Mitch Kupchak: 2010-11 Exit Interview

Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak met with the media to wrap up the 2010-11 season. Below are highlights from his exit interview:

- On a timetable for finding a new coach: “We’d like to be deliberate. In Los Angeles, typically we hire coaches and they stick with us for a long time, and hopefully win championships. So we’ll take our time in making that decision. I have not met with ownership, so that process has not really begun. We think this team can still win, so we’re going to get a coach that we think can help us contend for championships in the foreseeable future.” Kupchak didn’t want to get into naming names, but said L.A. would “obviously” interview a “candidate or two from existing staff.”

- Kupchak detailed how this coaching search is different from the last time Phil Jackson retired after the 2003-04 season, because of the discrepancy in players that are returning. Where as Kobe Bryant was about the only player coming back the first time around, almost the entire Lakers team, full of talent, is under contract for next season.

- When asked what went wrong with this year’s team in the playoffs, Kupchak cited L.A.’s 2003 loss to San Antonio following the three straight trips to the Finals. He explained that with that team, fatigue was clearly a factor, and suggested that it was this season as well: “Initially, I think there’s a lot of contributing factors that would lead a team that’s played over 110 games. Whether it’s fatigue or the continual challenge, distractions, the fact that other teams continue to say ‘Well they’ve been there three times now, we know them, we’re getting tired of this.’ It’s hard to pinpoint one thing, but I think the contributing factor (is) would be that you’re now going onto your fourth time trying to get back to the Finals, and that’s a mountain that’s pretty hard to climb.”

- As he maintained throughout the year when we interviewed him, Kupchak said he felt this group of Lakers had earned the right to fight its way through to the end. He didn’t think there were any moves that could have been made that would have changed the outcome. He obviously looked at opportunities, but didn’t see anything enticing.

- It wasn’t about age: “We didn’t lose to Dallas because we were an older team, they were an older team than we were. Certainly our team continues to age, and veteran teams in this league contend for championships. With the core players we have in tact, we do think we can continue to contend. We may have to look to improve certain areas.”

- On losing providing motivation for next season: “I think if there’s a silver lining in losing, that’s it, you get hungry again.”

- Kupchak had some very positive things to say about Andrew Bynum, first of which being that he finished the season healthy. That couldn’t be said for any of the previous three seasons, as he entered each offseason having to either continue rehabbing or go under the knife for various knee issues. He called the steps Bynum made this season “gigantic,” talking first about health, then general maturity, a willingness to devote himself to defense and rebounding for the betterment of the team, not to mention an ability to hit face up jumpers that hadn’t been seen previously.

- On losing Phil, and what Kupchak will miss: “His impact on his return has been huge. From a personal level, he’s made my job a lot easier. We worked, I thought, very well together. I’ll miss him on a personal side and I’ll miss working with him. I’ll miss watching him conduct a practice … (joking) I’m not sure I’ll miss watching him walk across the floor. I don’t know what the future holds for him. He goes through his medical check, and hopefully everything checks out, and whatever it is he decides to do I (hope) he’s happy doing it.”

- It’s clear to Mitch that Phil’s done and is ready to move on. Kupchak was originally planning on trying to get him to stay one more year, but it was clear that Jackson’s mind was made up, so Kupchak didn’t really try to twist his arm again.

- Kupchak said he’s unsure about what Shannon Brown and Matt Barnes will do with their player options. He thinks it’s premature to say what’s going to happen until the deadline for deciding comes. He encouraged both to meet with their representatives, and said that if he does have a good idea (which he implied he does), he wouldn’t share it anyways. Very GM of him.

- When asked about the Dallas series: “They just ran us ragged. They were an exceptional jump shooting team, (extremely) energized, feeding off a Game 1 victory. My feeling is with the exception of Game 3, we just didn’t contend or defend as well as we could have, but at that point, the series started on a Monday and it was basically over on Sunday. After losing Game 1, we were on our heels.”

- Kupchak was asked how offseason acquisitions did in his mind, and while he said that only Lamar Odom (obviously not an acquisition) stood out individually, he gave brief summaries of the other signees. He said that Matt Barnes simply got injured, which was extremely frustrating for him as it really affected his production, and said that Barnes’s right knee is actually still swollen. Theo Ratliff also got injured and wasn’t able to help, and on Steve Blake he had more details: “I thought did an excellent job of defending, running the offense, being a good teammate, he was fun to play with but he just didn’t shoot the ball, open shots, as well as he has in the past and he indicated that he just never got completely comfortable with the offense. One thing he was able to do historically was to make open shots.”

- Kupchak did not see any reason to be disappointed with anyone individually from an effort standpoint: “They’ve all shown great remorse, they’re disappointed, quite frankly they look terrible. Hushed tones when they speak. I’m not thinking for a second that there’s a player who quit or doesn’t deserve to be a Laker.”

- Back on the coaching topic, Kupchak implied that running the triangle offense was not necessarily a mandatory item for the next coach.

- Kupchak on Gasol: “He was noticeably down and hurt.” Kupchak declined to share what they discussed in their meetings, though he was also asked about how he felt about Gasol playing for his Spanish National Team in the summer, and responded that with the additional time off due to the unexpected exit, it “might not be a bad thing.”

- Asked about Phil Jackson’s suggestion that the Lakers needed to get faster to get easy buckets, Kupchak responded that it’s not quite so simple. “You don’t want a guy that can run and jump and has great quickness if he can’t play the game.”

- On the four second round picks L.A. has: “We do pretty good in the second round, we think. Maybe we can get a prospect. I trust our scouts and (Assistant GM) Ronnie Lester, who’s basically in charge of the draft … but you’re probably not going to get someone in the second round that’s going to (make a major impact).”

- Finally, Kupchak was asked if he “did want to blow up the roster,” and whether or not it would be difficult to do. His response: “I think our players have pretty good value around this league. If we wanted to have a completely different look, I don’t think that would be a problem. I don’t know if we’d win many games, but I think around the league, we have several of our players — I could be mistaken — that have value around the league.”