Mitch Kupchak: 2013 Exit Interview

13exits_KupchakA summary of Mitch Kupchak’s 2012 Exit Interview:

- Kupchak opened by discussing Dwight Howard’s situation as a free agent, relaying that the team is “hopeful” and “optimistic” that he’ll re-sign with the Lakers. He said he won’t pressure Howard, who needs to wait until June to capitalize on increases in the potential contract he can receive anyways. With that known, Kupchak said this: “I know in my heart this is a place where I think he should be.”

- Kupchak continued when pressed on the Howard issue, explaining why he’s hopeful: “We have a great legacy, a great history of great players in this city dating back to when the franchise came here in 1960, and he certainly fits the mold. But I don’t want to get ahead of the game and take anything for granted. Obviously, I’m hopeful and optimistic. From what I understand, our players that came in today were very supportive of him returning … If you just look at the opportunity, which is to play for this franchise in this city, with what this franchise has meant to this city and its accomplishments, that’s probably the most any team can offer a player. Certainly, some players might not prefer to play on a stage like in Los Angeles, but I do know that this franchise will continue to be run as a model franchise. This is a very desirable place for players to play. What it comes down to is being comfortable selling the Los Angeles Lakers, and that’s where my confidence lies the most.”

- On the status of Pau Gasol, who enters the last season of his contract, as it relates to a potential trade: “When you lose, everything is in play. This is the third year in a row that you could argue we didn’t live up to or play up to expectations. Everybody is in play, whether it’s Pau or anybody else to look for ways to improve the team. By and large, the organization has always looked to put the best product on the court, and that will continue to be how we’ll move going forward. Looking for the best players that give us what we think is the best chance to win.”

- On being comfortable with Howard as a franchise cornerstone: “Nobody can completely carry a franchise by himself. In this day and age, with the parity around the league, and the way the league, the owners and players have set up the new collective bargaining agreement, every team is going to have good players. There’s not one player that can carry a team. We’re very confident that we can build around Dwight Howard.”

- Kupchak said the season outcome – both from the organization and D’Antoni’s perspective – was obviously not what they envisioned, but he was impressed that D’Antoni was able to turn things around from the low point at Memphis in January when the team was 17-25: “To Mike’s credit, he made adjustments. Once we started getting players back and once he started to see what our real strengths were, he was flexible and made adjustments, and that’s when we started to win games and gather momentum.”

- On feeling pride about the late-season play: “Considering our payroll and what our expectations were on October 1 … at the end of the season, quite frankly, I was proud of this group. To come in at 45-37 – and believe me that’s hard for me to say – but their accomplishments the last third-plus of the season were significant. They really almost had to win at a high level on a consistent basis.”

- On what the Lakers will run next season under Mike D’Antoni: “It’s going to depend on the talent we have. The trend in the NBA, and the way you’re seeing college players and NBA players play, it’s very different to what it was 20 to 30 years ago. That’s probably not going to change. It’s an open game, a lot of pick and rolls, perimeter shooting. The game has really gravitated to the way Mike coaches, but you have to coach to a great degree to the players you have on the team.”

- Kupchak was then asked if the Lakers planned on using the amnesty clause: “Can I refer that to Mark Cuban? He’s our amnesty expert,” talking about the Mavs owner’s comments that L.A. might amnesty Kobe Bryant (resulting immediately in Kobe going off in Dallas, then tweeting ‘Amnesty THAT!). Kupchak then said the amnesty provision wasn’t something that he’d discuss right now, but it’s obviously something the team will consider for the players that are eligible.

- Kupchak understands the “passion” of the Lakers fan base, but acknowledged that he felt bad for D’Antoni, who’s taken the brunt of the reaction from the team’s losing. But D’Antoni knew what he was getting into following Phil Jackson, and hasn’t been surprised by criticism. Kupchak should be given some credit here in knowing how to evaluate coaches, and he’s been supportive of D’Antoni, so that should tell us as much as observations from watching an injured team play.

- On a lighter note, Kupchak quipped that he liked Metta World Peace’s Cookie Monster shirt in his exit interview, though he naturally had no clue about his status for next season (MWP has a player option on his contract).

- On Dwight Howard being criticized unfairly in his mind, and thus standing up for him in February during the All-Star break, which Howard responded well to: “I think it helped that people recognized what he was going through. Once again, the expectations leading into the season were just so high and so off the charts that any kind of sub performance would result in negative feedback, and that’s what took place. When you’re not performing to the level of expectations, people look for – and rightfully so – reasons why, and for some reason, he seemed to get most of the criticism, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that he’s here on a one-year deal, and for business reasons, he has to wait till this summer, but nobody understands that … I don’t think people understand it’s been about a year since he had surgery. Here’s a guy that had surgery last April and here it is a full NBA season later, and he played a full slate of games. I asked everybody here to look back at his March performance (17.9 points, 15.2 rebounds), and understandably, people aren’t going to say: ‘He’s not playing as well as he could because he had back surgery.’ When you’re on the court in this league, it means you’re ready to play. I feel as if he’s not been given his due credit and he’s been under appreciated.”

- On trading for Howard knowing he could possibly sit out nearly half the year: “I didn’t think we’d see him till January or February. When he showed up at the first day of training camp, I was shocked.”

- On D’Antoni, where much of the criticism went late in the season: “It was an adjustment process for Mike and getting familiar with our players. Mike was flexible and he listened to the players. Maybe too flexible at times, but he certainly, as a credit to him, worked with the veterans and they figured it out.”

- On Steve Nash’s year: “I was disappointed for him. I’ve never seen a player struggle and be as involved with the rehabbing of an injury and to be as frustrated as he was. I think everybody knows what he went through prior to Game 4 here in Los Angeles. Completely frustrating year for Steve. He’s going to dedicate the summer to get well, and he feels that he’ll be 100 percent in the fall.”

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