Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak discusses the trade deadline, tanking and more

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak discusses the trade deadline, tanking and more
Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak attends a college basketball game between Loyola Marymount and Brigham Young on Feb. 7. (Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

The process of turning the Lakers back into an immediate NBA contender will be a daunting task for General Manager Mitch Kupchak.

Even with the possibility of having up to four draft picks that could include a top-five pick in the June 25 NBA draft, even with a projected $24 million in spending power when free agency starts July 1 and even with the return of injured players Kobe Bryant and Julius Randle next season, that still probably won't be enough for the Lakers to have a complete turnaround.

Kupchak did say during a 20-minute interview with reporters Friday that things for the Lakers "can turn quickly" over the summer because "you have picks and you have a lot of financial flexibility" to improve.


"I'd love to be able to put together a young team that can win 55 games next year," Kupchak said. "But it's not that easy. It's just not that easy."

The Lakers passed on making any deals by Thursday's NBA trade deadline, even though Kupchak said "there was activity."

But there was little incentive for the Lakers to make a trade and then give up their financial flexibility in the summer.

"So there were just a lot of limitations as to what you could really do" by Thursday, Kupchak said. "But having said that, there were a couple of things that we were looking at and didn't come to fruition."

The Lakers had the fourth-worst record (13-40) in the NBA entering Friday night's game against Brooklyn, and currently hold a 11.9% chance at landing the top pick in the draft.

They have the top-five protected pick owned to Phoenix for the Steve Nash trade. Phoenix traded that pick to Philadelphia on Thursday, meaning now the Lakers owe the pick to the 76ers. The Lakers also have Houston's first-round pick for the Jeremy Lin trade — which figures to be in the mid-to-late 20s — and they could have two second-round picks.

As bad as the Lakers are this season, Kupchak said they aren't going to tank the last 28 regular-season games just to be ensured of getting that top-five pick.

"I just don't know how you send that message to a coaching staff or players," Kupchak said. "That's not just something that we want people to think that we would do."

The Lakers will get Bryant, who had season-ending rotator cuff surgery on his right shoulder, and rookie Randle, who is recovering from a broken right leg, back next season.

But Kupchak is not sure how much longer Bryant, 36, will play. Bryant is due to make $25 million next season.

Kupchak acknowledged the All-Star, who will be embarking on his 20th season in the NBA, is nearing the end of his career.

That means at some point the Lakers will have to start preparing for the future without Bryant.

"So at some point we have to start a new run," Kupchak said. "That's definitely going to include Kobe next year. Beyond that…. So to jeopardize the next five or seven years and bring in old veterans that make a lot of money just to win one more year because that's Kobe's last year or could be his last year, I'm not sure that fits into doing things the right way."