Mitch Kupchak: Lakers coach needs to get the most out of Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant played in just six games last season for the Lakers because of Achilles and knee injuries.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Lakers are slowly moving toward finding a new head coach. Very slowly.

“I would not anticipate hiring a coach in the next two or three weeks,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters.

A key element in the selection process will be how the Lakers’ next coach plans to use an aging Kobe Bryant.

Bryant and former coach Mike D’Antoni never saw eye to eye on the way to run an offense. D’Antoni wanted to go with a small-ball approach while Bryant and veteran Pau Gasol preferred a more traditional post-up scheme.


Gasol criticized it openly. Bryant was less outspoken, perhaps because he played only six games because of injuries.

Bryant and the Lakers’ next coach need to be on the same page, Kupchak implied. Preferably the same sentence too.

“We have a player on our team right now who’s proven in this league offensively who can score. That certainly is a consideration,” Kupchak said. “We have to make sure that whoever we hire as a coach can really get the most productivity out of him, whether it’s scoring the ball or playmaking or the threat that he may score. That’s probably of primary importance right now.”

Bryant turns 36 in August and is under contract for two more seasons and $48.5 million. He sat out the first 19 games last season while recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon and played for less than two weeks before sustaining a season-ending knee fracture in the same leg.

“We haven’t seen much of him in the last year but he’s been over here working out and he looks good,” Kupchak said from the team’s training facility. “Over the years, his game has changed from really a game where he’s pretty wild and athletic and at times out of control … in the early part of his career. In the last seven or eight years, he’s become more deliberate and of course he’s gotten a little bit older.

“I think you’ll see a lot of him posting up. I think you’ll see the ball in his hands making plays. I think Kobe knows where on the court he’ll be most effective.”

Before making a decision, the Lakers will talk to several candidates, including veterans George Karl and Jeff Van Gundy; former Lakers players Byron Scott and Kurt Rambis; and some college coaches, including Roy Williams. They have talked informally with some of them already.

D’Antoni resigned three weeks ago with one guaranteed year and $4 million remaining on his contract. He received about half of that money per terms of his resignation.


There is certainty in one thing in this search: “Clearly, it will be a longer process for obvious reasons,” Kupchak said. “We don’t really know what our team looks like.”

Still rivals?

The Lakers and Boston Celtics can never be in harmony, true?

So it wasn’t surprising to hear Kupchak disagree mildly with Celtics executive Danny Ainge, who said Tuesday he didn’t think there was anyone in the draft who would “come in and change the face of our franchise.”


Boston will pick sixth at the June 26 draft and the Lakers will select seventh after falling a spot in Tuesday’s lottery amid Cleveland’s unexpected rise from nine to No. 1.

“As far what Danny said, that’s up to him,” Kupchak said. “We think drafting at No. 7, there’s going to be a good player available there. Maybe Danny’s talking more about a guy that changes the face of an organization from the get-go. But you really can’t evaluate these things until years later when you look back on it.”

Kupchak mentioned Portland point guard Damian Lillard, who was taken sixth overall in 2012 and became an All-Star this season.

“I don’t think anybody thought walking to the draft that he would turn into a player as quickly as he did. Looking back on it, it’s a heck of a selection,” Kupchak said.


The Lakers could ultimately choose among players such as Kentucky power forward Julius Randle, Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart, Indiana power forward Noah Vonleh and Arizona power forward Aaron Gordon.

Anybody the Lakers select could start for them immediately because they have only four players under contract, Kupchak joked. Nick Young is expected to decline a player option for next season, so there could be only three players under contract once free agency begins.

Kupchak declined to say the Lakers’ one-spot drop was unlucky.

“I wouldn’t say it was bad luck,” Kupchak said. “We were hoping to get lucky but as you know, we could have dropped down to No. 9 too.”


Kupchak didn’t rule out trading the pick, though it would have been more valuable had the Lakers beaten the odds and moved into one of the top three spots. They had a 6.3% chance at taking No. 1, a 7.1% shot at No. 2 and an 8.1% chance at the third pick.

“It stands to reason that the higher the pick, the more value it has, but a six pick or a seven pick, which is where we ended up, certainly has value and we will evaluate that between now and the draft and July 1,” Kupchak said.

The NBA’s free-agency period begins July 1.