Mitch Kupchak On Nash Acquisition

“The opportunity to play for one of the (league’s best franchises) was too good an opportunity for me to pass up. This is going to be a really exciting chapter of my career. I’ve always wanted to win, I’ve always competed the best I can to try and win; to be back in a position to win again is a phenomenal feeling.
- Steve Nash, 7/11/12

Throughout most of a 30-plus minute press conference in which Mitch Kupchak flanked his newest signing, twice-MVP point guard Steve Nash, the Lakers GM had a steady (if subtle) grin on his face.

Considering L.A.’s financial situation, Nash didn’t even seem like an option at first when free agency began on July 1, the Lakers having only the mini-mid level exception to offer, but executive vice president Jim Buss kept stressing to Kupchak that they had to “make the call.”

After the Nash press conference, we asked Kupchak how the process to acquire Nash began and was ultimately executed. Below are his answers, along with two addition responses to questions about where else L.A. must improve (bench depth) and the difficulty in acquiring star players:

On how the Lakers acquired Steve Nash:
Kupchak: That is very interesting, because beginning with free agency, we always do a list — (Jim Buss and I) work with my staff — of the players that we’re going to contact on July 1 at 12:01 a.m. We always like to call our players that are free agents first, Ramon Sessions and Jordan Hill and players that were on our roster. So we did that, and coincidentally, Steve Nash is also represented by Jordan Hill’s representative. Steve was at the top of our list in terms of point guards, but it never occurred to me that he’d actually be available. All we had was the mini-mid, which is a $3 million exception. Jim Buss kept saying, ‘Hey Mitch, don’t forget to call.’ Of course (Nash) was at the top of our list, and I said, ‘Jim I’m not sure this is something that can even begin to work out.’ But I said, ‘You never know unless you try.’ So when I spoke to Bill Duffy, we talked about Jordan Hill and Steve Nash, and (Duffy’s) first comment was ‘Well Mitch, would you like to speak with (Nash).’ I said ‘Of course.’ And then 10 seconds later, (Nash) was on the phone. (Duffy) was with Steve Nash when I called at 12:01 a.m.; I think they were together in New York. So that doesn’t happen very often. Looking back on it, maybe it was a sign, if you believe in those things. I didn’t hear much for a day or two, and then we got a call from Bill Duffy saying ‘Steve thought about the conversation we had and he’d like to make this work.’ So that started the whole thing with Phoenix in motion.

On how the complicated sign and trade with Phoenix was figured out:
Kupchak: It was a long process. As everybody knows, we used Lamar’s exception*. It had to be a sign and trade. The market for Steve was pretty vibrant out there. He had other options. I believe some of those options would have resulted in more compensation. This was the largest deal that we could offer, provided Phoenix cooperated.
*The Lakers had a large trade exception from a preseason trade that sent Lamar Odom and a second round pick to Dallas for the exception and a first round pick they later moved to Houston.

On the need to improve the bench from where it was last season:
Kupchak: We didn’t have a great bench last year, and I think we have to look to improve our bench a little bit. We have challenges in front of us, and hopefully in the next couple of weeks we’ll be able to figure it out. A lot of it has to do with our coach and how many minutes the guys are going to be playing, of the five starters. One is under 30, and the other four are above 30. I don’t think any of them would ever ask to play less, so we’re going to have to manage minutes. Therefore, you’re going to have to have guys that come off the bench that could do no worse than keep things at the same level they were before the starter’s left the court. You hope to get a player that can add (to the score margin) coming off the bench, so that will be a challenge. The new (CBA restrictions) make it difficult, but we’ll find a way to improve the team.

On the difficulty of acquiring stars in an NBA offseason:
Kupchak: Going into the offseason, every general manager tries to get that one player that can dramatically improve their team. If you can get one every five or seven years you’ve done pretty good. We think we got one this year. You’re asking me if I think we can do that twice?* I’m not sure that’s possible.
*Kupchak was asked about trade rumors surrounding Orlando’s Dwight Howard, but declined to comment.