Lakers Now

Mitch Kupchak says Lakers may retire both '8' and '24' for Kobe Bryant

After Kobe Bryant retires, the Lakers will eventually hang his jersey up in the rafters at Staples Center.

Which of Bryant's two numbers will the Lakers honor?

"I don't know the answer. Obviously it's going to be 8, 24 or it could be both," said Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak at a season ticket holder event Sunday.

Bryant played the first half of his career with No. 8, winning three championships. He wore 24 for the Lakers' most recent two titles.

Kupchak said the Lakers need to turn the page once Bryant steps away from the game.

"We cannot move on as a team until Kobe leaves," said Kupchak. "Part of that to me is painful because I've been here 20 years with Kobe.

"This is a year that's dedicated to Kobe and his farewell," he continued.  "From my point of view it gives me complete clarity. ... We know what our [salary] cap situation is going to be like."

The Lakers could have in the neighborhood of $60 million in cap room this summer.

In the meantime, the team is grooming its young core of players.

"We feel in the last two years that we've gotten at least five attractive young players," said Kupchak, listing Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, D'Angelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr. and Anthony Brown.

We're so much in a better spot today than we were a year ago.  We didn't have that core," said Kupchak.

The GM said he expects all but Brown to play in the NBA's rookie/sophomore game during All-Star Weekend.

Clarkson will be a restricted free agent this summer, but the Lakers have significant leverage to bring him back.

"It's going to be virtually impossible for him to leave us," said Kupchak.

He also spoke at length about the development of Russell, the team's rookie guard taken with the second overall pick in June's NBA draft.

"D'Angelo is not a point guard," said Kupchak. "If you talk to D'Angelo, if he was sitting right here, he would say he's a basketball player.

"If you've watched some of his recent games there's nobody in the NBA that can pass like he can," he continued.

Kupchak marveled at Russell's improvement from summer league, where he was "at best, mediocre."

"From where he was then, to where he is today, is night and day.  I think he has a chance to be an elite guard in this league," he said.

"[Russell] makes a ton of mistakes — a ton of turnovers, defensively getting himself in trouble, picking up his dribble in the corner," said Kupchak of the team's 19-year-old prospect. "He wants to get better and he wants to get better now. Those of you who have teenagers, it doesn't happen now, whatever the behavior is you're trying to change, pound away, pound away, pound away.

"At some point they hear what you're saying or they learn, and part of it is just growing up."

Meanwhile, the Lakers have built a two-game winning streak after beating the Celtics in Boston and 76ers at Staples Center.

Is Kupchak conflicted when the Lakers win games, given the franchise could lose its draft pick to the Philadelphia if it doesn't get through the NBA draft lottery with a top three pick, as part of the Steve Nash trade?

"The answer, of course, is yes," said Kupchak. "Our players and our coaches are instructed to do only one thing, and that's to win the game, and you let the chips fall where they may.

"If it's destined that we're one, two or three, then so be it.  If it's four, five or six and it goes to Philly and we have our five guys and we have our cap room, we'll move on."

Kupchak referenced the blocked Chris Paul trade in 2011, that set the Lakers back in their quest to help the team win a sixth championship with Bryant.

"We had an opportunity to make a trade that was not allowed, which I've let go — obviously I'm still talking about it, but I've let it go," he said.

Where does Kupchak place Bryant among the greatest Lakers of all time, a list that includes Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain?

"The fact that [Bryant] put together 20 years, to me, separates [him] from the pack," said Kupchak.

"We're so lucky and gifted to be able to watch this guy. To make his announcement, now you can watch every game on TV; come to every game in the arena — and really appreciate what you're looking at," said Kupchak.  "It's really a gift that he's giving us."

"It's going to be a really sad moment when we look at our roster sheet, and you go down the sheet and Kobe Bryant's name is not going to be on it."

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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