2010 Exit Interviews: Mitch Kupchak

mitchLakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak put together quite a team in Los Angeles, as witnessed by three straight trips to the NBA Finals, two straight championships and a core group in place to contend into the near future.

He shared his thoughts about the 2009-10 season, Phil Jackson, some of the team’s players and more with the media:

- (On the season): “Suffice to say we had a story book ending to a season that started out very promising. It was a wonderful run during the playoffs. I think the Oklahoma City series, to a degree, woke up a team that wasn’t ready to play their best basketball. I thought our team responded and played our best basketball going forward.”

- (On optimism for the next few years): “Extending Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol pretty much ensures our core group of players will be intact going forward.”

- (On Phil Jackson suggesting that he’s leaning towards retirement): “It’s come up (in player exit interviews). My understand was that (Jackson) was contemplating continuing or contemplate retiring. I think he’s still going to do that. I am aware that he used that phrase down here about 15-20 minutes ago, but until he makes his mind up, there really isn’t much more for an organization to do. I’ve expressed to him personally that I want him to return. He has a process that he has to go through. He knows he’s wanted here with this team, I think he’s been reassured of that throughout the exit meetings with the players.

- Kupchak said he would be “very surprised” if Jackson doesn’t coach, and said that he has not yet received any type of decision, which he expects at the end of next week.

- (On being aware that Jackson could retire): “You knew he might not come back anyway. His contract runs out on June 30. It’s not news to me that he might not (return).”

- Kupchak doesn’t think there is anything further the organization can do to get Phil to come back.

- There was a quip about Phil and sandals, since Jackson had told Kupchak that he was having trouble bending over to tie his shoes in the morning. Kupchak responded: “If you retire or don’t retire you still have to bend over to put your shoes on.” Jackson replied that he wouldn’t if he wore sandals, and Kupchak said that was OK with him.

- (On the team being capable of playing more than one way, as far as being entrenched into a system: “It’s not like we’re stuck with players that can only play one way.”

- Mitch on Ron Artest: “I think he was great. He was delightfully different in so many ways, ending with that nine-minute postgame press conference. Throughout the year he always worked hard. I think he’ll be better next year. I think he put a lot of pressure on himself by talking about how he was the one to blame … that part worked out but it might make it easier for him next year. You always wonder when you sign a free agent because you don’t know that person, but I will say that from the beginning, there were no problems on the court or off the court. It was all good. I think he struggled a little bit with the offense from time to time, but all is well that ends well.”

- “We have a lot of uncertainty in the back court” was how Kupchak addressed a question about what players L.A. might look to bring in.

- Kupchak said that the 2nd round of the draft is “probably not” the way to fill out L.A.’s roster, but he hopes the team gets lucky.

- (On going to the Finals in each of Pau Gasol’s years with the team): “Three straight Finals is just incredible. I remember sitting back and thinking I can’t believe we’re in the Finals three years in a row. It’s just unusual. Pau’s participation … certainly … you can also point to Derek and say he had a lot to do with it. You could argue that Pau is at the top (of his position in the league). We’re biased, but we might say he’s the best big man in the league. Even (if you disagreed), you’d have to say that he’s (at least) in the top five. Certainly we’re pleased, and he seems to be getting better, too.