We caught up with Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak prior to the tip of L.A.’s third summer league game in Las Vegas to discuss how the Steve Nash acquisition impacts the rest of free agency (and may encourage veterans to sign with the Lakers), what Dr. Jerry Buss considers before signing off on something, what Kupchak focuses on at summer league and more.
Q: On how he’s thinking about the Steve Nash acquisition a week later:
Kupchak: Clearly it was a significant signing. The more I think about it – which is not much because you don’t have time to let your mind wander this time of year – the more I know it’s going to make our team better. You have visions of Steve directing traffic throughout the game and especially at the end of quarters, making it easier for Pau (Gasol) and Andrew (Bynum) and Kobe (Bryant). You envision lob passes, pick and rolls, pick and pops. You look at Kobe’s energy being conserved where he doesn’t have to go out and create a shot whenever you need one. So when you take the time to think about it, it’s going to be fun to watch.
Q: On Nash’s impact on how the Lakers approach the rest of the offseason in terms of player acquisition:
Kupchak: Compensation normally drives the free agent market, but every offseason, there are going to be certain players that have limited options for various reasons like age, injuries or financial considerations. Those types of players often try to find a place where they can play for a year, either to win a championship or to see what it’s like to contend for a championship, or maybe learn under certain players on your team. So those kinds of opportunities will be there for us this summer just by adding Steve Nash. Some of the veteran players that haven’t won a championship may look to Los Angeles to try and win one, like some of the names that are being talked about.
Q: On preferring veteran’s minimum contracts to fill out the roster:
Kupchak: That’s the only way we can fill out our roster. With the new collective bargaining rules, it restricts what we can do. Right now, I don’t think we’ll use the mini mid-level exception. But other than that, all we have is the minimums. And with five high-salaried players, there’s only so much you can expect the owner to do, whether the rules permitted or not. I think we’ve demonstrated that this organization wants to win with the Steve Nash signing, but you can’t just go out there and sign the world.
Q: On Dr. Buss always being willing to spend money if shown that a move can help the team (i.e. using the trade exception from the Lamar Odom trade to acquire Nash):
Kupchak: Dr. Buss has always had a position not so much of giving a budget, but more like, ‘Tell me whom you’re thinking of signing, and I’ll tell you if I’ll do it or not.’ In his mind, he’s just not going to spend money to spend money. If it’s going to translate into a dramatic difference in the team make up, in wins or losses or excitement on the court, he makes a quick decision.
Q: On his split of time between talking to other GM’s and agents and watching the summer league games in Vegas:
Kupchak: I’d say it’s been business as usual, which at this time of the year means a lot of phone calls, a lot of discussions and meetings with ownership talking through different scenarios and possibilities. The fun part is the summer league aspect, watching young kids play, and hopefully seeing a player worthy of being invited to training camp and making the team. It’s also fun to watch high draft picks on other teams, guys you’ve seen play at college but not against each other at this level.
Q: On assessing the young players on the summer league roster:
Kupchak: Any time we draft a player, we feel he’s good enough for a shot to make our team. That’s what we believe in, but the reality is, historically, a player drafted late in the second round is unlikely to make your team. Keeping that in mind, during summer league we look for parts of the players on our roster’s games that translate to the next level. Even if they play well, it doesn’t mean they’re good enough to make our roster, but it probably means they’re good enough to invite to our training camp in the fall. Then they go up against NBA players like Kobe, Steve Blake, Andrew and Pau and so on and you find out how good the young players are. At that point, you assess their potential.