Mitch Kupchak on Kobe

We had a chance to talk with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak this afternoon at the press conference announcing Kobe Bryant as the league’s MVP. Kupchak, as he has all year, refused to gloat or pat himself on the back for the dramatic turn of events this season has brought for the Lakers fortunes. As always, he was disciplined and diplomatic. But his responses are still interesting.

On Kobe saying he wants to be a Laker for life:

“It’s nice to hear he’s happy with the group of players that’s surrounding him. It’s even more happy to see that we have the best record in the West. And it’s most profound to hear that he wants to be a Laker for the rest of his career.”

On taking the high road through Kobe’s criticisms:

“I just have a job to do. I’m the caretaker of this organization and I’m in charge of looking out for its future. So I have to look at things a little bit differently than the fans and media do.”

On his expectations before the year:

“I thought we could win 50 games last year, I thought we could win 50 games this year. But I’m not going to say I thought we’d have the best record in the West this year, nor would I say that I thought Kobe was going to be the MVP this year.”

How close did he get to trading Kobe?

“That’s something I really don’t want to revisit. There’s been a lot of talk about it, and it’s really not worth bringing back to life right now.”

On when the shift in Kobe’s attitude took place:

“That’s something you’ll have to ask Kobe, but the one comment that stood out for me was when Andrew Bynum got hurt, he came out and said that we were a championship caliber team with Andrew and to me, that signaled that there was some satisfaction he felt with the team around him.

On scouting Kobe out of high school:

“We had two workouts and his workouts were special. But you don’t know a kid well enough to know if he’s going to work hard every summer, or how he’ll develop mentally as the years go on. But in his workouts, you could tell he was a special player

“We saw bits and pieces of it in summer league, before he even became a rookie. Just his skill level, his athleticism. We knew we had an especially talented two-guard, but you don’t know how they’re going to progress from 17 to 19. Just with Andrew Bynum, we knew we had a center who was 17 and we liked his skill set and his size, length and his hands, but the hard part is to project what they’re going to be like in two or three years.

Q: Who was the one that said, `We got to have this guy?’
A: Jerry West. Jerry West.

One Kobe’s work ethic:
“He said it best himself. HE doesn’t consider it working. He always seems to be a step ahead of technology, in terms of what’s best for his body.

“Ten days or so ago, he had a bad shooting game against the Nuggets and he came into the facility an hour early. I looked out in my window, which overlooks the court and just watched him shoot for an hour by himself. He just shot and shot and shot. He was soaking wet by the time practice started. He’s always been that way. What he did two weeks ago is no different than eight of ten years ago.”

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Morning Buzz…

Off day today, so a lot of off day stories… The big news out of Lakers land has to do with Andrew Bynum getting what is more like a third or fourth opinion on his injured knee this week, and further undermining any chance of him coming back this year.

Or, if you prefer the happy news, Kobe Bryant will officially be named the MVP this afternoon. Stop traffic and hold a self-congratulatory parade Angelenos, Steve Dilbeck writes. While Mark Heisler looks back on just how strange this year has been for Bryant.

Meanwhile, there’s a game 2 to get ready for, and Elliott Teaford reminds us that if game 1 was any indication, it will be very, very physical. The Jazz crushed the Lakers in rebounding in game 1, and that’ll have to change if the Lakers want to keep their perfect playoff record in tact, Mike Bresnahan writes.

That, or do some opposition research on Jazz guard Deron Williams, like Marcia Smith does in the Register.

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Bynum to seek another opinion

If you’re counting, this is more like a fourth opinion….

But the Lakers announced today that their prized third-year center Andrew Bynum will fly to Princeton, N.J. to see Dr. Steven Gecha on Wednesday.

Bynum has been out with a knee injury for almost four months and the team’s once-hopeful sentiments that he could return at some point during the playoffs seems to have turned to quiet resignation that he will not.

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Lakers lead 54-41 at the half

Sasha Vujacic comes off the bench and gets the Lakers going, nailing three straight 3-pointers at the start of the second quarter. Then with 6:03 to go, the Lakers break open a 13-point lead as Pau Gasol throws down a dunk off an alley-oop pass from Kobe Bryant. Utah tries to muscle its way back into the game, but can’t shoot its way out of a paper bag, missing 17 of its 24 shots in the quarter

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Lakers 25, Jazz 24

First quarter in the books and it kind of feels like the game is just warming up. The crowd is kind of quiet, the game is a big sluggish, and everyone but Kobe Bryant is having a hard time making shots. Kobe is 4 for 6 from the floor, the rest of the Lakers were just 4 for 18.

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Playoff Beard?

Vlad Radmanovic isn’t superstitious, but maybe he should be. Before the game, he told me that he shaved his beard this morning. Actually, he said he “lost” his beard this morning. Is it a coincidence that he’s missed his first few shots?

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I had a chance to speak with Vlad Radmanovic and Lamar Odom before the game and ask about the defensive matchups for this series. Odom said he’d likely defend Utah center Mehmet Okur, that Pau Gasol will take Carlos Boozer and Radmanovic will take Andrei Kirilenko.

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MVP in another way

I got a press release today from Hunter Payne, who works with Lakers reserve Ira Newble, to help promote awareness for the humanitarian crisis in Darfur through an organization called Aid Still Required.

Payne wrote to remind everyone that one of the organizations best spokespeople is Kobe Bryant, who taped a public service announcement for the organization:

Click here to watch Bryant’s announcement.

He states: “In Darfur, hundreds of thousands have been murdered, mutilated, families torn apart……If we can unite people who are willing to take a stand, miracles can happen.”

Other NBA players involved with Aid Still Required include Tracy McGrady, Steve Nash, Derek Fisher, Luol Deng, Baron Davis, Emeka Okafor, Grant Hill and Ira Newble.

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