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.”