Post-Draft Reaction: Mitch Kupchak
The Lakers landed three young players — D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance and Anthony Brown — with their picks in the 2015 NBA Draft. Afterward, General Manager Mitch Kupchak addressed the media regarding the team’s selections and future.
Q: On how difficult it was to pick Russell over Jahlil Okafor:
Kupchak: The NBA rules allow you to bring the players in twice for workouts. Clearly we’ve seen these players play over the course of the season. They’re freshmen, so you don’t have two or three years of a window to evaluate them, but we had the one year. Of course, you have the chance to watch them play a little bit in high school, but we can’t go to high school games anymore.
So we exhausted everything that’s available to us in terms of scouting Ohio State this year, filmwork, bringing (Russell) in twice, taking him out, having dinner, talking basketball. My staff took D’Angelo out for dinner, and the coaching staff took him out the next evening. I think considering the options that are available to us to evaluate players, we had all the information available to make the decision. (There are) a lot of good players in this draft. We felt that he, at No. 2, was a player we couldn’t pass up.
Q: On whether the shifting of the league toward small ball affected his decision to draft a guard No. 2:
Kupchak: A little bit. You can go back and forth, and clearly that’s a discussion or a debate that you can have for a couple hours. You look around this building and you see (Wilt) Chamberlain and (Kareem Abdul-) Jabbar and you see Shaquille O’Neal’s (jerseys on the wall). Those were three pretty good centers, and there was a center available that we did not select. And then there’s also Jerry West and Gail Goodrich and Magic Johnson. So you can debate the whole topic. Am I going to say that we selected him because that’s the direction that this league and this game is going? I don’t think that’s the case. You still need quality big men in this league. And if any of those players on the wall were available, we would’ve selected them, but they weren’t. So our choices were what they were, and we’re very happy to have D’Angelo be a Laker.
Q: On whether the selection of a guard had anything to do with the crop of big men in this summer’s free agent market:
Kupchak: No, that wasn’t a factor in our choosing him as a player. It so turns out that there are a lot of big men that may be available in free agency, and if you look at the guys in the back court there may not be as many. But that wasn’t a factor.
Q: On what he liked about Nance and Brown:
Kupchak: We think that Larry Nance Jr. is what they call a “late bloomer.” He’s gotten better and better every year at Wyoming. (He) suffered a really horrific ACL injury about a year and a half ago and recovered and just had a great senior season. I know the staff at Wyoming very well. I know their head coach and their assistant coaches for various reasons. I’ve talked to them numerous times over the last three or four months about him: his character off the court; the fact that he is a late bloomer; the fact that he had a great senior year. He’s still recovering from an ACL.
We brought him in here twice for workouts. He was in Chicago (for the NBA Combine). But most importantly, the two times we had him in here he tested as an incredible athlete — just off the charts. And we just assumed he’s going to get healthier and healthier and maybe become even a better athlete. Like a lot of players, you always wish they could be an inch or two taller, but his size is good enough. His reach (and) wingspan is enormous. … We’re hoping he is a late bloomer and continues to develop.
Anthony Brown, obviously being in the Pac-12, we got a chance to see him a lot. He’s locally from Southern California. We consider him one of the better shooters in the draft. We think he can play multiple positions — shooting guard and small forward — and can be versatile enough to bring the ball up the floor under some pressure. We think he’ll get better at that. A good athlete with a great pedigree. I spoke to his college coach a couple days ago — Johnny Dawkins. You’ve got to take it with a grain of salt with those guys, but he was very high on him from a character point of view and from a basketball point of view.
A lot remains to be seen. Guys who get drafted late in the first round or early in the second round have to prove their mettle in this business and shot that they belong. One of them’s going to have some guaranteed money; the other may not. In any event, they’re both going to have to prove their way through a summer program and training camp. We think they’re both worthy of their selections, and we think they both have bright futures.
Q: On whether he considered trading the second overall pick:
Kupchak: The No. 2 pick has not seriously been in play. There really wasn’t much to move up (in the draft) to. As far as moving down, no, we did not look to move down in the draft. From the moment we got the pick, we realized that we were in a special spot, and we did not entertain moving out of that position. With 27 and 34, we had a lot of options to move up or down, but we felt we’d get two good players. And these players are worthy to have a fair chance to make this team and make a career. At the end of the day, we did look to buy a pick late in the draft and maybe secure a player’s right, but were not able to do that.
Q: On the process behind deciding not to trade the No. 2 pick:
Kupchak: Early on we knew that there were going to be at least three players that, if you had the No. 2 pick, you would be very comfortable, maybe even ecstatic, in selecting. I think there was a little bit of a break after the first three, but that remains to be seen. We loved (Kristaps) Porzingis as well. But we felt there was a natural break there. So it came down to the three selections. A week or two ago, it became clear to us that Minnesota was going to draft Karl-Anthony (Towns), so that left two players, and we’re happy either way.
Q: On how he feels the draft met their expectations:
Kupchak: We always feel really good about the draft when we’re done. Some years you may feel a little bit better, but we feel very happy about the way the draft went today. Obviously in the second pick we were in control, with the exception of No. 1. There was really not much stress there. But 27 and 34 ended up being that we got players that we’re very, very happy with. So overall we love the draft. I’ve been in this position before, and three or four years from now you look back on it and maybe you shouldn’t have been as happy as you were. And sometimes you’re even happier than you were, (like) last year’s draft. So it remains to be seen, but we like where we drafted and who we got.
Q: On how important it is to have a superstar player:
Kupchak: At No. 2 you hope to get a player that has all-star capability, and we think we did. He is young. He’s got gifts that you can work really long and hard on and still not acquire those gifts. Some of them you’re just born with, or somebody sprinkles a little gold dust on you at some point and it’s just there. But he’s gonna have to continue to study, work on the game, put in his hours and get better and better each year.
Being No. 2 or No. 1, you’re going to be a target. There are going to be some expectations. So he’s gonna have to just continue to work and work and work. But we think the upside is unlimited, and we didn’t feel that way about all the players we were considering.
Q: On balancing upside vs. bust potential when drafting a player:
Kupchak: You don’t get the No. 2 pick very often, so you really have to analyze the players in play and caution yourself always against making the safe pick. You don’t want to make a pick so risky that the odds may not be in your favor, and we went back and forth on that for several weeks. But after the second time we brought D’Angelo in, it was clear to everybody that he was far and above, at his position, the best choice for us.
Q: On making the decision:
Kupchak: It was a process. Although we watched all these players through the whole college season, you’re allowed to bring in each player twice. One is for two days and one is for one day. You’re allowed to test them; to give them dinners and meetings and look at film and watch basketball. So it’s a process that started three weeks ago, and after three weeks and watching each player twice, you reach a certain comfort level.
Q: On whether there was a conscious effort to draft NBA-ready players:
Kupchak: No, that’s typical in the draft. The seniors today end up being drafted, but normally a lot later. The first 10, 20 picks are normally freshmen. You have a couple sophomores sprinkled in, but this year … most of your top 10 are 19-year-old players. So you end up looking later in the draft at a lot of upperclassmen. I think that’s just the way it plays out.
Q: On how vital it is to draft a star player ;nder the rules of the collective bargaining agreement:
Kupchak: Under the new rules, it’s a huge advantage drafting players in the first round. Not only is the salary in slotted amounts, but you’re in control for four years, maybe even five. And if the player turns out to be a heck of a player, you have the advantage of a five-year deal versus a four-year deal. So you have one extra year you can offer your player, which is a huge advantage that did not exist with the old CBA. So the advantages you get from drafting a player are so much greater than they were under the old CBA.
Q: On Nance’s inflammatory 2012 tweet toward Kobe Bryant:
Kupchak: I have not seen the quote, but I was made aware of the tweet tonight. … I’ve spoken to Larry Nance Jr. with John Black, our public relations director. I’m not in a position to really share information, but it is something that they will have to discuss amongst the two of them. My understanding is that it was something that happened years ago, and in today’s world things don’t go away, which doesn’t make it any less offensive because it was sent three or four years ago. So that’s it.
Q: On the level of excitement in the front office and ownership about the young core:
Kupchak: We felt we had a really good draft. Ownership was present, and everybody was really excited. If we can get the three players we drafted in Summer League, we also plan to have Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle, who has been here every day for a month and is scrimmaging now 5-on-5 up and down the court. So if we can get the two guys from last year — Tarik Black and Jabari Brown — along with our three draft choices, that’s seven players right there. (We can) give them a lot of minutes, and that’s going to make for an exciting two-and-a-half-week period for us this summer. Really give us a chance to really get into the players; give our players a chance to play with the new players. And it’s really important for Julius.
Q: On the team’s approach to free agency:
Kupchak: I think we’d look to focus on the frontcourt. … We’re going to do the best we can. We’re always optimistic going in. It’s always a challenge. There’s 29 other teams. A lot of them don’t have cap room. Many of them do. But each (player) has a home team, and that home team has a huge advantage — that extra year — especially when you talk about max players. Those are all factors, but we’re are always optimistic and well organized. We have a great product, city and legacy to sell.
Q: On Randle’s ability to play at either forward spot:
Kupchak: I would hesitate to pigeonhole him at a position right now, partly because he didn’t play last year and partly because I just don’t know. I know that he can rebound the ball and bring it up the court and make a play like Lamar (Odom) could. I know he could rebound and defend with the best in the low post. I know he likes to turn and face. I know he can get out and run. I know he has great size and great strength. But I don’t think he’s a prototype power forward, and I don’t think he’s your typical small forward. He’s not a stretch four. He’s a versatile player that has to find his way in this league. We’re going to be challenged as a coaching staff to figure out how best to get him to play a game that’s going to help us win games.
Q: On how the players they drafted affects their free agency strategy:
Kupchak: We’re better today than we were before today in terms of adding talent to the team. Before today we had lots of open roster spots, and today we’ve added three. They’re rookies, (so) we can’t count on them, but we’re more complete than we were before today. And we’ll have to be active in the offseason beginning on July 1 in adding to that roster. I mentioned earlier that clearly the focus is going to be on that frontcourt. I think we still need some help in the backcourt. But if you’re asking me what’s the one area (of need): We’re better than we were before, and I think we have to hopefully add to our frontcourt. But that doesn’t make the roster complete in any event.
Q: On whether a potential free agent power forward could play alongside Randle:
Kupchak: It depends on the player. That depends on how our coaches see the player. The coaches were here all day, and on some level they participated, but very little. In fact, I don’t think I saw the coaches but once from when the draft started. They just don’t know these kids. They were here for the workouts and they watched, and I’m sure if I asked them they had an opinion. But I didn’t really ask them, with the exception of the top two or three. We brought in over 90 kids. They don’t know the kids. But when July 1 rolls around, they’ll have a much better feel of the NBA players, and they’ll be more involved.
Q: On Ed Davis declining his player option for this season:
Kupchak: He’s been here the last two or three days working out. I think he had an option to extend, and he did not exercise the option, which was not surprising at all to us. He was on a minimum contract last year, had a great year. I think there’s going to be a vibrant market for him, and he’s made it clear this is still going to be his first choice. So I’ll stay in touch with his agent throughout the process, and I don’t think we’ll get surprised, although the market moves pretty quick sometimes. But I know he was happy here, and if we can find a way to bring him back, he’ll like that.
Q: On how much he pays attention to mock drafts:
Kupchak: I don’t look at them. I do instruct some of our people to cross reference some of the mock drafts against our boards just to make sure that there’s a name that’s not missing. But I don’t read the mock drafts. My understanding is that they change every four or five days, and I don’t know where they get there information from. So I really don’t pay attention to it.
Q: On whether he tries to be aware of what other teams may do:
Kupchak: It’s hard not to be influenced by external factors. Whether it’s watching a game on TV and listening to the commentators; Jay Bilas can go off and say, “This is a great, great player.” And you’re watching the game, so it’s hard not to hear that and pay attention. Reading newspapers, college specials on TV, March Madness — you are influenced to some degree by other people’s opinions. So I can’t deny that. But once again, we try to construct the draft as independently as we can.
Q: On Nance being projected for the second round in some mock drafts:
Kupchak: It’s news to me. We’ll look back on it in four years and see who was right.
Q: On which of Russell’s qualities stand out to him:
Kupchak: His feel for the game. His ability to see the floor and to make plays; to make the right decision; to make his teammates happy; when to score. He’s a pass-first guard. I don’t think we would say he’s purely a point guard. I think he can play both (guard) positions.
(He’s) an excellent athlete, but he’s not one of the top five athletes in the NBA. But he’s an excellent athlete. He’s got great size, but he doesn’t have Magic Johnson size. But he has great size for a guard. I think it’s just his overall package where he’s got skills that are very good on all levels. But really his ability to understand the game, see the floor, make a play and display leadership characteristics — I think that’s his gift.
Q: On Russell’s attitude:
Kupchak: All the kids we interviewed at that position were great. They really were. A couple of them were more shy. Emmanuel (Mudiay) and D’Angelo’s workouts with us were their first, and I don’t think they knew what to expect. So they were a little quieter than I think their personality leads me to believe. And the second time around, they were a little more open and easy to be around. I think they were really on guard their first time around. Not only was it their first workout, but it was their first time with an NBA team. But they’re all good kids. We would have been happy to have any of them.
Q: On how the anticipated rise in the salary cap could affect the team’s pursuit of free agents:
Kupchak: I’m not sure how it’s going to play out. I think the biggest hurdle now is the proposed jump in the cap, not this summer, but next summer. I’ll be very curious to see how that plays out this summer with (how) all the free agents deal with that. Whether it’s signing one-year deals or two-year deals with one-year outs or some guys going for the four- and five-year max — I’m sure each player’s going to look at it from their individual perspective, but that’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out this summer.
Q: On whether he learned anything about pitching to free agents from last year’s experience:
Kupchak: No, it was a good experience to go through the organization of putting together a presentation. It’s a competitive environment today. The rules are very different. So that’s something we have to get used to doing: making presentations and competing against different teams and sometimes being able to compete against different teams when you have to offer a lot less money. So it was a good experience and will help us going forward.
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