Mitch Kupchak exudes optimism on championship aspirations, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash

At the Lakers training facility in El Segundo, general manager Mitch Kupchak talks Friday about the upcoming season. (Scott Varley/Staff Photographer)

At the Lakers training facility in El Segundo, general manager Mitch Kupchak talks Friday about the upcoming season. (Scott Varley/Staff Photographer)

The Lakers’ championship trophies still sit in the office of president Jeanie Buss. The Lakers’ title banners and retired jerseys still hang along the walls that oversee the Lakers’ practice court. Despite that backdrop, however, the Lakers’ storied history has become muddled with some sobering reality.

The Lakers are a season removed from finishing with a 25-57 record, their worst season in L.A. franchise history. The Lakers struck out this offseason in pursuing high-level free agents LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. The injury bug severely affected Kobe Bryant (left Achilles tendon, left knee) and Steve Nash (nerve irritation in back/hamstrings). The Lakers ranked near the bottom in almost every defensive category.

Yet on Friday, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak outlined the tone the team will take as it opens up training camp next week.

“Our message to the organization and to the players is you’re always going into the season expecting to win a championship,” Kupchak said. “That’s how we feel and that’s how our players have to feel. They have to do their job, coaches have to do their job and I have to do my job.”

Plenty of work awaits, which Kupchak said first starts with ensuring Bryant, Nash and veteran forward Carlos Boozer stay healthy.

Kupchak suggested that has already taken place. Kupchak noted feeling “a little more apprehensive” with Nash since he has missed a combined 99 games in the past two years partly because of recurring nerve damage in his back and hamstrings. But Kupchak reported Nash “feels the best he’s felt,” at least enough to play in five-on-five scrimmages and even two-a-day training sessions. Bryant, whom Kupchak reported to have lost 10 to 12 pounds this offseason, has worked out at the Lakers’ practice facility in recent weeks “with no ill effects on either injury.”

Kupchak also predicted Bryant “will have an excellent year,” arguing his loss of 10-12 pounds could prove enough to offset losing any explosiveness. Kupchak also believes Bryant has enough to replicate his play two seasons ago in which he averaged 27.3 points on 46.3 percent shooting, six assists and 5.6 rebounds before shattering his left Achilles tendon in mid-April, 2013.

“He gives you a chance no matter the circumstances to be really good,” Kupchak said. “He’ll do as much as he has to do to put us in the best chance to win. If that means a guy has got us going and we’re scoring without him he’ll continue to facilitate. If he feels he has to score, he’ll try to score and I think he will. I think he’ll be very effective. I’m not going to predict what his statistics will be, but I don’t think for a second that if we needed 30 or 35 [points] from him one night that he couldn’t get that. I think he can get that.”

But what if Bryant and Nash cannot stay healthy? That leaves the Lakers with a supporting cast with a mix of veteran and young role players, including Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson, rookie Julius Randle, Nick Young and Jeremy Lin.

“Some of that was done thinking about ‘What if?,” Kupchak said. “What if one of our veterans doesn’t make it through training camp or the season? We’ve kept that in mind and prepared for the possibility and we have the roster spots in case we decided to keep somebody.”


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