There Mitch Kupchak stood on the practice court, the Lakers general manager watching draft prospects closely as they wrapped up workouts at the team’s facility in El Segundo.
Days before, Kupchak had stayed in his office fielding in-person interviews as part of the Lakers’ two-week long coaching search. This has marked plenty of busy days for Kupchak recently with developments evolving by the day. But he hardly seemed willing to shed much insight on where the Lakers’ stand with filling the head-coaching position left vacant since Mike D’Antoni resigned a month ago.
“The coaching search is ongoing,” Kupchak said on Wednesday. “We’ve interviewed several candidates. We’ll interview more. Other than that, there’s nothing to add right now.”
The Lakers have undergone a slow albeit deliberate search ever since learning they would have the seventh pick of the NBA Draft two weeks ago. They have interviewed a mix of coaches with ties to the Lakers (Mike Dunleavy, Byron Scott, Kurt Rambis) and others with vast head-coaching experience (Alvin Gentry, Lionel Hollins). Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has said he is leaning toward a veteran coach, but has remained open ended. That leaves wild card, such as former Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Derek Fisher, as possible candidates.
The NBA draft on June 26 appears equally unpredictable.
The Lakers’ seventh pick puts them in a tenuous position, lacking both the ability to the best prospects and have their say in the slew of players projected to be selected among the top 10 draft picks.
“You’re trying to put the pieces together and get the best player potentially and hopefully some that can help you now,” Kupchak said. “I still think we’ll get a good player. Hopefully we pick the right player. But there is a lot of talent.”
The Lakers fielded a deep pool of candidates into two workout groups for a series of drills and two-on-two and three-on-three games. The first group included Syracuse guard Tyler Ennis, Michigan State guard Gary Harris, Pepperdine forward Brendan Lane, UCLA guard Zach LaVine, Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart and Indiana forward Noah Vonleh. The second group entailed Creighton forward Doug McDermott, Arizona forward Aaron Gordon, Kentucky forward James Young, Louisiana guard Elfrid Payton, Weber State guard Davion Berry and Nevada guard Jerry Evans. Berry and Evans, both players that were not invited to the NBA pre-draft combine, were unexpected additions after both Duke forward Rodney Hood and Michigan guard Nik Stauskas unexpectedly canceled their workouts for unknown reasons.
“The representatives will get very involved and are looking out for their clients best interest,” Kupchak said. “You try to make everybody happy but you can’t. At the end of the day, we had two cancellations and those changed everything. So I expect to get phone calls from some representatives today that aren’t very happy. But that was out of our control.”
Still, the Lakers found more clarity on what is touted as a deep draft class.
LaVine set a Lakers draft workout record with a 46-inch vertical high jump. Gordon reported to have only three percent body fat. Head-to-head matchups between Ennis and Smart as well McDermott and Gordon yielded cut marks and bruises on their arms, providing another glimpse of competitiveness. The Lakers also cast a wide net of players in case they trade their seventh pick for multiple late first-round selections.
“We’d still like to add to our draft selection,” Kupchak said. “Could we move this pick and get multiple picks maybe? Could you buy a pick or trade a future pick for a present pick? Yeah that’s possible. Draft picks are more valuable than they were. I think it’s not as easy as it used to be. But it’s a possibility.”
The Lakers are also mindful that only Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre will stay under contract for the 2014-15 season. Nick Young will opt out of his $1.2 million player option in hopes of securing a longer and more lucrative deal with the Lakers. Yet, Kupchak downplayed whether the incomplete roster and uncertainty surrounding their head coach could hurt the Lakers in evaluating which players fit their needs.
“It’s not that much of a factor,” Kupchak said. “You can argue that who we have on the roster, we’re not really limited to looking in at a position. We need help everywhere. We’re in a position to take the best player at almost any position.”
Still, Kupchak suggested it takes longer for forwards to develop than guards. Both Gordon and Vonleh are expected to be selected high, while Smart is considered among the class’ best guards.
“Big men typically pick up the game later and are slower to develop,” said Kupchak, noting the discrepancy between Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum developing. “So there are subtle differences. Its’ not always the same. You could categorize to some degree.”
Despite the uncertainty, Kupchak held firm on outlook surrounding what is in store.
Said Kupchak: “We will field a team that is very competitive.”