Here are excerpts of Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak’s exit interview with reporters Wednesday:
Question: How did the failed Chris Paul trade set the tone for the season?
Answer: “I’m not going to look at what could have been and make blame as to why we got beat in Game 5 in the second round. Certainly, that period of time resulted in one of our players (Lamar Odom) being moved, the Sixth Man of the Year. Another of our players (Pau Gasol), understandably so, had to deal with the uncertainty up until the trade deadline. It was not the way you wanted to open the season. It was tough enough as it was for any NBA team to put together a season. Every team had to deal with something. That certainly is not a reason why we got beat (Monday night).”
Q: What kind of changes do you see with the roster?
A: “There will be some change. We’ve got a group of players who are free agents. Ramon (Sessions) has an option in his contract. He can extend it or he can opt out. I have no idea what he’s going to do. So that could be an additional free agent. There will be quite a bit of activity July 1, looking at who we can bring back and the marketplace.”
Q: What did you tell Pau Gasol?
A: “I wouldn’t share with you want I told him exactly. I don’t expect he’ll ever be the same based on what took place this year. I thought, personally, he did the best anybody could do being professional, saying the right things, being a good teammate, having a really good season. He’s the consummate teammate, and the consummate professional. What took place, is hard for a player to deal with. I’m sure there’s some trust that’s not quite the same. He understands and our exit meeting with him was very good. I think he and I are on the same page. I have not met with ownership. I’m not sure what direction the team is going to go. So there really wasn’t anything additional to share with Pau or with you people with what take place between now and the draft or July 1 or post July 1.”
Q: Have you thought what this team might have been like if you had given the Lamar Odom situation more time to work itself out without trading him?
A: “No, I haven’t. Based on the way it played out I’m not sure it would have been any better with us than with the team he went to. I don’t have anything else to go by. Certainly, if the events of that month didn’t take place and there were no trade rumors, maybe it would have been different. He had a great year the year before. I don’t know that. I thought, quite frankly, he would be in Dallas and have a great year, and I thought he might come back to haunt us.”
Q: Can you clarify what issue you meant when talking about Gasol?
AL “The trust issue. That’s all. When there are pretty intense trade rumors, it’s shocking to a player. I know how I felt. So, that’s all. It didn’t impact his play this year. It will not impact him going forward.”
Q: How would you grade management’s performance this season?
A: “We get graded on the success of the team. That’s how it is in this franchise. I know a lot of franchises are happy to get to the first round or advance beyond the first round. We certainly did no worse than we did a year ago. But we’re disappointed. That’s not how we grade ourselves, getting to the second round. We thought going into the season and even up to a week ago that we were one of three or four or five teams that could contend for a championship. It’s really hard to get into a position in this league, with 30 owners who are very competitive in different market sizes, different rules, contracts that are already in place that now have to operate under different rules, it’s really hard to get into apposition where you really feel going into training camp, hey, we have a shot at it. And we felt we did. To watch the semifinals, it’s a disappointing feeling.”
Q: Is there are difference in how you deal with ownership now?
A: “The last two or three years? No, there’s been no difference. Five, six, seven years ago, I dealt more directly with Dr. (Jerry) Buss. Maybe even a little longer than that. Over the last five or six years, the three of us (Kupchak, Dr. Buss and Jim Buss) have been working very closely together. My relationship with ownership right now really isn’t any different than the last two or three years. It hasn’t changed this year versus two or three or even four years ago. But when I took the job in 2000 to maybe 2007, it was a little different. but not in the last two or three years.”
Q: How much more difficult will it be to operate under the new collective-bargain agreement as you attempt to improve the team?
A: “There are quite a few restrictions. The rules are different. Penalties are more punitive. Options or assets or avenues to improve the team with the exceptions with the last CBA (including mid-level and veterans exceptions) are not the same as they are today with teams that are beyond the (salary) cap. I don’t see us being below the cap any time soon. So, the only way to improve our team last 10 years is through exceptions and via trade. The exception route is severely limited right now.
Q: With more punitive luxury tax system (starting in two years) make it harder?
A: “Absolutely. I can’t see us avoiding the tax. Dr. Buss, under the current circumstances, has always willing to pay the tax. But if you just look at the levels of the tax in a year from now, you can see the tax being paid a year or two ago or even this year is dramatically different two years from now. It’ll have to be a consideration, and I know every club in the league is aware of it as well.”
Q: Do you see this team being more aggressive in making changes via trades?
A: “Why not? Sure. When you lose. … We went through it last year, and we didn’t do anything last year other than at the trade deadline. When you lose, before you think you should have lost, you have to open up all opportunities.”
Q:What about Andrew Bynum’s future with the team?
A: “The only thing out there right now is that he’s eligible for his present contract to be extended. Yes, we intend to do that. We have until mid-June or late-June to do that, and that’s Step 1. Anything beyond that we’ll discuss internally and proceed if that’s the course we’re going to take.”
Q: Kobe Bryant praised your after the Lakers lost to Oklahoma City for your ability to remake the team’s roster, how has your relationship evolved?
A: “I look at that as pressure. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Kobe and I have a great working relationship. We’ve been together now since he came here as a 17-year-old young kid playing video games. Now it seems like he’s been here forever. Our relationship doesn’t transcend what you would expect people who have been working together for that many years. It’s not like we’re dinner partners. I just make it a point to try not to get too close to anybody because it’s a business. I want to keep it professional. I try to be straightforward and honest with the players as best I can. Sometimes it means saying nothing rather than saying something that might not be true. So, it’s comforting to hear he has that kind of confidence. I think what he’s also saying at the same time is that he has the same confidence. I think that he’s saying is, ‘I believe in the organization,’ which includes Dr. Buss and Jim Buss.”
Q: Any specific needs this team must have?
A: “We have to see what plays out with this whole free agent thing. I haven’t sat down with ownership to know what their thoughts are. I think we did address our primary need with the in-season to get a ballhandling guard who’s young and we think has a bright future (Sessions). But he has the ability to opt out and we don’t know where that’s going to lead us. Our frontcourt is a good front court. Off the bench, our third player would be Josh McRoberts, so you always have to add another player or two to our frontcourt. Two of our small forwards are free agents (Matt Barnes and Devin Ebanks), so we have to add a player at that slot as well. So, barring a dramatic change to our roster, I think those are the areas we need to address.”
Q: Do you have a better sense of the kind of players Mike Brown needs to win?
A: “I think we all have a better feel. But I’m not sure going into the season with the shortened training camp and two preseason games that he had all the information he needed about our players going into the season. If you have four weeks and then you have two or three weeks before the start in terms of pre-preseason … there’s a real good period for coaches to get to know players and vice versa. None of that existed. One day no basketball, the next day open gym and the day after that training camp started. I think even our coaches know more about our team than they thought prior to the start of the season.”
Q: What are your thoughts about being here going forward? Your name has been linked to several general manager openings. Are you confident you’ll be here?
A: “I am. If I weren’t here, Dr. Buss would get probably 50 phone calls from present and former general managers that would love to have this job. And that’s because it’s the best job in the league.”
Q: What are your thoughts on Mike Brown’s first season as coach?
A: “I thought he did a fine job considering everything that took place this year. Certainly, going into the season, he could not expect a lockout. He did not expect Lamar Odom to be traded. Clearly, he thought he could look down at the end of the bench and the Sixth Man of the Year would be coming into the game to play. So, those things were beyond his control. There was limited practice, limited training camp, limited preseason games, two midseason trades, losing a veteran like Derek Fisher. Under those conditions, I think he did a fine job.”