CLEVELAND — Here’s the bulk of a question-and-answer session with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak after the announcement of today’s trade that sent Vladimir Radmanovic to Charlotte for Adam Morrison and Shannon Brown. Kupchak talked about the reasons why he made the deal, what it means for the Lakers’ salary cap flexibility for next summer and the one after and how he might be done dealing well before the Feb. 19 deadline.
Q: Mitch, what was your thought process?
A: “Vlad started the season and I thought he played well. Here it is, early February and it looked like he wasn’t going to play much. You could tell by watching Vlade and talking to him that he wanted to play. He didn’t really come here to sit on the bench and collect a paycheck. Part of the decision was to accommodate a player who wasn’t going to play. We picked up two players who are young, developing players. Adam was the third player picked in the draft and had an ACL injury against us last year (in an exhibition game at Staples Center), and that injury takes more than a year. We think he would benefit from a situation that has less pressure, from our medical staff, and from a stable environment where he could get back to where he was in college. Shannon Brown is a young, developing player as well. He played really well against us last week in L.A. We picked up two players that have upsides. If there was a third reason, we picked up some flexibility down the road with a shortened commitment versus Vlade’s commitment.
Q: Mitch, how do you see Morrison fitting into the triangle offense?
A: “I think both players don’t have great familiarity with the triangle, so it’s going to take some time. But I don’t think it will be a problem for either player to fit into it. You know, clearly we’re not going to expect either player to come in and play and produce right away. Although, if they earn it, they could. So, I don’t think they’re going to have to deal with the pressure of playing right away and learning the offense right away. They could benefit from the time that it takes to learn what we do. And we’re looking for somebody in the backcourt defensively. Maybe Shannon Brown could come in and give us something defensively that we don’t have. So, there is an opportunity for both players, but we don’t expect either player to make a contribution right away. They’re going to have to earn their playing time on a veteran team.”
Q: Did that cap flexibility play a major factor or was it part of the package?
A: “When you make a deal you want to make a deal that … makes sense. There’s always the possibility of making a deal and getting back nothing or getting back a player who can’t play. To get back two players who are developing and do have upside, I think that makes it that much more attractive. It doesn’t make sense to keep a guy who’s highly compensated and is not playing at all. That doesn’t make sense, especially if he’s not happy. That was a motivating factor as well. So, we’ll see. But we like the different components of the deal. I’m hoping both players can develop and can get into games.”
Q: You guys are trying to win a championship this year, to make a trade that might not help the team immediately under any scenario, was that something that was hard to grapple with or not?
A: “You make the deal to improve your team. Vlade wasn’t playing and the players we got back, we don’t expect them to contribute right away, so we don’t feel we risked anything in terms of making a deal and affecting the minutes the way they’ve been doled out in the last six or seven weeks. The other thing you think about is the chemistry side of it and, you know, Vlade was well liked. That’s a chance that we do take, but the fact that he hasn’t been playing much overrides the chemistry concerns. If he continued not to play, he would have just been more and more unhappy and maybe the chemistry side of it doesn’t look too good.”
Q: Mitch, you talked about (salary cap) flexibility. How much is it going to be this offseason or will it be the offseason after that?
A: “It’s a little early to say, but when we started the season and after the emergence of Trevor Ariza, it’s pretty obvious to anybody and GMs around the league that we had a glut at that position. I know Luke and Lamar and Vlade and Trevor were wondering how those minutes were going to be doled out. So, one of the guys wasn’t going to play much at all. At this time in the year, it looked like that person was Vlade, and he wasn’t very happy about it. It didn’t make sense to have someone highly compensated who’s just going to sit on the bench. There will be some added flexibility this summer, true, but there will be added flexibility next year because of the shortened length of the contract(s). So, it helps us balance our roster and address our free agents during the summer, hopefully, a little bit more objectively than you might if you had a roster that wasn’t as balanced and you were stuck with players that didn’t play and were highly paid.”
Q: Did this come up quickly?
A: “Yes, it did quite frankly.”
Q: When did it come up and who approached whom?
A: “Well, throughout the season there have been some rumors, but once again it was obvious that we had a bunch of small forwards and once we figure out who was the one who was not going to play, you look to address the situation. It took some time because Vlade started the season, and I thought he played very well, but Phil made a change and I don’t think Phil made the change based on Vlade’s play. He thought maybe starting Luke would be better for the team because I thought Vlade played very well. Luke played and then he got hurt and Vlade stepped in and had some big games. He had a big game against Miami, so it took a little time just to see who Phil was going to settle on. This week, midweek, there was a conversation or two and on Thursday there was another conversation or two, then late yesterday afternoon, the deal really came together. So, that’s how quickly it came about.”
Q: You guys are going to keep looking around for the next week and a half, right?
A: “I wouldn’t say I’m making a lot of calls. I mean, we’ve got the best record in the league right now. We’ve had a really great road trip, and hopefully we can end it really strong tomorrow. The news on Andrew was not good, but it looks as if he has a better chance to return this year than last year. So, I’m not sure we want to address anything more than continuing to win as many games as possible and hope to get Andrew back. I don’t think there’s a deal out there that could make us a better team than the one we have.”
Q: Are there are any big guys who would make the situation any better than it is right now with Andrew out and without messing up your chemistry?
A: “I don’t see that right now. I know there have been a bunch of rumors, and based on everything I’ve read, I don’t see it. You’re not going to get a better center than Chris or DJ without giving up equal talent, and why would we do that? If Andrew can’t get back I don’t know what we would do that.”