Mitch Kupchak: 2014 Exit Interview


- Opening statement:
“At some point in the near future, I will sit down with Mike (D’Antoni) and probably Jim Buss and review the season, which is what we do every year at some point at the conclusion of the season.”

- On Kobe Bryant leaving town before the regular season ended:
“First of all, I did not know he was leaving town. Second of all, it’s a bigger story to you guys than it is to us. We had a tough year and Kobe (Bryant) has had a two tough years and two career threatening injuries. He’s had to live through this season that we had to live through together. I haven’t spoken to him in the last day or two but I understand (with him) leaving town, he will see his medical consultant in Europe. All things considered, to me, it’s not that big a deal.”

- On if D’Antoni will be the head coach next season:
“Mike is under contract for two more years. If anything happens, we’ll let you know.”

- On if he gives D’Antoni some leeway with all the injuries that hit the team:
“Under the circumstances, I’m not sure anybody could have done a better job (than) he did.”

- On if his view or approach on free agency has shifted knowing that the team’s pick this year will be high and the way the contracts are structured currently:
“Well, we didn’t expect to have a good pick and it looks like we’re going to have a good pick. Hopefully on May 20th, it becomes a much better pick, but there’s also a chance it becomes a less attractive pick, which is the nature of the lottery. We haven’t had a pick this high since I’ve been here, which is quite some time*. That’s exciting. We’ve been doing a lot of canvassing the country like everybody else watching games and watching the players. It’s a good group this year. We’re confident the asset will be a good asset for us going into the draft. Regarding the other part of the question, cap strategy and financial flexibility is a huge part, particularly with the new collective bargaining agreement. It’s really the main tool you have to work with to improve your team. Fortunately we’re in a market where that gives us advantages to pursue players. We do feel having the draft pick is an asset and having the financial flexibility going forward is as good a position as we can be in. Like I said, there is a degree of patience here. We have to make sure we use it wisely. If we can use it wisely right away, we will. If we have to use part of it and then wait a year to use the other part of it, we’ll do that. Just creating an environment where you have that flexibility sometimes takes teams six to eight years to do and we just have to be wise about our choices.”
*This pick will be L.A.’s highest since 1982, when they took James Worthy at No. 1 overall.

- On approaching the players on one-year deals on the current team:
“Despite the season and despite the criticism for having players with one-year deals, I thought we had a pretty good look at a lot of guys that are pretty talented. I would speculate that there’s a good possibility that we pursue some of them to come back.”

- On the utilization of cap space:
“We don’t want to predetermine that we’re going to spend or use our flexibility today. A lot of it is going to depend on the marketplace and our draft choice. There are a lot of guys on our team I like a lot, but we don’t know what the marketplace is going to dictate their contracts are going forward. You just don’t know.”

- On looking at the top of this year’s draft class and where he sees potential draft picks making an impact:
“They’re varying in degrees based on the player you’re talking about. Under normal circumstances you have to wait a year or two for a young player (to develop). A lot of times, the kids that come out are freshman. It’s rare, although we’ve seen it. Typically, based on maturity and position, it’s going to take a year or two. I think there are some players that are a little bit older in the draft that aren’t just freshmen and may be able to make a contribution quicker. But once again, we’ll have to see where we’re drafting. The list is still incomplete in terms of early entry candidates, so we’ll have to wait on that as well.”

- On Mike D’Antoni’s comments on how the game has changed and where he sees the game today and how it’s evolved:
“I don’t think there’s any doubt it’s changed. He’s 100 percent correct, and if you look at college, it’s how they play in college. If you look at those NCAA games several weeks ago, they were pushing the ball up the court and guys were taking 3-point shots before there’s a rebounder near the basket. That’s just how they play today. It is fun to watch. I thought at the beginning of the season this year, we were fun to watch, it was exciting and we were relatively healthy. The way the rules are today, it promotes that style of play. There are actually coaches today that tell their team we’re going to score in one of three ways: it’s going to be a free throw, it’s going to be a layup or it’s going to be a three-point shot. The idea of a two-point shot doesn’t even come up into a conversation with some coaches. That’s just the way it is today. Now is it going to be that way five years from now or 10 years from now? I don’t know. It is entertaining, it’s fun to watch and players love to play that way. I think it’s here to stay. Our challenge is – where teams that have a more mature and older roster – having to incorporate the talents of certain players on a team into a style of play if that’s how you want to play. But I think that’s the way the game is played today.”

- On if re-signing Pau Gasol is a priority in the offseason:
“Absolutely he’s a priority. If you look at the free agent board or the guys that may be a free agent, there’s probably not a player as good as Pau on the board. He’s waited a bunch of years to become a free agent. He’s going to get phone calls, so we’ll do our best to stay on top of it. I think Pau has a good relationship with this organization and I know he loves this city. We’ll have to see what the market dictates.”

- On if this was one of the more difficult years he’s experienced:
“No, actually it wasn’t. I know it was difficult for our fans and I thank them for their support and patience. Early on, when the injury bug hit, there was really nothing we could do. We had players under contract because they were getting paid so little and on one-year deals, we couldn’t trade them and get anything back in return that was better. Certain things are out of your control. I think Mike (D’Antoni) understood it and we understood it. It wasn’t easy for our fans with the year we had, but quite frankly, there was nothing we could do about it. There wasn’t a trade that we could do and bring somebody else on board. We had a feel going into the season how we wanted to end the season in terms of our flexibility. I think we did the best we could. It was a stressful year for our fans. I don’t think they questioned our direction, but we have passionate, loyal fans. They don’t want to see us lose.”

- On if he feels pressured to put together a contender in the time frame Kobe Bryant is under contract for the next two seasons:
“We want the same thing. Everybody in this room knows Kobe. He’s not the most patient person in the world and that’s not going to change. We’ve won five championships because of the package he brings to this franchise. We want to win and win as soon as possible. But it takes an organization a long time to get into a position we’re in now where we have options going forward financially and we have to use wise decisions with that (cap) space.”

- On Steve Nash’s injury woes:
“When we signed Steve, nobody anticipated in the second game, he’d break his leg. Not unexpectedly because he is an older player, but when that happens later in your career, one thing leads to another. A lot of times it doesn’t, but in his case it did. Nobody has worked harder and has been more frustrated than he’s been. He wants to play next year. From an organization standpoint, it’s hard to say from the point guard position: ‘We can bank on this guy.’ We can’t do that. We have to make sure that that position is covered. I know Steve will be in here every day, he’ll be in Vancouver working with his trainer, he’ll be in this gym working with our people. We’ll know more as the (summer) goes along.”

- On if signing a starting caliber point guard is a priority this offseason:
“We’ll see. We’ll see what the draft holds and we’ll see who is available in free agency. We have a nice young ballhandling guard who had an opportunity to play and who I thought from time to time really showed he could play in this league. Is he ready to lead a team through the playoffs? That remains to be seen. But we are optimistic on Kendall Marshall going forward.”

- On if he would have approached getting under the luxury tax around the trade deadline knowing how this season ended:
“No. This organization rarely, if ever, has made a strategic decision just to save money. I’m not exactly sure – there’s a lot of rumor – what deal we could have done but there was a lot of activity. The bottom line was we didn’t feel making a financial deal and not getting an asset back was the right message to send from this organization. The luxury tax is going to be important but that won’t prevent us from fielding a team that we feel can contend for a championship. We’re certainly not in a position where we were a couple seasons ago where we were locked into the tax.”