Lakers’ Mitch Kupchak reflects on Kobe Bryant’s past, looks to future

LA Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak gives pre-season media interview at Laker's Training Facility in El Segundo. Photos by Brad Graverson/LANG/09-24-15

LA Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak gives pre-season media interview at Laker’s Training Facility in El Segundo. Photos by Brad Graverson/LANG/09-24-15

The soda stayed firmly in Mitch Kupchak’s hand. The Lakers’ general manager soon joked he had actually been nursing his third Rum and Coke.

Did it reflect Kupchak’s sorrow over Kobe Bryant’s announcement on Sunday that he would retire following the 2015-16 season? Or did it convery Kupchak’s celebration on having clarity on Bryant’s ending? The answer is neither. Kupchak obviously wasn’t drinking. The Lakers’ general manager also offered pragmatism on the implications on Bryant retiring after the final year of his contract worth $25 million ends.

“I’m not surprised, the surprising part of this is that he made this announcement,” Kupchak said. “My understanding all along was that this was going to be his last year. Certainly there’s been speculation and this puts an end to any speculation that he may come back for another year. But it was my understanding all along.”

Bryant had partly fueled that speculation both because of his star power and his insistence to leave his future open-ended. After playing only 35 games last season before needing surgery on his right shoulder, Bryant had publicly said he leaned toward retiring once his contract ended. But he said he “probably” would not know about his future until the 2015-16 season ended.

With Bryant formalizing his decision sooner than expected, Kupchak reflected on the development in two ways.

He waxed nostalgic on Bryant’s prolific career that entailed five NBA championships, a third place-standing on the league’s all-time scoring list, two NBA Finals MVP’s, one NBA regular-season MVP and 17 NBA All-Star appearances.

“He’s a winner and he came into this league with an unprecedented desire to compete and get better and be the best,” Kupchak said. “He remains that exact same person today, and that’s with the goods and the bad that come with it. But he remains that exact same person.”

Kupchak also acknowledged the Lakers have more clarity on the team’s future. With Bryant’s contract coming off the books, the Lakers will have enough money to sign two marquee free agents to max contracts.

“It’s difficult to predict the future,” Kupchak said. “But now that we don’t have to deal with speculation and try to predict what may or may not happen with the remainder of the year, we know with certainty what our cap situation will be.”
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Lakers’ Kobe Bryant relished feedback from Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson on his last NBA season

LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES: Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls (L) eyes the basket as he is guarded by Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers during their 01 February game in Los Angeles, CA. Jordan will appear in his 12th NBA All-Star game 08 February while Bryant will make his first All-Star appearance. The Lakers won the game 112-87. AFP PHOTO/Vince BUCCI (Photo credit should read Vince Bucci/AFP/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES: Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls (L) eyes the basket as he is guarded by Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers during their 01 February game in Los Angeles, CA. Jordan will appear in his 12th NBA All-Star game 08 February while Bryant will make his first All-Star appearance. The Lakers won the game 112-87. AFP PHOTO/Vince BUCCI (Photo credit should read Vince Bucci/AFP/Getty Images)

The man became Kobe Bryant’s idol as he developed his game and set a measuring stick on his NBA legacy. But Michael Jordan also became one of the first people Bryant informed last summer that he planned to retire following the 2015-16 season.

“The important thing from him was just enjoy it,” Bryant said following the Lakers’ 107-103 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Sunday at Staples Center. “No matter what, just enjoy it. Dob’t let anybody take that away from you. No matter what happens, good or bad. Enjoy it.”

The man became Bryant’s coach, teacher and mentor even as he initially became frustrated with his motivational tactics and basketball philosophies. But New York Knicks president and former Lakers coach Phil Jackson became a key figure in assuaging Bryant’s frustration amid a trying season.

“He said to break the season up into sections,” said Bryant, who has averaged 15.5 points on a career-low 30.5 percent shooting through the Lakers’ last-place start in the Western Conference (2-14). “Take it one chunk at a time. Just try to get through it.”
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Lakers’ Byron Scott said Kobe Bryant “at peace” with retirement decision

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant #24 stands next to coach Byron Scott in the first half. The Lakers played the Minnesota Timberwolves in the opening game of the 2015-16 NBA season. Los Angeles, CA, 10/28/2015 (photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles News Group)

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant #24 stands next to coach Byron Scott in the first half. The Lakers played the Minnesota Timberwolves in the opening game of the 2015-16 NBA season. Los Angeles, CA, 10/28/2015 (photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles News Group)

The news left Lakers coach Byron Scott feeling “sad” as Kobe Bryant informed him at some point on Saturday night that he planned to retire following the 2015-16 NBA season. But even if Scott nursed those feelings leading into Sunday’s game against the Indiana Pacers at Staples Center, Scott noticed that Bryant appeared “at peace” with his decision.

“It was so matter of fact,” Scott recalled in a press conference on Sunday evening. “After I thought about it, I felt better about that. It wasn’t like he was agonizing over anything.”

Bryant formally announced his plans in an article for The Players’ Tribune website that was published Sunday afternoon.

“You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream, and I’ll always love you for it,” Bryant wrote in the article. “But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer. This season is all I have left to give. My heart can take the pounding. My mind can handle the grind. But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.”
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Lakers’ Kobe Bryant will retire following 2015-16 season

Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant ,24, takes a shot against Portland's Al-Farouq Aminu,8, during the first quarter at the Staples Center.  Los Angeles Calif., Sunday, November,22, 2015.         (Photo by Stephen Carr / Daily Breeze)

Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant ,24, takes a shot against Portland’s Al-Farouq Aminu,8, during the first quarter at the Staples Center. Los Angeles Calif., Sunday, November,22, 2015.
(Photo by Stephen Carr / Daily Breeze)

Although he initially wanted to stay open-ended about his future, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has decided he will retire following the 2015-16 season.

“This season is all I have left to give.” Bryant wrote in a Players Tribune article.

The Lakers had expected Bryant would retire following his 20th NBA season. Ever since he had season-ending right shoulder surgery last season after playing only 35 games, Bryant had expected he would not play past his current contract beyond $25 million. But Bryant had left the option open in case he changed his mind.

That appears no longer the case. Bryant has averaged 15.7 points on a career-low 31.5 percent shooting. The Lakers (2-13) are also off to their worst-start in franchise history.

“This season is all I have left to give,” Bryant wrote. “My heart can take the pounding. My mind can handle the grind. But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.”
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Lakers’ Lou Williams given leave of absence following grandfather’s passing

Lakers guard Louis Williams dives out of bounds for a ball against Minnesota in the opening game of the 2015-16 NBA season. (John McCoy/Los Angeles News Group)

Lakers guard Louis Williams dives out of bounds for a ball against Minnesota in the opening game of the 2015-16 NBA season. (John McCoy/Los Angeles News Group)

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Lakers granted reserve guard Lou Williams a leave of absence after his grandfather recently passed. Williams did not travel with the team for Saturday’s game in Portland and does not plan to play in Sunday’s game against Indiana at Staples Center.

The Lakers expect that Williams will rejoin the team on Monday in Philadelphia before starting an 8-game, 13-day trip.

“We’re all thinking about Lou at this particular time,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said. “We all know that he and his grandfather was very close.”

The Lakers signed the 29-year-old Williams to a three-year deal worth $21 million this past summer. Williams has averaged 12.3 points albeit on 35.1 percent shooting in 24.9 minutes per game off the bench. Yet, Scott attributed some of those struggles on himself by playing him at point guard instead of shooting guard. Scott switched Williams’ role to the off-guard position for the past two games.

“He was trying his very best to play that point guard role. But that’s not him,” Scott said of Williams. “It’s just trying to get him back and be more comfortable in the offense and system. Putting him back to the 2-guard, he’s free and catch-and-shoot and make plays instead of making plays for others. We’ll see how it works out in the end.”


RELATED:

Lakers’ Byron Scott dismisses lottery talk, fan dissatisfaction

Lakers balancing Kobe Bryant’s options in back-to-backs

Byron Scott still senses support from Lakers front office

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mark.medina@langnews.com

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Lakers’ Byron Scott dismisses lottery talk, fan dissatisfaction

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott  talks with Laker Jordan Clarkson,6, and D'Angelo Russell ,1, against Portland, during the second half at the Staples Center.  Los Angeles Calif., Sunday, November,22, 2015.         (Photo by Stephen Carr / Daily Breeze)

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott talks with Laker Jordan Clarkson,6, and D’Angelo Russell ,1, against Portland, during the second half at the Staples Center. Los Angeles Calif., Sunday, November,22, 2015.
(Photo by Stephen Carr / Daily Breeze)

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Lakers have not even completed a month of the 2015-16 season, but both an uncomfortable and familiar question has already emerged.

With the Lakers (2-12) entering Saturday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers (6-10) at Moda Center with the NBA’s second-worst record, how much effort will the franchise put in retaining its top-3 protected draft pick?

“I don’t think about that whatsoever,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said following Saturday’s morning shootaround. “I probably won’t until April. That’s something I can’t control and that’s at the end of the season.”

The Lakers are in a precarious position. They appear likely bad enough to lose a lot of games. But will they be bad enough to land in the top three? Otherwise, the Lakers owe Philadelphia their first-round pick as part of the Steve Nash trade. The Lakers finished last season with the NBA’s fourth-worst record, but moved up two slots for the No. 2 pick. The Lakers eventually chose point guard D’Angelo Russell with that pick.

“It’s impossible to think about the team, try to get our young guys better, the team better and also thinking about a pick,” Scott said. “That’s six months away and you might not even get it. I don’t concern myself with things that aren’t in my control.”

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Lakers’ Byron Scott: “We don’t trust each other on the floor”

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott against Portland, during the second half at the Staples Center.  Los Angeles Calif., Sunday, November,22, 2015.         (Photo by Stephen Carr / Daily Breeze)

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott against Portland, during the second half at the Staples Center. Los Angeles Calif., Sunday, November,22, 2015.
(Photo by Stephen Carr / Daily Breeze)

The Lakers rank 29th out of 30 NBA teams in offensive efficiency and 28th in defensive efficiency. Other than that, everything has gone well for the Lakers.

“We don’t have chemistry problems. Our guys get along,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said after practice Friday at the team’s facility in El Segundo. “We just don’t trust each other on the floor.”

Scott then mentioned how the team has several ball-dominant players, including Bryant, D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Lou Williams and Nick Young.

“Guys sometimes want the ball in their hands and they don’t trust making passes to other guys. We have to get to the point where the ball doesn’t stick and we find open guys,” Scott said. “When you have young guys that are so used to having the ball, getting rid of it is sometimes an issue. That’s what we’re trying to break.”
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Lakers’ Byron Scott keeping options open on Kobe Bryant’s workload in back-to-backs

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant #24 stands next to coach Byron Scott in the first half. The Lakers played the Minnesota Timberwolves in the opening game of the 2015-16 NBA season. Los Angeles, CA, 10/28/2015 (photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles News Group)

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant #24 stands next to coach Byron Scott in the first half. The Lakers played the Minnesota Timberwolves in the opening game of the 2015-16 NBA season. Los Angeles, CA, 10/28/2015 (photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles News Group)

Well before Kobe Bryant stepped on the court in his 20th and likely last NBA season, it appeared obvious the Lakers’ slate of 18 back-to-back games would represent a major factor in his workload.

But Lakers coach Byron Scott conceded uncertainty how will handle Bryant’s playing time when the Lakers (2-12) play the Portland Trail Blazers (6-10) on Saturday at Moda Center before hosting the Indiana Pacers (9-5) on Sunday at Staples Center.

“Tomorrow we’ll play him,” Scott said following Friday’s practice at the Lakers’ facility in El Segundo. “Then we’ll see how he looks for Sunday.”
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Lakers’ Byron Scott rules out changing Kobe Bryant’s role or minutes

Golden State Warriors interim coach Luke Walton, left, walks off the court with Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant after an NBA basketball game in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. The Warriors won 111-77. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Golden State Warriors interim coach Luke Walton, left, walks off the court with Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant after an NBA basketball game in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. The Warriors won 111-77. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Kobe Bryant has missed nearly every shot he takes. Bryant has missed nearly every practice and morning shootaround. Bryant has missed three games because of concerns surrounding both a sore back and fatigue.

Yet, Lakers coach Byron Scott maintained that he has not considering adjusting Bryant’s role or his minutes in hopes to jumpstart both the Lakers (2-11) and Bryant’s play.

“The last few days he said he feels great,” Scott said following Wednesday’s practice at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. “I don’t think it’s a matter of him being tired or his legs being tired. It’s a matter of his timing being a little off.”

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Lakers’ Byron Scott, D’Angelo Russell view playing time in blowout losses differently

Los Angeles Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell (1) dribbles past Golden State Warriors guard Shaun Livingston during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell (1) dribbles past Golden State Warriors guard Shaun Livingston during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

OAKLAND — The outcome seemed obvious well before the final buzzer sounded. The Lakers’ 111-77 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday at Oracle Arena set NBA history that did not involve purple and gold excellence. The Warriors (16-0) have an NBA record 16-game winning streak to open the season, an honor the 1948-49 Washington Capitols and 1993-94 Houston Rockets once held. The Lakers (2-12) lost their fourth consecutive game and posted a season-low in points.

Yet, the Lakers still had to finish the game. Lakers coach Byron Scott still had to evaluate how players performed. Players still had to prove they would still compete.

But Lakers rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell was not part of that process. He sat out the entire fourth quarter after posting eight points on 4-of-8 shooting, four rebounds, two assists, two steals and one turnover in 25 minutes, 51 seconds.

“Nah. There’s really no reason to. At that particular time we’re down 30 [points],” Scott said. “I wanted to get Ryan [Kelly] some time and Marcelo [Huertas] as well and some other guys that haven’t played a lot.”

In fact, Scott rested all of his starters, including Kobe Bryant, as the Lakers entered the fourth quarter trailing the Warriors, 89-55. But Russell represents a potential cornerstone of the Lakers’ long-term future. Isn’t there value in Russell having game experience even in blowout losses?

“Nah,” Scott said.

Russell would not have been playing in the Lakers’ normal rotation. That experience cannot simulate the same result in a competitive environment when successes or failures become more magnified. But Russell subscribed to the argument that any increased playing time will have long-term implications, regardless of the settings.

“That would be great,” Russell told Los Angeles News Group. “You’re only a rookie once. You get reps now and mess up now. So then next year when you’re not a rookie, you don’t have to worry about making rookie mistakes.”
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