Mitch Kupchak has demonstrated a knack for planning during his days as an NBA player and at his current position as the General Manager for the Los Angeles Lakers. Kupchak began playing basketball in Long Island, New York, where he grew up. He led his high school team, Brentwood, to three consecutive division titles. Kupchack attended the University of North Carolina where he became an All-American.
His professsional career began with the Washington Bullets who had drafted Kupchak in 1976. After much convincing from Magic Johnson, the Lakers made a move to acquire Kupchak in 1981. He retired as a Laker in 1986 with three championship rings, one with Washington in 1978, and two with the Lakers in 1982 and 1985.
During his time on the court, Kupchak was thinking of what he could do after he retired from playing. Kupchak started to build relationships and connections with the front office in the Lakers’ organization while he was still playing.
Kupchak took a liking to the business and basketball operations that occurred on a daily basis and how it impacted the organization from top to bottom. He earned an MBA from the Anderson School of Management at UCLA in 1987. One of Kupchak’s front office relationships was with then General Manager and former Laker great, Jerry West. West and Jerry Buss’ admiration for Kupchak led to them hiring him as the Assistant General Manager for Jerry West in 1986.
Kupchak got his spotlight when Jerry West left the Lakers for a new position with the Memphis Grizzles in 2000. Kupchak was hailed by the Laker community when he signed Karl Malone and Gary Payton in the 2003-2004 season to join Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, creating a mini version of a Dream Team. The Lakers were striving for their fourth title in five years in 2004, but lost in the Finals to the Detroit Pistons in five games, 4-1. The season was considered a failure and a disappointment. Kupchak stayed in the line of fire after he traded Shaq to Miami for Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, and Caron Butler and Gary Payton and Rick Fox to Boston for Chris Mihm, Jumaine Jones, and Chucky Atkins.
Laker fans and even some players continued to question Kupchak’s decisions when he passed on the opportunity to sign Jason Kidd for Andrew Bynum.
Kobe Bryant was upset with the state of the team and with the fact that things were not changing at a fast enough pace. After all, the NBA is all about winning and winning now. However, in 2007 the Laker community finally began to see and realize what the reasons were behind Kupchak’s controversial decisions that occurred in the mid 2000’s. We started to witness the potential that Kupchak saw in Bynum during the first couple of years in his career.
Then Kupchak pulled off one of the all-time great trades by acquiring Pau Gasol for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, and the rights to Pau’s younger brother, Marc Gasol. Kupchak made the deal to acquire Trevor Ariza for Brian Cook and Maurice Evans. Then in 2009, he signed free agent and this year’s NBA Citizenship Award recipient, Ron Artest. Gasol, Ariza, and Artest were all key to winning back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010.
With the completion of the 2010-2011 regular season and the disappointing second round exit, Kupchak’s year of thinking and planning is nearing its execution stage. Changes are expected to occur this off-season with the erratic performance of the Lakers’ postseason.
The draft is approaching and the summer is an opportunity for trading and signing free agents. Kupchak has the ability to see the needs for the team, whether they are immediate or in the near future. Kupchak has proven to the Laker organization, team, and fans that he has the success of the team as a focal point during his dealings, something that could only be respected by his former boss, Jerry West.
One thing is certain, Kupchak’s decisions off the court has a direct impact on what happens on the court.
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