Los Angeles Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak found himself this season facing a nearly impossible task; keeping the Lakers competitive and attractive, while also not doing anything to risk long-term plans for future rebuilding. Even with a full, healthy lineup, the Lakers were not projected to make any real impact in the western conference, let alone compete for a championship. The best hope was to put a competitive team out there that was fun to watch, and maybe flirt with a lower playoff seed. Such ideas are normally considered sacrilege if you are a Lakers fan any other season. This season, however, was unlike any other in recent memory.
In any professional team sport, the job of the general manager is to put together the best team possible with the head coach. Mitch has enjoyed a great deal of success during his tenure in that position with the Lakers, most notably in recent memory with the Pau Gasol trade, where he traded a couple unknowns and former #1 draft pick that quickly turned into a bust for a perennial versatile all-star center, immediately turning a team struggling just to make the playoffs into a legitimate title contender, which resulted in 3 straight trips to the NBA finals and 2 championships. He also was key in the Lakers acquiring hall of fame free agent Steve Nash and trading for all-star center Dwight Howard within weeks of each other. Moves like this have allotted Kupchak an incredible amount of trust within the Lakers fan base, as well as the Lakers organization itself.
Under the circumstances this season, I’d say Mitch really did the best he could with the cards he was dealt. The Lakers plan all along has been to clear cap space for this and next off-season, and so the objective was the fill out this season’s roster with primarily one year contracts. He did so with some solid pick-ups, such as bringing back former Laker and fan favorite Jordan Farmar, and new-comers Nick Young and Ryan Kelly. Mitch made a good move in addressing the elephant in the room very early in the season and signing franchise star Kobe Bryant to a 2 year contract extension, all but ensuring the future hall of famer and face of the Lakers would remain so for the remainder of his career.
The biggest issue Mitch faced this season was whether he would or should make any major moves. Fans were getting frustrated, both with losing and with head coach Mike D’Antoni, putting Kupchak in a no-win situation. He preached patience, and that the Lakers were planning to be major players in the upcoming free agent markets, which is still the case. He didn’t want to make a move just for the sake of it, or to appease the fan base. Again, patience was key. Every trade offer that was reportedly made to the Lakers would have required them to take back bigger contracts, which was the last thing they wanted. As far as D’Antoni was concerned, Mitch saw no reason to bring in 2 head coaches in as many years, when the Lakers were planning on a full rebuild starting this summer. Again, patience was key, and Mitch knew it.
With the season finally over, and the Lakers set to have their highest draft pick in years in a loaded draft, Mitch will finally be able to really do his job and face the challenge of rebuilding the team from the ground up. Ownership obviously continues to have the utmost faith in him, having just signed him to a multi-year contract extension. They believe in his ability to build a championship team, and he has given the fan-base no reason to doubt him. In Mitch we trust.