- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
LOS ANGELES -- Mitch Kupchak spent more than a decade working in the Los Angeles Lakers front office alongside Phil Jackson as the head coach, winning five championships in their time together. Despite their purple-and-gold ties, the Lakers' general manager totally understands Jackson's decision to join the New York Knicks as their new team president.
"Based on what took place [at Jackson's introductory news conference Tuesday], to me, it sounds like something that's just too good to be true and too good to pass up on," Kupchak told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Wednesday before the Lakers hosted the San Antonio Spurs.
Jackson, 68, signed a five-year deal with New York for a reported $60 million.
Last summer Kupchak characterized Jackson as a "consultant of sorts" for the Lakers, and Jackson detailed Tuesday that he helped the organization try to recruit Dwight Howard to re-sign with the team.
"We talked," Kupchak acknowledged. "It was about a year ago, a little bit less than a year ago, and Phil and I sat down for an hour, hour and a half, two hours, just to talk basketball and about a lot of things. We've had lunch in the past also. And I don't know when it came up in the conversation. That wasn't the purpose of our discussion, but it kind of came up and he mentioned, 'Mitch, if you'd like me to help, let me know.' So that's really how it came up."
Jackson, of course, was also helping out his fiancée, Lakers president Jeanie Buss.
While Jackson's involvement in getting Howard to stay in L.A. didn't work out, the 13-time champion (11 as a coach, two as a player) finally found a way to get back into the league in an official capacity with the Knicks.
"I think it's great," said Kupchak, who sent Jackson a congratulatory note on the job but told ESPNLosAngeles.com that he did not speak at length with Jackson at any point during his negotiations with the Knicks. "I'm happy for him. I know the last year or two he was getting bored a little bit and didn't have any interest in coaching, so there's really only one way to go and it sounds like a great opportunity.
"They made a heck of a commitment to him. It's a franchise that he started with, a storied franchise. He looked great [at the news conference]. He looked like he was vibrant, and he said he's feeling pretty good. His motor is not at what it used to be, but he said he's feeling pretty good, so I think maybe the timing is correct."
While Kupchak's support of his old colleague was to be expected, Jackson also got a vote of confidence from an old rival of his in Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
"I think it's fantastic," Popovich said before the game. "It's wonderful for everybody concerned. It's definitely great for the league to have him back in it, to have a personality and a mind like that, a success story. It's great for the Knicks. They'll figure it out. He'll get it going. And it's great for him. I'm sure he's enjoying the challenge and the remuneration."
Jackson said he hopes to bring the necessary "culture" to the Knicks organization, something that Popovich has already accomplished in San Antonio, with which he has won four championships since 1999.
"It's difficult to be specific, but what's true is a synergy has to form between the owner, whoever the president is, whoever the GM is, whoever the coach is. There's got to be a synergy there where there's a trust," Popovich said. "There is no walls. There is no territory. Everything is discussed. Everything is fair game. Criticism is welcome, and when you have that, then you have a hell of an organization. That free flow through all those people is what really makes it work. And that includes everything from draft to O's and X's. Nothing should be left to one area -- only to the president, only to the GM, only to the coach -- or the culture just doesn't form. At least that's what's worked for us."
Jackson lauded Popovich's program in a recent interview with USA Today.
"It's certainly a process, but it has to start with people who are comfortable in their own skin and people who are confident in what they do, but understand it's about a group," Popovich said. "It's not about any one person. We always talk about we like players who have gotten over themselves. Well, it's the same with a GM or a president or an owner: You got to get over yourself and realize that it takes a group to get this thing done, and I'm sure Phil knows that."