NBA Draft: Mitch Kupchak: ‘We’ll try to hit a home run’
In a bemusing tone, Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak apologized to reporters who waited five hours to talk to him about two inconsequential late second-round draft acquisitions.
But the focus on the Lakers’ offseason efforts will hardly center on the prospects of Marquette point guard Darius Johnson-Odom or Gonzaga center Robert Sacre. It will zero in on the Lakers’ failure to move up higher in the draft and whether the Lakers can make what Kupchak described as a “home run” during free agency.
Yet, Kupchak shared plenty of nuggets that show the effort will be difficult.
1. Kupchak had hoped to trade up in the first round. He described the effort as “active,” which The Times’ Mike Bresnahan reported involving dangling Pau Gasol in hopes to get one of the draft’s first few picks. But that effort fell short. So, too, did the Lakers’ hopes to acquire a mid-level first-round pick to acquire Ohio State power forward Jared Sullinger, who the Boston Celtics selected at 21st overall. Bresnahan also reported the Lakers showed interest in Baylor center Perry Jones III, but couldn’t find a trading partner as his stock tumbled amid concern about a balky knee. Oklahoma City eventually took him with the 28th pick.
“To get into the first round, it’s not that easy to do without pledging substantial assets,” Kupchak said. “To some degree, it was a challenge to look for something that was fair to do.”
2. The Lakers plan to engage in more trade talks. Gasol shouldn’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. All things considered, no one outside of Kobe Bryant should really feel settled. Kupchak said the front office will continue trade discussions in what he said was “the beginning phase of when teams look to improve their team.” Considering the Lakers only have an $8.9 million trade exception and a mid-level slot worth $3 million, a trade could serve as the only way to bolster the lineup.
The Lakers will do that throughout the free-agency period. But the NBA has a so-called “Moratorium Period” from July 1-10 during which teams may hold negotiations but cannot sign contracts.
3. Kupchak admits the importance in retaining Ramon Sessions. The Lakers have no idea if Sessions’ decision to opt out of his $4.55 million player option means the beginning of a divorce or just a temporary breakup. Even if the Lakers aren’t guaranteeing they would sign Sessions to a multi-year deal of his choosing, Kupchak said he plans on reaching out to Sessions’ representatives Saturday at 9 p.m., which officially marks the beginning of free agency.
“That’s important,” Kupchak said. “Normally nothing is determined. But it’s a sign you have some interest.”
4. Kupchak remained coy about his outlook on most of the team’s pending free agents. These moves hardly qualify as the most pressing. But once July 1st hits, the Lakers will eventually have to address them. In addition to Sessions becoming an unrestricted free agent, so, too, will small forward Matt Barnes and power forward Troy Murphy. Meanwhile, Lakers power forward Jordan Hill, small foreward Devin Ebanks and point guard Darius Morris will all become restricted free agents.
The Lakers aren’t expected to bring back Murphy or Barnes. They are expected to re-sign Hill, Ebanks and Morris so long as they don’t attract expensive offers from other teams. Still, Kupchak said the team’s decision-making process will mostly hinge on what happens July 1st.
“We’ll react to what other teams may want to do,” Kupchak said. “I can’t answer the question as to who we will sign back and who we won’t. I just don’t know right now.”
5. Kupchak described his meeting with Kobe Bryant as “very positive.” Bryant hasn’t talked publicly since the Lakers fell in the Western Conference semifinals to the Oklahoma City Thunder. He and the Lakers mutually agreed that he skip the formal exit interviews the following week and meet at a later date. That moment came recently over breakfast, which Kupchak described as “very positive.”
Surely, the Lakers’ star had plenty to say on what’s needed for the Lakers to return to a championship level. But Kupchak declined to share specifics.
6. Kupchak believes the Lakers can win a championship even if they don’t make a major move. Both Kupchak and executive Jim Buss have publicly expressed optimism that the Lakers can still win another championship under the current roster. Kupchak admitted those sentiments both reflect their confidence in a core that features Bryant, Bynum and Gasol as well as highlights the reality that the Lakers may not see any future deals that would necessitate breaking up the team.
“I think if this group is kept intact -- we got some work to do with existing free agents and the free-agent market in general -- I don’t see why we couldn’t be in the hunt next year,” Kupchak said. “We may be nipping at the heels of a couple of teams in the West, but we know that the team in the NBA that had the best record this year didn’t advance to the Finals.”
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