Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak: ‘There will be some change’
The formula stays pretty simple. If the Lakers don’t win a championship, the team’s front office becomes busier. Oh, off-season changes still take place after the Lakers host a championship parade in downtown Los Angeles. After all, the only calm off-season General Manager Mitch Kupchak said he felt happened in 2002, when the Lakers won their third consecutive NBA title and the reserve Devean George marked the team’s lone free agent.
Still, on the heels of the Lakers losing in the Western Conference semifinals for the second consecutive season, Kupchak made one thing abundantly clear.
“There will be some change,” he said.
Here are a few glimpses of what that might entail.
1. Pau Gasol was given no assurances about his future. After playing through most of the 2011-12 season unsure if the Lakers would trade him, it looks like the Lakers forward has returned to Square One. Kupchak hasn’t given Gasol any clarity regarding his future, partly because Kupchak hasn’t met with owner Jerry Buss and executive Jim Buss, but it’s also because Gasol is the team’s most tradeable asset because of his talent and two-year, $38 million contract.
“He and I are on the same page,” Kupchak said of Gasol, after praising him for how he handled the ongoing trade speculation with professionalism. “I have not met with ownership. I do not know what direction the team is going to go, what the parameters are going to be going forward, so there wasn’t really anything additional to share with Pau.”
2. The Lakers plan to exercise Andrew Bynum’s $16.1-million player option, but then what? The Lakers have until June 30 to make that official, but Kupchak said at Wednesday’s exit interview that it’s a foregone conclusion. As far as Bynum’s long-term future, it’s uncertain whether he will mature as the Lakers hope. Bynum said he’s open for his agent, David Lee, to start negotiations for a long-term deal, but Kupchak said the front office isn’t ready to do that yet.
“That’s Step One,” Kupchak said of exercising Bynum’s option. “Anything beyond that we’ll discuss internally and precede if that’s the course that we’re going to take.”
3. The Lakers are open to make a trade. Of course, that’s going to require giving up something, perhaps Gasol or Bynum. But the Lakers also still have the $8.9-million trade exception from trading Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks last season, which would allow the Lakers to acquire a player making up to $8.9 million without trading another player.
“Why not? Sure,” Kupchak said when asked if the Lakers might look at the trade market. “When you lose before you think you should have lost, you have to open up all opportunities.”
4. Kupchak may not use the amnesty provision. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, teams can use the amnesty clause to waive one player under contract and have the player’s salary not count against the salary cap and luxury tax. Among possible candidates were Metta World Peace (two years, $15 million) or Steve Blake (two years, $8 million), but Kupchak sounded reluctant to do so.
“Looking at our roster and examining the players that were on our roster when the rules came into place,” Kupchak said, “they’re all great players.”
5. The free agent future is still cloudy. Kupchak replied simply, “No,” when asked if he had any particular insight on the Lakers’ free agents. That includes small forwards Devin Ebanks (restricted) and Matt Barnes (unrestricted), power forwards Troy Murphy (unrestricted) and Jordan Hill (restricted) and rookie point guard Darius Morris (restricted).
Still, Kupchak suggested the Lakers would keep one small forward and power forward, while adding another at each position through free agency. It’s believed that the Lakers would choose Ebanks over Barnes and Hill over Murphy.
“You always have to add another player or two to your frontcourt,” Kupchak said. “Two of our small forwards are free agents [Ebanks, Barnes] so we have to add a player at that slot as well. Barring any dramatic change to our roster, I think primarily those are the areas we have to address.”
6. Kupchak praises Ramon Sessions, but to what degree do the Lakers value him. Even if Kupchak expressed uncertainty on whether Sessionw would opt out of his $4.5 million player option, The Times’ Mike Bresnahan has reported that he’s expected that he wll. Kupchak didn’t offer any indication how the front office would handle negotiations with him if he reaches that path.
Still, Kupchak largely complimented him. Even after believing Sessions lacked enough confidence and aggressiveness to succeed in the playoffs, Kupchak argued “we addressed our primary need” at point guard when the Lakers acquired him from Cleveland before the March 15 deadline. He also touted Sessions as having a “bright future.”
7. Kupchak hopes to move his NBA Draft pick. This year’s draft is considered pretty deep, but that should hardly leave the Lakers excited.Their only pick comes in at No. 60, which is the last pick in the draft. That’s why Kupchak keeping the option open in using a trade to improve the team’s draft standing.
“I can’t imagine us being in a position to simply step into a first-round pick,” Kupchak said. “But there may be a way to get up to a little bit better position in the draft.”
8. Kupchak will meet with Kobe Bryant soon. The Lakers’ GM said he will meet with Bryant either late this week or early next week at an undiclosed location. Kupchak downplayed the significance of Bryant wanting to meet outside of the traditional exit interview format, but it’s clear Bryant has a lot to share about the 2011-12 season and the Lakers’ future.
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