HOUSTON — These are rough days for Lakers fans. Very.
Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak, however, sounded at ease during a phone interview with The Times, going over a variety of topics on a team that can't stay healthy, play defense or, seemingly, make the playoffs.
First things first. Kupchak is satisfied with Coach Mike D'Antoni, blaming the Lakers' woes on injuries and saying D'Antoni is doing a "great job."
"We're happy with Mike," Kupchak said Wednesday. "You can look back six weeks ago and say it's exciting and we're playing great. It's hard to ignore the injuries but it was a fun game to watch when we were playing without Kobe [Bryant] and anticipating his return. In other words, 'Wow, we're playing this well now and Kobe has still yet to return and neither has [Steve] Nash?' So we had high hopes."
Then Kupchak self-deprecatingly critiqued himself.
"Quite frankly, I thought three point guards going into the season was plenty deep. What did I know?" he said.
Kupchak was less humorous and not very forthcoming when asked for the odds Pau Gasol would still be with the Lakers after the Feb. 20 trade deadline.
"My job is to be the caretaker of this team for this year and going forward," Kupchak said. "And every move we make, depending upon the makeup of the team and your record at the time, has to be done with vision.
"Some years at the trade deadline, you're 45-17, so you look for a different kind of pickup to shore up a weakness because you're going for a championship that year. And then some years you may not have that kind of record and you have to look a year or two beyond that.
"I don't know where we're going to be six weeks from now and certainly we're going through a very rough time right now, but we're going to monitor the team closely and look for opportunities to help the team either in the short run or the long term."
Kupchak definitely didn't question the two-year, $48.5-million contract extension recently given to Bryant, who sustained a fractured knee only six games after returning from a torn Achilles' tendon.
"I am comfortable with the organization's decision," Kupchak said. "Maybe you'd be more open to criticism if he reinjured the Achilles but he didn't. It's a separate injury, completely unexpected.
"We do expect him back this year and we expect him to play at a high level for the next two years. In fact, he was two or three games away, I thought, from basically being what he was last year. He was really getting better game to game.
"He's the anchor of this organization. He's been really good to us. It's been ownership's position that he deserved every penny, or will deserve every penny of that extension."
The Lakers are sitting at 14-22, closer to the bottom of the Western Conference than a playoff spot. Should they tank? Go for a better draft position? They hold a first-round pick for the first time since 2007.
"In any sport, that should never be a factor, whether it's NBA basketball or football or baseball," Kupchak said adamantly. "That's the worst possible message you could send to anybody anywhere, whether it's a fan or a player or a coach, and we will not do that. Our players will play hard and fight to the very end."
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