Keeping the talent pipeline stocked and refueled is essential to building a winning culture in the NBA and nobody has done it better in the past decade than our very own, Mitch Kupchak. The coach may determine the system which dictates the type of player needed via free agency, trade or lottery pick, but as the GM you still have to go out there and recruit talent. It takes ninja-like precision to locate a diamond in the rough that most overlook and that’s where Kupchak shines. In this day and age when fans drool over athleticism and upside, developing talent into results is what matters. There’s also the issue of chemistry that can’t be overlooked (see Dwight Howard), so it takes a special set of eyes to foresee the future than it does to glamour at past achievements. A GM’s role encompasses selling a player on the total package of being part of a bigger culture. Today’s athlete wants endorsements, playing time, and power. Similar to coaching, basketball executives are as much psychologists as they are shrewd business people. It’s not just about having the best talent on a roster, but knowing which players fit together best.
The past couple of seasons are far from what Lakers fans expect. From the vetoed CP3 trade, Steve Nash free agency pick-up, Dwight Howard trade, Mike Brown’s abrupt firing to Mike D’Antoni’s hiring over Phil, there is cause to doubt the Lakers front office’s recent decisions. There’s nothing the Lakers could have done about the CP3 debacle, yet Steve Nash has been a shell of his former self plus Dwight was chemistry disaster and huge disappointment after he walked after one season. Things went from bad to worse when Mike Brown was fired and Mike D’Antoni was hired.
Before putting the Lakers in the “refrigerator” as Chick Hearn used to say, look at the facts. Any GM would have picked up Steve Nash for future draft picks based on his track record throughout his career. Bynum sat out the entire 2012 – 2013 season, so even with Dwight’s underwhelming performance, it’s still better than nothing. As for the coaching choices, that falls primarily on the Buss family. If Dr. Jerry and Jim Buss wanted to re-create Showtime, they snagged their leading man in D’Antoni, but thing didn’t turn out exactly as planned — a bit of an understatement. As the Lakers GM, Kupchak has addressed all Lakers inquiries to the media. In fact, he’s never dodged any questions that have come his way, even if the fans don’t agree with his assessment. Look around the league and ask rival GM’s whom they revere the most and Kupchak will come out on top. He’s turned lemons into lemonade more than once before, so we just have to trust that he is plotting his master plan as we loathe over this horrific season.
We often forget the six words that changed the face of the NBA in 2008: Pau Gasol traded for Kwame Brown. In one fatal swoop, Kupchak turned the Lakers from pretenders to contenders in one blockbuster move. Not only was Gasol one of the best big men at the time, but his immediate chemistry with Kobe Bryant was almost seamless. In the seasons following the Lakers appeared in 3 straight finals winning 2 of them. If that’s too nostalgic, let’s not forget the job he did with few assets this past summer by signing Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry, drafting Ryan Kelly and finding Kendall Marshall. Kupchak didn’t have the money to spend recklessly, instead he sold the players on the Lakers rich history. It never hurts to have “fans” as players and Kupchak played those cards beautifully. Not only was he able to recruit talent, but most of them were ideal fits for MDA’s system too. Most recently, he pulled off the Steve Blake for Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks trade at the deadline. Although it wasn’t the popular move for both teammates and fans, the Lakers got younger, saved some money and gave Blake a chance to play for contender. The coaching job from D’Antoni’s doesn’t directly fall under Kupchak’s watch. Jim Buss has the final say so as much as Kupchak may believe it’s time to move in another direction, he’s not the final decision maker. Even as one of MDA’s harshest critics, there’s no point firing him this late in the season because nothing would be gained. Hopefully Kupchak has a short memory and is currently working on his strategy this summer.
One should never rest on his past successes, but if the past is the best predictor of the future the Lakers are in good hands. Kupchak’s new contract extension can give all fans a sigh of relief knowing the architect of our most recent championships is here to stay. As Jerry West’s apprentice, Kupchak has been groomed under the best. It’s hard to argue his four championships since his promotion and by his regular game-time attendance, it shows his loyalty to the purple and gold. The summer of 2014 will be the first step in a 3-year rebuilding process back to the top. Things do look dark right now, but beware rest of the league, the calm precedes the storm. This off-season will be like no other in Lakers history, yet we as fans are in good hands. Kupchak has done it before and he can do it again. That’s why our hope lies: In Mitch We Trust.
Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak On NBA Draft, No. 1 Pick And Trading The Pick