After the Lakers drafted Ryan Kelly with their 48th pick late Thursday night, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak spoke to the media for 28 minutes, and those 28 minutes weren’t devoted to the future of the former Duke alum. Instead, Dwight Howard was at the forefront of the conversation, but this time Kupchak sounded a bit much more in touch with reality. As a matter of fact, Kupchak used Kobe Bryant’s uncertain situation but ultimate decision to re-sign with the Lakers in 2004 to relate to Howard’s pending free agency – describing the two as “scary close.”
“Kobe visited with teams, more than one team, there were several, I remember we were on pins and needles,” Kupchak explained at the Lakers facility. “There was a lot of uncertainty with what Kobe would do. A lot of rumor – very similar to whats going on right now and when the phone call came in we really didn’t know which way it was going to go.”
The last sentence says it all – the Lakers didn’t know which way the phone call was going to go in 2004, and they’re not sure which way the phone call is going to go in 2013. Kupchak did say, however, that he thinks Howard will make his decision before July 15th.
So just how similar are the two situations? Both teams were the product of a losing season and an unhappy ending. The Lakers reached the NBA Finals in 2004, losing in 5 games to the Detroit Pistons. The Lakers reached the NBA Playoffs in 2013, getting swept by the San Antonio Spurs.
Both teams had head coaches making headlines. In 2004, three days after the Lakers lost to the Pistons, the Lakers announced that Phil Jackson would no longer be returning as head coach. In 2012, Mike Brown was relieved from his coaching duties, and was later replaced with Mike D’Antoni. In 2013, Mike D’Antoni is still the head coach, despite Howard reportedly being unhappy in his system, enough said. In 2004, the Lakers traded Shaquille O’Neal, and rumors surrounded whether or not Kobe would re-sign with the Lakers. There were, however, no billboards posted around the city of Los Angeles or hanging from Staples Center. In 2013, the “Dwight Stay” billboards have erected, and Howard has found himself at the center of the free agent rumor mill. As for Kobe Bryant, he is still proudly holding the throne, not yet ready to pass the torch.
If the Lakers pick up the phone and don’t receive the answer they’ve been banking on, is there a Plan B sufficient enough to field a competitive Lakers team next year?
“If Dwight should leave, we have a plan B, its not as good as plan A, but it does go beyond one year.”
If the Lakers are unable to re-sign Howard, the Lakers will not necessarily go into rebuilding mode. The Lakers GM reiterated that the Lakers do have a lot of financial flexibility a year from now, and they will plan to field a very competitive team, even if Dwight goes elsewhere.
The Lakers will hope that the two situations are just as “scary close” as Kupchak compared, for fear of receiving a phone call that doesn’t play into the Lakers happy ending.
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