Posted Oct 23 2008 7:11PM
The Los Angles Lakers were chosen by 46.2 percent of the league's general managers to win the 2008-09 NBA championship. That is a huge contrast for the Lakers, who were not among the top three selections in the last four GM surveys. NBA.com stopped in to talk with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak to get his thoughts on his club being voted the championship favorite by a group of his peers.
NBA.COM: What does it mean to you to have a group of your peers vote you an overwhelming 46.2 percent to win the title?
Mitch Kupchak: It's flattering to know that your peers think you have a good team. But basically it means nothing. A prediction is what it is. It's just trying to look into the future. But it does feel good to know they look at our team and think we have a chance at success.
NBA.COM: You don't sound too enthused.
Kupchak: Honestly, I would prefer to be an underdog. I think it's easier to be the underdog and not have to live up to expectations. You can try to glide under the radar. I don't think that will be possible for the Celtics and us, being that both teams were in The Finals. When we come to town we can't sneak up on anybody. It's going to be a big game for the other team and they are gunning for us.
NBA.COM: What do you think other GMs saw in your team that made them vote you top dog?
Kupchak: Mostly because we had a great record (57-25). It's natural to think teams that ended with good records last year are going to have good records this year. New Orleans, Houston and San Antonio ... those were all teams that had good records and should have good records this season barring injuries. Also we didn't have two of our players available for the playoffs, Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza, and perhaps now that we have them back the GMs thought we would be even stronger with them.
NBA.COM: In what area has your team improved so dramatically that GM's would vote you No. 1?
Kupchak: Really the team hasn't changed much. We let Ronny Turiaf go and we will miss Ronny's energy and leadership on the sideline. He was a great teammate. But as I mentioned earlier, if we can just get to the point where everyone is healthy, which is what every team hopes for, I would like our team. A player that we were fortunate to get but he will never be a Ronny is Josh Powell, but he will be a solid player. Chris Mihm, who has had three surgeries and missed almost two seasons, is back along with Trevor Ariza and Andrew. This should provide us with additional depth because they are now healthy.
NBA.COM: You haven't been selected to win by the GM survey in the last four seasons. Why do you think that is?
Kupchak: Our record speaks for itself. After the summer [of 2004], we traded Shaq, then let Derek Fisher go and did not sign Karl Malone and Gary Payton, [so] a drop off is expected and there was. And then Rudy Tomjanovich decided to resign and those are factors that lead to the record we had. At the same time, we were accumulating young players through the draft and our feelings were it was going to take a few years for those players to come of age and mature in the league. So personally, even though we had a down year or two, I think our future is very bright and the window where we were not so good was not really so big at all. It was really just a year or two and I think that bodes well for our players and coaching staff.
NBA.COM: Speaking of coming of age, Andrew Bynum is turning 21 soon. Any thoughts on the big fellow becoming legal?
Kupchak: (laughs) I thought you were going to ask me what it's like to turn 21. I don't even remember being 21.
NBA.COM: Nah, I was talking about Bynum....
Kupchak: Today he is still 20 and he is in his fourth NBA season and I just can't come to grips with that. When I came into the NBA I was a solid 22 years old and by the end of my first year I was 23. And here is Bynum in his fourth year and he is 20. As a league we have gotten used to young players in the league but it's still startling to look at young players in this league and see how much more advanced they are at that age versus players in the NBA 20, 30 years ago.
NBA.COM: Though he is young. I'm sure that Andrew being mentored by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has helped him gain some maturity on the court.
Kupchak: Kareem's impact with Andrew is ... you just can't measure his impact on and off the court. He started out as a coach on the court and off the court has turned into a mentor and that credit goes to Andrew for seeking out Kareem and for his ability to be coached and be receptive.
NBA.COM: One last prediction, "What will the Lakers be doing around June 5 this season?"
Kupchak: If we stay healthy and we dedicate ourselves as a team to team basketball (which we have been able to do), we should be in the mix at the end of the year.
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