Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak not demoralized by free-agent failures

Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak talks to reporters after Jahlil Okafor worked out for the team at its practice facility.

Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak talks to reporters after Jahlil Okafor worked out for the team at its practice facility.

(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

Nine days after “The Meeting” and five days after LaMarcus Aldridge officially snubbed the Lakers, General Manager Mitch Kupchak finally had a chance to speak publicly about it.

Kupchak acknowledged the Lakers need to change how they make presentations to free agents, but he said the failure to land a big-name free agent for a third consecutive summer wasn’t a staggering defeat in his mind.

“No, not at all. It wasn’t demoralizing,” Kupchak said Thursday. “It’s a part of doing business. There are 30 very, very competitive NBA teams. All general managers are smart. They’re armed with brilliant supporting staffs, owners that are very successful. It’s unrealistic to think in this day and age that every time you go into the free-agent market you’re going to get exactly who you target.”

Aldridge was particularly unhappy with the Lakers’ lack of basketball info during his two-hour introductory meeting with them last week.


“I would just say live and learn,” Kupchak said. “We [will] learn how to improve [our] presentation. Every player’s different. You can’t have the same presentation for every player. We’ll get better at it. Our team will get better. We’ll be more attractive.”

Kupchak said the Lakers ran out of time to complete their pitch to Aldridge. Another team was waiting in the hallway to talk to the four-time All-Star power forward.

“I think we accomplished the part about how much we wanted this player in Los Angeles, but the basketball component, I didn’t feel, was covered in depth,” Kupchak said. The Lakers were granted another meeting with Aldridge that was more basketball-driven, though he still signed with San Antonio.

Kupchak acknowledged the Lakers’ lack of roster talent was another problem in dealing with free agents. They also met with Greg Monroe, who chose Milwaukee, and DeAndre Jordan, who eventually landed back with the Clippers.

Dwight Howard left the Lakers for less money in 2013 and Carmelo Anthony returned to New York instead of picking them last year, though he was impressed by the team’s Hollywood-themed pitch, unlike Aldridge.

After striking out last week, the Lakers restocked their roster by acquiring Indiana center Roy Hibbert for a second-round pick and signing Lou Williams, the NBA’s sixth man of the year last season with Toronto. The Lakers also added veteran power forward Brandon Bass.

It’s enough to make the playoffs in the tough-as-ever Western Conference, Kupchak said.

“It’s a little early, but I would say yes,” Kupchak said. “I don’t see why we don’t contend for a playoff spot, but our young players have to grow beyond their years and we have to stay healthy.”

Many eyes will be on D’Angelo Russell, the No. 2 overall pick in the June draft and last year’s seventh overall selection, Julius Randle, as well as Jordan Clarkson, when the Lakers begin summer-league play Friday in Las Vegas against Minnesota.

The Lakers finished 21-61 last season, the worst campaign in their 67-year history.

With two young versatile guards, the team is penciling in Kobe Bryant at small forward and allowing Russell and Clarkson to play in the backcourt, though it could change between now and October.

“I think all three of those guys are going to be playing a lot together, but I don’t know exactly how I’m going to do it yet,” Lakers Coach Byron Scott said Thursday.

Scott wasn’t sure if Bryant would sit out games to rest like he did last season. “The one thing I want to do is make sure he’s able to play this whole year hopefully injury-free,” Scott said. “I don’t want to overload him with minutes.”

Scott seemed impressed by Randle’s ability to shed almost 20 pounds after he broke his leg on opening night of his rookie season.

“I saw him the other day. I don’t go ‘Wow’ with a lot of things, but he had his shirt off and I said, ‘Wow, OK man, that baby fat is kind of gone,’ ” Scott said.

Former Lakers forward Metta World Peace recently guarded Randle in an open scrimmage at the team’s training facility, and the results were encouraging.

“If Metta says you’re strong, you’re pretty strong. Metta said that kid is super strong,” Scott said. “Every now and then, Metta got the best of him but when he hit Metta, man, Metta kind of bounced off of him. We all kind of stood there, like, whoa.”

More good news: Randle’s shooting range has improved to 17-18 feet.

There were already positive reviews of Russell after a few days of practice for the Lakers’ summer-league team this week. “Everybody seems to want to play with him because he’s a ‘point guard.'… He shares that ball,” Scott said.

Clarkson would handle the ball less than Russell, Scott said, and had extended his outside touch after a strong three months to end his rookie season.

“He’s been knocking that thing down on a regular basis, and from deep,” Scott said.

Twitter: Mike_Bresnahan