Has Mitch Kupchak gone mad? It’s a reasonable question given recent events. The GM of the Los Angeles Lakers, arguably the premier franchise in the NBA, doesn’t say much. No in-depth enlighting interviews. No pre or post game comments. Pretty much invisible during games. GMs are usually this way, unless their names are Pat Riley or Danny Ainge.
If you’ve seen any of the fleeting sound bites from Mitch over the years there’s no wonder he’s quiet. He’s not good in front of the camera or in front of the notepad. It’s the typical ex-jock brevity and retreat to clichés. Not that this style doesn’t work. Kupchak’s mentor, Jerry West, largely considered a basketball genus, was very much the same way.
We’re forced then, to judge solely on action and results. While it’s true that we don’t see all the actions, we do see all the results. We can even deduce some of the missing information, based on the big picture and other influences involved.
We don’t know how Mitch thinks. But we do know this; his teams went to three straight finals and took home two rings. The key event on that road to new banners at Staples was the trade for Pau Gasol, on February 1, 2008. Score one for Mitch. That trade removed the frustrating Kwame Brown from Los Angeles. Score another one for Mitch. Deals like this one, which was criticized by some NBA owners as very one-sided for the Lakers, just don’t come along every day.
Teams with the best record in the league don’t have great draft picks, so we can excuse Mitch for not having a single player on the team drafted after 2005. The Lakers haven’t had a first round draft pick since Javaris Crittenton in 2007, who was sent off in the Gasol deal.
Kupchak also signed Ron Artest from Houston, while letting Trevor Ariza leave and sign there. Looking at that deal today, it is not evidence of brilliance. Today, the Lakers have “Metta World Peace” at age 32, who averaged 11.0 and 8.5 points over the past two years. Trevor Ariza is 26 and has averaged 14.9 and 11.0 points over the same time.
But, in a “what have you done for me lately” world, what has Kupchak done lately?
He made some noise in almost landing Chris Paul. David Stern played boogieman and cancelled the deal (maybe he’s gone crazy) out from under the Lakers, without a defensible reason. Parties to that deal have been conspicuously silent, while writers and fans nationwide have pummeled Stern. Hard to believe that the Lakers couldn’t have pulled some strings and shown some patience to make that one happen, when, after all, the Clippers made it look easy. Is that egg on your face Mitch?
Then, in a move that looks impetuous at best, Kupchak “traded” reigning Sixth Man of the Year, Lamar Odom to the team that swept the Lakers out of the playoffs last year. Excuse me? Odom was coming off his best season as a Laker and is one of the most versatile players in the league. Mitch’s explanation was that Lamar asked for a trade. Kobe asked for a trade in 2007 and gosh, he’s still around. Dwight Howard has asked for a trade and Orlando is handling the situation very, very carefully. Lamar was upset after the failed CP3 trade of which he was a part and is dumped after 3 days?
But I noted earlier that results are what matter. We’ll have results starting Christmas day. Does Mitch have the chance to redeem himself? Absolutely. Will he? We’ll see. That’s why we watch the season.