The question and statement perhaps struck Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak.
He spent nearly 15 minutes addressing how the Lakers will rebuild amid a disastrous 21-61 record in the 2014-15 season, the team’s worst mark in the franchise’s 67-year-old history. Yet, a reporter still did not find much clarity on how the Lakers will turn things around, while noting that the Philadelphia 76ers’ blueprint seems pretty clear.
“Can you explain it to me, if it’s so clear?” Kupchak asked, in a half-joking, half serious manner.
The reporter then alluded how the Sixers traded away assets to stockpile draft picks while also fielding a young team in hopes to collect more. The Sixers could own as many as four first-round picks and five second-round selections. Philadelphia even traded 2014 Rookie of the Year Michael Carter Williams in a three-team deal with Milwaukee in exchange for the first-round pick the Lakers owe Phoenix.
“Okay,” Kupchak said, somewhat dismissively. “I still don’t understand what they’re doing.”
The Lakers are taking a vastly different approach, as Kupchak would explain for the rest of his 30-minute news conference.
Although Lakers coach Byron Scott has since conceded he didn’t see this year’s team as a playoff team, he believed a healthier roster featuring Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash at least would have made the team competitive. Lakers forward Carlos Boozer believed the Lakers could have played well enough to secure a sixth seed. But the Lakers missed an NBA-record 324 games due to injuries and featured an unproven roster.
While the Sixers have put a high premium on the NBA Draft, Kupchak said the Lakers are putting equal stock in maintaining enough flexibility either to make a trade, draft a top prospect or use its cap room to sign a marquee free agent, perhaps all of the above.
“There’s no way to etch a plan in stone that you know you can execute,” Kupchak said. “You don’t know who’s going to be in the draft and we don’t know which free agents are going to be free agents. A lot of them don’t have to declare until June 30. All you can do is set yourself up. We feel that we our set up to take advantage of all three of those ways to improve the team.”
But Kupchak said plenty of that plan hinges on how well the Lakers fare in the NBA Draft lottery on May 19. The Lakers have an 11.9 percent chance of securing the top pick, a 37.9 percent chance in landing in the top three and an 82.8 percent chance of remaining in the top five. Otherwise, the Lakers will owe the pick incidentally enough to Philadelphia because of the Steve Nash deal.
Yet, the Lakers’ two victories over the Sixers this season ultimately did not affect the final standings. Philadelphia (18-64) still would have ended with the NBA’s third-worst record regardless of those games with the Lakers. Regardless, Lakers coach Byron Scott joked earlier this season he would have demanded an eight-year contract had he coached a team that followed through on Philadelphia’s rebuilding approach.
“Their rebuilding process started a few years ago. They stacked up on a bunch of picks and have been picking up these young guys,” Scott said. “I think the way I’m looking at it is they thought it would be four or five years before these guys develop. But if they can keep adding all those first rounders and lottery picks, we’ll be pretty good one day. You just don’t know how soon that’s going to happen. The approach has been different as far as that’s concerned. Our approach this year, I’ve only been here this year. But it’s obviously the draft and free agency. We’ll have to see how that goes.”