Whenever things don’t go right for the Lakers, the first instinct involves making immediate changes.
But Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak sounded skeptical such a thing will happen before the Feb. 21 trade deadline.
“We don’t have many options, to be honest with you,” Kupchak said Wednesday at the Lakers All-Access event at Staples Center, hosted by the LA Sports & Entertainment Commission. “It’s not like we’re going to be active or overly active in the trade market.”
The Lakers (17-21) may enter tonight’s game against the Miami Heat (26-12) at Staples Center in 11th place in the Western Conference. But Kupchak believes it’s unfair to evaluate the Lakers based on the record because of extenuating circumstances.
Those involved long-term injuries to Steve Nash (fractured left leg), Dwight Howard (surgically repaired back, right shoulder), Pau Gasol (knee tendinitis, plantar fasciitis in right foot, concussion), Jordan Hill (season-ending left hip injury) and Steve Blake (surgery on lower abdominal muscle). Kupchak also touted out Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni taking over for Mike Brown only five games into the season.
“If we’d do that, what you’d be doing is making a judgement on a team without taking into consideration without the fact there’s been a coaching change, there’s been injuries, there’s been no training camp, there’s been new players in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard,” Kupchak said. “If you were to do something like that, that would not show patience.”
The Lakers didn’t exactly have the same patience when they fired Brown. One of the risks hiring D’Antoni involved this kind of instability. Though Kupchak acknowledged such a scenario unfolding, he said at his press conference announcing Brown’s firing that he feared any improvement would’ve become minimal. Hence, why Kupchak considered it better to cut his losses early.
Regardless, the Lakers have plenty of work to do.
They’re by no means mathematically out of the playoffs. Considering the eight seeds in the past five NBA seasons averaged 48 seasons, the Lakers likely would have to go somewhere around 31-13 the rest of the season in order to stay in the hunt. Don’t even think about home-court advantage. The Lakers trail by sizable margins against the Oklahoma City Thunder (31-8), Clippers (30-9), San Antonio Spurs (30-11) and Memphis Grizzlies (24-13).
Still, the Lakers trail the Houston Rockets (21-19) by three games for the eighth spot. The Lakers are benefiting from losing steaks to Houston (five), Portland (four) and Minnesota (four).
“Somebody said we have to win two out of four games. I don’t think that’s true,” Kupchak said. “We have to win three out of every four games going out to have a chance. If you look at the two conferences, the Western Conference is a tougher conference this year. We have our work cut out for us. If we can get into the playoffs, which means we are playing well, we do have to play well to make the playoffs. I don’t think there’s a team that wants to play us in a seven-game series.”
That doesn’t mean the front office will necessarily stand idle.
The Lakers applied for a disabled players exception for Jordan Hill, who has said he will have surgery on his left hip and is expected to be out at least six months. The move would give them an additional $1.78 million in spending either to sign a free agent or acquire a player making slightly more than that through a trade. Kupchak said recently he wants the exception more for flexibility than actually intending to use it.
Plus, the Lakers already have a $100 million payroll.
“If everybody had been together and Coach D’antoni had been here from day one and Steve Nash hadn’t gotten injured and our record still was what it is today, then that’d be a different story,” Kupchak said. “Then you have to look in the mirror and say the team we put together is not good enough.”
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