For someone intent on swinging for the fences, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak spent plenty of time last offseason perfecting his home-run swing in assembling a star-studded lineup.
Yet, the likes of Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and a litany of bench pieces didn’t even come close to an NBA championship. Instead, the Lakers lost in a first-round sweep to the San Antonio Spurs partly because of overlapping injuries and partly because such a talented group never found the chemistry. So it’s hardly surprising that Kupchak received zero votes for the NBA’s General Manager of the Year award, which was granted to the Denver Nuggets’ Masai Ujiri.
Kupchak may have pulled off the unthinkable in acquiring an elite center (Dwight Howard), elite passer (Steve Nash), dependable scorer (Antawn Jamison) and solid three-point shooter (Jodie Meeks). The Lakers’ $100 million payroll illustrated the team’s willingness to spend despite more punitive luxury taxes on the horizon stemmed from the 2011 labor deal. The Lakers’ ability still to retain Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace speaks to the team’s patience in not throwing away key assets.
But everything went off according to script.
The Lakers fired Mike Brown to a 1-4 start. Despite strongly suggesting the vacant position was Phil Jackson’s to lose, the Lakers hired Mike D’Antoni. It hardly matters if you fall into the camp that believes the Lakers fired Brown prematurely or if the Lakers should’ve depended on Jackson’s 11 NBA championships. All team accounts admit that the Lakers’ willingness to hire a new coach with a fundamentally different system to implement without training camp provided too large of a learning curve to overcome.
It’s still possible the Lakers could benefit with D’Antoni with a full training camp and players that better fit his system. The Lakers’ 28-12 mark to close out the season also reflects D’Antoni’s willingness to slow the pace down and feature Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol more inside. It also helped the Lakers’ injuries weren’t as drastic sans Kobe Bryant’s season-ending torn Achilles’ tendon suffered a mere three games before the playoffs.
But even with Kupchak successfully swinging for the fences in collecting championship pieces, it should hardly be surprising no votes went his way.
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