Lakers GM: Changes are coming
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- In the aftermath of a second straight second-round exit from the playoffs, Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said Wednesday that a shakeup is in store for the franchise.
"There will be some change," Kupchak said Wednesday after finishing exit interviews with all but one player on the Lakers' roster. He and Kobe Bryant will meet either late this week or early next week near Bryant's home in Newport Beach, Calif. "There will be a bit of activity July 1st, looking at who we can bring back and dealing with the marketplace."
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Kupchak would not rule out the possibility of the Lakers pursuing a major trade to get the team back into championship contention.
"Why not? Sure," Kupchak said. "When you lose before you think you should have lost, you have to open up all opportunities."
Nearly half the Lakers roster is set to become free agents this offseason, accounting for the entire bench, except for Steve Blake, who still has two years remaining on his deal. Starting point guard Ramon Sessions could join that group if he decides to opt out of the final year of his contract, worth approximately $4.55 million.
"I have no idea what he's going to do," Kupchak said.
The Lakers won't let Andrew Bynum test the free-agent market as Kupchak said the team will pick up the $16.1 million option on Bynum for next season by the June 30 deadline. However, no decision has been made as to whether the Lakers will commence contract extension negotiations with their All-Star center.
"That's step one," Kupchak said of exercising Bynum's option. "Anything beyond that we'll discuss internally and precede if that's the course that we're going to take."
Another internal discussion will determine the fate of Pau Gasol. The Lakers tried to trade Gasol to Houston before the season began as part of a three-team deal that would have landed them Chris Paul from New Orleans. Gasol could find himself on the trade block again.
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"I think he and I are on the same page," Kupchak said of Gasol, heaping praise on the power forward for his professionalism in handling the trade speculation this season. "I have not met with ownership. I do not know what direction the team is going to go, what the parameters are going to be going forward, so there wasn't really anything additional to share with Pau."
Outside of re-signing the players on their roster that are set to become free agents or making a trade, the Lakers are limited in their options to improve because of restrictions in the new collective bargaining agreement that penalize luxury tax teams like L.A.
The Lakers can try to lure a free agent with the mini mid-level exception, worth approximately $3 million per year. They could try to lower their cap number by using the amnesty provision to get out from under one of the weighty contracts on their books, but Kupchak made it sound like the team would continue to hold on to it rather than use it on someone like Metta World Peace, who is owed approximately $15 million over the next two seasons.
They also have an $8.9 million trade exception acquired in the Lamar Odom deal with Dallas that would allow them to absorb a player making anywhere up to $8.9 million without sending another player out in return.
"That's one of the few assets we do have," Kupchak said.
This year's draft is projected to be the deepest it's been in nearly a decade, but right now the Lakers are on the outside looking in. Their lone selection in the draft is a second-rounder at pick No. 60, the last pick in the draft.
"We'll look to improve our position in the draft," Kupchak said. "I can't imagine us being in a position to simply step into a first-round pick. But there may be a way to get up to a little bit better position in the draft."
The GM said he believed the Lakers are still one of the top five or six contenders as currently constructed, but he is clearly fueled by disappointment as he sets out on shaping next season's roster.
"We get graded on the success of the team; that's how it is in this franchise," Kupchak said. "I know a lot of franchises are happy to get to the first round or advance beyond the first round. We certainly did no worse than we did a year ago, but we're disappointed. That's not how we grade ourselves, getting into the second round."
Despite the challenges, Kupchak said he still relishes his job with the Lakers and intends to be back calling the shots next season rather than inquire about one of the general manager vacancies around the league.
"If I weren't here, (Lakers owner) Dr. (Jerry) Buss would probably get 50 phone calls from present and former GMs that would love to have this job," Kupchak said. "That's because it's the best job in the league."