2008 Draft - Mitch Kupchak Pre-Draft Interview
What is the timeline for the off-season?
We're hopeful the off-season doesn't start for another 10 days; however, we're always planning a year in advance. Part of the reason I'm not in Boston today (Wednesday), is that we are working out players in preparation for the draft. And that is what we do this time of year, whether we're in playoffs or not. Upon the conclusion of the season, once again I hope that would be in about 10 days, the draft would be looming quickly so we really have to gear up quick, but normally we're on track no matter whether we're in the playoffs or not.
Some players have options in their contracts , we have options from time to time on players and those things need to be executed before July 1st. So you go to the draft (June 26th), after the draft there's a little bit of a mad scramble to put together or put the finishing touches on your summer league team, which this year will be conducted in Las Vegas. Having said that, we almost have our summer league team completed now. We'll add our draft choice to that, which is at number 58, and then maybe someone else we like that wasn't drafted to our summer league team, even though it's almost completed now. The summer league program begins in the second week of July (11th-20th). On July 1st players that have options or teams that have options on players have been executed, so you know what your roster is going to look like for next year by July 1st. You also will have made your draft choice by July 1st. So you have a feel for what next year looks like.
Beginning July 1st, that's the first date you're allowed to pursue free agents. Whether it's somebody else's free agent or whether it's your own free agent. And that's a hectic period of time, because you're allowed to pursue players, but you're not allowed to sign them. It's called the moratorium. After 8 days the moratorium ends and then you're allowed to actually consummate a deal and sign a player. That will coincide almost directly with our summer league program, so those will be going on at the same time. If you're lucky, you get most of your work done by August 1st.
In other words, the players that you want to re-sign on your team, you've re-signed them and if there's somebody out there that's a free agent that you're interested in, you have that player signed as well. If things go well, that's done by August 1st. There's always a period of time where you look to fill out your roster that may go into September, even the end of September, but you're just filling out your roster and by that time the broad strokes on the team should be completed. And if that's the case, the last 2 weeks of August are good weeks where we slow down a little bit in the office. Then the day after Labor Day, typically, the players come back and get into the facility and they're working out and getting ready for training camp, which is in about 3-4 weeks (after labor day).
Does getting this deep in the playoffs affect your draft preparation?
We try not to let it. This is not the first time we've been through this, we've done it 3 times in 2000, 2001 and 2002 and we made the finals in 2004. We're used to it, we haven't done it in a few years, but we've done it multiple times in the past and our staff, Ronnie Lester, is just great at organizing the preparation for the draft. In fact, he rarely travels to away games because he'd prefer to scout and work on the draft.
Pretty much all of our young players seem to have developed and gotten better this season. Is there anything you take from that that affects what you draft coming up?
The thing I take from it is that I'm happy for Ronnie and our scouts. Because they've done a great job in the last 4 to 6 years and I think they're starting to get some credit for it. However, in this day and age, it's hard to draft a player and have that player pan out in one year, it's very unusual because most of the players are so young. So it takes two to three and even 4 years for a young player to develop into a player. And a lot of times along the way there's some lumps that are handed out because, "Well I thought you drafted this guy, how come after one year he's not a player yet?" Well the answer is because it takes time. I think that gives us confidence that we can draft efficiently and effectively. Whether we're drafting at 10 or whether we're drafting in the 30's. I think that's a plus.
What's the status of Sun Yue?
He was our second round pick last year, along with Marc Gasol. Our feeling was that we would not have room on our roster this year for all those draft picks from last year. So we made it a point to go out and draft players that we knew we wouldn't have to sign. Of course we traded Marc Gasol, in the Pau Gasol trade, and Sun Yue played for his team, Aoshen, in Singapore. That's a Chinese team, but they played in Singapore this year. Ronnie Lester flew to Singapore to see him playback in January, he had an excellent year. He will play for the Chinese national team in the Olympics this summer. We think he's a prospect and we hope to be in contact with his representatives upon the conclusion of the season about his future with us next year.
Do the lakers hold the rights to any other players that are currently abroad?
It's rumored that the Spurs might have trouble bringing over Tiago Splitter. Has the landscape changed between the European leagues and the NBA?
No it hasn't changed. It's been the same for the last several years. European players have options. If you're drafted by an American team, an NBA team, in the first round, you're slotted into a certain pay scale and even if the team had the ability to pay a lot more money, they couldn't. If you're going to play in the NBA, you have to sign for the slotted amount. Based on where you get drafted, if you're drafted in the top 5 of the draft, 1-5, vs. 25-30 you can see there's a big difference. But that is the number you're going to get. Most of the international players are drafted in the 20's, unless you're Yao Ming or last year Yi Jianlian (or Pau Gasol or Dirk Nowitzki). A lot of them are drafted in the 20's and 1st round picks in the 20's for the first year make about a million dollars. Teams in Europe can be very competitive when they're facing a million dollar offer. So you'll see these players look at their opportunity in the NBA to make a million or two million of 2 years and maybe a team in Europe will offer them 2 or 3 times as much. And they may decide to stay in Europe for another year or 2.
It's been that way for several years and we've seen that type of circumstance take place where a team has to wait for their guy to decide to come over to the NBA. A lot of time they have a buy-out (clause in their contract) in Europe and they have to come up with the money out of their pocket (NBA teams are limited to paying $500,000 as a part of a contract buy-out) to get out of their contract in Europe. I think all GM's are familiar with the dynamics in drafting an international player. There's a degree of uncertainty involved in it, but we do believe that ultimately international players do want to play in the NBA and they are motivated. It's just a matter of getting the right deal in front of them where they're happy, we're happy and the team they're playing for is happy. Because I do believe they want to play in the NBA because they want to be the best and they want to play with the best in the world.
Are our international players ever helpful in terms of knowing about an international player or giving information about an international player?
It's interesting (smiling). You'll ask Vladi Radmanovic about a Serbian player and he'll say, "Oh, he's the best player in the world." And you'll ask Sasha, who from Slovenia about a Slovenian player and because they're both from Slovenia, he'll say, "He's the best player in the world." too And you'll ask Ronny about a French player and he'll think he's the best player in the world because he's French and so is the player. So they know the players, I do solicit their opinion, but a lot of times, that's how it plays out.
How does not having your first round picks in 2008 and 2010 affect this year's draft decision?
For us it has made for an unusual pre-draft season. When you don't have a first round draft pick it's hard to get a player to come in and work out for you, which is what we do this time of year. A lot of times we bring in 60-75 players in a 4 or 5 week period and work them out here at the facility. Because we don’t have a first round pick, agents will say, "Well why are we going to send him to work out for you when you don't even have a pick." So it's difficult for us. We really have to scramble to get players to come in, we have to look at a lot more tape and film, and then we have to travel to workouts to hopefully see these players.
Will you be targeting a specific position in the draft this year?
Leading up to the draft we discuss our needs as a team with our coaching staff and then our scouts, Bill Bertka, Ronnie Lester, Jim Buss and I will sit down and discuss our needs. And we'll have an idea going into the draft. But typically, you end up taking the best player available, as long as it's clear cut, regardless of position. And that's what we did last year with Javaris Crittenton. Even though we drafted Jordan Farmar the year before, you would think, well why would you draft another point guard, you just drafted Jordan. But the feeling was that he was just too good to pass on. And he becomes an asset you can move on or Jordan becomes asset that you can move on or maybe they both learn to play together or maybe you just figure it out at a later date. But you don't want to pass on a talent that you think is too good to pass up.
What do you think about the 1 year minimum stay in college rule, specifically does it help or hinder your job?
I think it's helpful because it gets us out of the high school gyms. It was very uncomfortable for Jimmy or Ronnie or I or Bill Bertka to walk into a high school gym and there are 15 and 16 and 17 year old kids playing the game and scout. We're just doing our job. We may have done that 15 to 20 times a year when high school players were available and clearly there were never 15 or 20 first round picks. But once an NBA team is going to the gym, that kid would think he's a first round pick because, " The NBA was here scouting me today." And that's not fair to the kid because it doesn’t play out that way. We’re just doing our jobs, but it's very rare when a high school player is ready for the NBA. It's good for us. It gives us an extra year to evaluate this guy in college and it gets us out of high school gyms. Theoretically, the more that we could watch a player play before he's eligible for the draft, the better we should do. Because when you're looking at a high school kid, you're really rolling the dice and trying to project out into the future 3 to 4 to 5 years.
Which current Lakers will be free agents at the end of the season?
We have different categories of free agents, we have unrestricted and restricted. Sasha will be restricted, Ronny will be restricted, Chris Mihm has a player option and if he did opt out, he would be unrestricted, DJ Mbenga will be unrestricted, Ira Newble will be unrestricted, Trevor Ariza has a player option and if he opts out, he'll be unrestricted. Coby Karl, we hold the option. If we opt not to bring him back, he'll be a restricted free agent.