the players," Kupchak said.
The Lakers had the league's fifth-worst record going into Thursday at 18-34 but could receive up to four healthy players back in the lineup next week in Pau Gasol (groin), Jordan Farmar (hamstring), Jodie Meeks (ankle) and Nash (nerve irritation).
Kupchak said the effect that would have on how the Lakers prepare for the draft would be minimal.
"Winning is never a bad thing," Kupchak said. "If you try to manipulate the draft, my experience -- I'm not a karma guy -- but if you try to manipulate this thing, it never works out the way you think it's going to work out. You're better off doing what you know is the right thing is to do and whatever happens, happens for the right reason. And that's our approach."
Kupchak also offered up his support to Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni.
"I think he's done a great job," Kupchak said of D'Antoni. "Under very trying circumstances, I think he's done a great job."