Mitch Kupchak: Lakers to 'go all out'
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Without naming any names, Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak let it be known that his team is ready to open its doors for LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony if the coveted free-agent tandem wants to come to L.A.
"We're prepared," Kupchak said late Thursday night after the Lakers hosted an NBA draft event at their practice facility. "If any of those players do want to make a move, we're prepared. And if we get word, when we're allowed to get word, we will go all out."
Kupchak and the Lakers cannot contact James, Anthony or any other player they would want to sign until the league's free-agency period begins at 12:01 a.m. ET July 1. Both the Miami Heat and New York Knicks will have a severe advantage in retaining their superstar players by being able to offer a five-year deal and more money, versus the four years L.A. could put on the table. Then again, the Lakers learned with Dwight Howard last summer that money isn't everything.
"There's only so much you can do," Kupchak said. "The rules, at least financially, are such that for a max, max player, you're talking taking $30 [million], $35 million less to make a move. There are some players that are willing to do that, and some players just aren't. But we are prepared with enough space to be aggressive."
The Lakers were able to rapidly retool in the summer of 2012 by trading for Howard and Steve Nash. This time around, they have close to $30 million in cap space available to revamp their team via free agency, with just Kobe Bryant, Nash, Robert Sacre and Kendall Marshall (once the Lakers exercise their team option) on the books for next season.
"We're still going to pitch that this is a championship franchise and that's going to be our goal," Kupchak said. "As long as Kobe is on this team, we have to believe that we can contend for a championship."
Speaking of Bryant, Kupchak reported that the veteran guard, who currently is vacationing in Greece, is fully recovered from the torn Achilles and fractured knee in his left leg that limited him to just six games last season.
"Kobe is fine," Kupchak said. "Obviously, he has to prove that. But he's been in here working out, and you wouldn't know [he was hurt]. He looks great. He has to perform at a level next year to prove that, but he looks great."
While the Lakers currently do not have any meetings planned with James or Anthony, Kupchak was well aware Bryant could have already been doing recruiting on behalf of the purple and gold.
"My understanding is that a lot of the players at different levels talk to each other, and quite frankly, I don't know what they say," Kupchak said. "They do recruit each other, and I would not be surprised if Kobe reaches out or if free agents reach out to Kobe. I know from time to time we recruit free agents. I'll call Kobe and say, 'Hey, give this guy a call.' We did it with Steve Nash a couple years ago. So it's not unusual. When we do it, it's after July 1st. Players talk year round."
ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported earlier this week that Bryant already has been in contact with Anthony during the offseason about potentially teaming up together.
If the Lakers do not land either of the crown jewels of the summer free-agency class, Kupchak said the team would be patient with its cap space.
"We don't exactly know who is going to be in the [free-agency] class of 2014," Kupchak said. "We know a little bit more now than we did a week ago, but we still don't have a complete picture and we won't have it until June 30th. Having said that, the class is a large class, but in terms of the best of the best, there is only a couple, three really, really [dynamic players].
"It's a good class, but in terms of today who might be at the very top, maybe it's not as large as it might be next year or the year after. And keeping that in mind, we structured our salary knowing that, hey, you might not get two or three guys, but we have enough room to get at least one. And if we don't have one and we choose to, we can go down the road and have flexibility next year and the year after that."
Kupchak also updated the Lakers' coaching search, saying he had put it on hold while the Lakers prepared for the draft the past several weeks. He does not anticipate hiring anyone between now and when free agency begins.
"We may continue to interview, but we have a pretty good feel of what's available and we're comfortable that we can get a good coach, probably in the beginning of July," Kupchak said.
Former Lakers great Byron Scott is considered the leading candidate for the position, having interviewed with the team multiple times in meetings Kupchak said went well.
Contrary to reports, Kupchak said the Lakers will not let prospective free agents influence the hiring process.
"Not really," Kupchak said. "I think more importantly would be the draft, who we got in the draft, two players and, I guess to some degree, how we fare in free agency. The style of player that we procure, whether we bring back players from our team last year. And we'll look for a coach that can coach the players that we have."
The Lakers selected Julius Randle, a 6-foot-9 forward out of Kentucky, with the No. 7 pick and bought the No. 46 pick from the Washington Wizards for $1.8 million in order to acquire Jordan Clarkson, a 6-5 combo guard out of Missouri.
"It will be [chaotic]," Kupchak said of the impending free-agency period. "We made the job a little bit easier today. We got two players. So now we're up to six [on our roster], and you got to get to 13. But it's nice. It's nice to almost be halfway through."