Sources: Blazers eye Mitch Kupchak

Updated: April 20, 2012, 2:55 PM ET
By Marc Stein and Chris Broussard | ESPN.com

The Portland Trail Blazers have strong interest in interviewing Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak for their GM vacancy, according to sources familiar with Portland's thinking.

Kupchak is one of the Blazers' top targets in their quest to land an executive with experience running a franchise's basketball operations, sources told ESPN.com.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the Lakers would be willing to grant Portland permission to speak to Kupchak, who has spent more than 25 years in L.A.'s front office.

Kupchak took over for Jerry West as the club's lead decision-maker in the basketball department in summer 2000 before gradually ceding that status to Jim Buss, who serves as the Lakers' executive vice president of player personnel.

Blazers president Larry Miller could not immediately be reached for comment and Kupchak did not immediately respond to messages left by ESPN.com. No one from the Blazers has contacted anyone on the Lakers staff about their interest in Kupchak, according to a league source.

"Maybe. I don't want to get into who's on our list [and] not on our list," Miller told The Oregonian newspaper Thursday.

Miller also told The Oregonian that he "can't answer" whether he will plan to seek permission to talk to Kupchak.

Sources close to the situation said Kupchak's latest contract with the Lakers is a lucrative multiyear deal. But Jim Buss -- son of longtime Lakers owner Jerry Buss -- is widely perceived to have the deciding vote on basketball matters and is regarded as the driving force not only behind drafting Andrew Bynum in 2005, but also the decision to hire Mike Brown over Rick Adelman as Phil Jackson's replacement as coach.

And that has spawned a growing belief among several of Kupchak's peers that the architect of the Pau Gasol trade in 2008 that ultimately led to two championships would have some interest in listening to outside proposals.

The Blazers are known to already have pursued TNT analyst Steve Kerr for the vacancy. The former Phoenix Suns executive repeatedly has declined comment about his interest in the position, but The Oregonian reported this week that Kerr still could be tempted if Blazers owner Paul Allen offered him Portland's coaching job in addition to say over personnel matters.

That's similar to the arrangement Gregg Popovich has in San Antonio alongside Spurs president R.C. Buford. Kerr has said in the past that he wants to try coaching when he leaves television to return to a team job.

Allen has both an interim coach (Kaleb Canales) and GM (Chad Buchanan) after the February dismissal of Nate McMillan as coach.

The younger Buss, in an interview this week with ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin, insisted he has a strong working relationship with Kupchak and that he still relies heavily on Kupchak's input and experience, which raises questions about how willing the Lakers would be to let Kupchak join another team in the same conference.

"Oh, it's healthy," Jim Buss said of his relationship with Kupchak. "We couldn't survive if we were yes men to each other or to my dad. The three of us will have an opinion, we'll argue our opinion and then eventually, it gets hashed out to where we're all on board or one guy isn't [and] two are and it doesn't really matter which two or which one. Except for my dad. If it's two against him, then we'll probably lose that battle."

Jim Buss disputes the notion that he is the reason the Lakers hired Brown, telling ESPNLosAngeles.com: "The Mike Brown decision was not my decision only. It was a collective unit and that was Mitch, my father and I. We went through the interview process, which, I'm sure you're aware of who they were.

"It wasn't my decision. People label that, I'm not sure why. I guess because they just want to. I'm not sure where that came from. It was a collective agreement that he was very impressive. We love his attention to detail. We felt that he was a fit for these kind of players and I have no regrets whatsoever."

In addition to Kerr, Yahoo! Sports reported earlier this month that the Blazers have interviewed player agent Noam Croom for the GM vacancy, which has been filled on an interim basis by Buchanan since May 2011, when Rich Cho's tenure as Kevin Pritchard's replacement lasted only one season. Croom was an assistant general manager with the Grizzlies in both Vancouver and Memphis from 1995 to 2000 before becoming an agent.

Allen said via Twitter recently that reports suggesting he is entertaining offers to sell the franchise are "absolutely false."

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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