GM: Lakers 'pursuing big deals'
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers are not done dealing.
"We are pursuing big deals right now," said Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak on Monday. "More than one big deal."
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Kupchak broke his silence following a frenzied four days that saw a trade nixed by NBA commissioner David Stern that would have landed Chris Paul in L.A. and ultimately ended up with Lamar Odom being shipped to Dallas for no players in return.
While no trade is imminent and Kupchak said he "expects" the Lakers' core Big Three of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum to be together for the season, the GM explained why the franchise has shifted its philosophy from standing pat with the group that made it to three of the last four NBA Finals.
"Opportunity," Kupchak said. "The environment has been dormant up until the day (team executives) were cut loose to go (pursue trades) ... There were no discussions (before that). Nobody knew who wanted to be where ... (or) what the present rules were, what the future rules are and, you know, nothing. Just some innuendo and some rumor you'd hear every now and then, but when we were cut loose two weeks ago, everything changed.
"You have to deal with those opportunities as they come up."
One of those opportunities continues to be Paul after a proposed trade between the Clippers and Hornets that was close to going through seems to have been put on hold.
Kupchak did not speak in specifics, but hinted that other players could be involved than were originally reported in the three-team deal between Houston, New Orleans and L.A. that would have made Paul a Laker for Odom and Gasol and then sent Gasol to the Rockets for Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic and a 2012 first round pick.
"A lot of the players that were in (the vetoed trade), nobody even knows who they are," Kupchak said.
To an extent, he seemed to be still reeling from the vetoed trade.
"It was completely unexpected. I'm not sure if it ever happened before. I'm not sure if it will ever happen again," Kupchak said. "I was completely surprised. We did the best we can to express our displeasure, but to date, there's been no change."
While more deals could be on the horizon, Kupchak's meeting with reporters in the Lakers' "war room" was a chance to dissect the deal that sent the reigning Sixth Man of the Year to the team that swept the Lakers out of the playoffs last spring.
Kupchak said Odom would not have been moved to the Mavericks along with a 2012 second round pick for an $8.9 million trade exception and Dallas' 2012 first round pick if Odom had not requested to be traded Friday.
While the move saves the Lakers nearly $18 million in salary and luxury tax penalties this season, Kupchak refused to characterize it as a straight salary dump.
"I could see how people look at it that way, but the fact remains it would not have taken place if (Odom) didn't ask for a trade," Kupchak said.
Kupchak also addressed the subject of parsing down roster salary in the long run, especially with the new punitive luxury tax measures that go into effect starting in the third season of the new 10-year collective bargaining agreement.
He expects only a "team or two" to regularly dip into the tax moving forward. The Lakers paid about $20 million in luxury tax penalties each of the last two seasons, a fine that would balloon to more than double in the new system. Still, Kupchak said Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss could still be willing to spend big to win big.
"The way he operates, he has no problem paying for somebody, but it's like, 'Show me who it is, and then I'll make that decision if I think it's worth it,'" Kupchak said. "I'll never say that he won't do it, but he'd want to know who that player is. If it's a primo player and that means going into the tax, I wouldn't be surprised if he did it." Kupchak addressed another provision of the new CBA, the amnesty clause, and confirmed the Lakers do not play on using it right now.
The Odom deal brings the Lakers "flexibility," according to Kupchak and the team did not want to continue to keep Odom on the team and risk a worse outcome.
"You have to make a judgment," Kupchak said. "Is he going to carry this with him for the rest of the season? Is he not going to play as well? Are you going to have an opportunity (to trade him) that we have now? We made that decision."
Lakers co-captains Bryant and Derek Fisher both spoke out about the trade at the team's media day on Sunday. Bryant said, "I don't like it" and expressed his displeasure over Odom being dealt to Dallas, of all teams.
"I've seen the comments the players made and I understand that," Kupchak said. "You go to war with a guy like Lamar for six-seven years and you win two championships and go to the Finals three times, you're going to feel that you've missed a guy and you feel for him. You feel for the whole group."
"We try not get caught up in, 'Well, what does it do to their team?' We look at it our team and how is it going to improve our team or potentially improve our team," Kupchak said.
Bryant said Monday the Odom trade "still doesn't make sense" to him, but gave Kupchak a vote of confidence, saying the GM's track record has earned Kupchak "a license to be able to do whatever the hell he wants." Bryant also said the Lakers are good enough to win a championship as is.
Kupchak, who has been working 14-18 hour days for the last two weeks, seemed exasperated by the microwaved player movement period that the league has forced on its teams by deciding to start the season on Dec. 25 after a five-month long lockout.
"I think everybody feels the urgency to condense something that's normally done over a month or two with planning that takes place for a year, into a two-week period with no planning," he said. "I think that includes the NBA."
Added Kupchak: "It's something we've never dealt with before. The NBA is shooting from the hip."
While long work days are sure to follow, more deals will be put in place and even more deals will fall apart, one thing remains certain.
"We're going to get through it and there's going to be a game on Christmas Day, I know that," Kupchak said.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.