Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak spoke to the beat writers covering the team prior to Thursday evening's game against Oklahoma City. Below is a transcription of his comments:
Q: On the Lakers approach to the coming trade deadline:
Kupchak: We’re going to play hard between the All-Star break – including tonight (vs. Oklahoma City) – and till the end of the season. I know they will. We’ll try to win as many games as possible. Certainly the hole we’ve dug is deep and going into the trade deadline, our approach is going to be different than in year’s past. So if you’re asking me do I think if we’ll pick up somebody that will help us this year, that’s probably not the approach we’re taking, although it’d be great to pick up a player or two you can evaluate, or even just acquire and have another year or two that can help the team going forward.
Q: On his impressions of the draft class and how hard it is to pry picks away from other teams:
Kupchak: There are first round picks and second round picks. Both are hard to acquire. Clearly first round picks are harder to acquire than second round picks. But with the new collective bargaining agreement, picks are valuable as they’ve ever been. There’s only three ways to improve a team: a trade; free agency; or a draft pick. We’ll look to do it if there’s an opportunity there. I can’t say it’s likely or unlikely at this time.
Q: On where the team is at right now and with all the injuries that it’s accurate to say the focus is on next season:
Kupchak: As a general manager, we’re always looking a year or two or three down the road. I mentioned earlier our approach going into this deadline might be a little different than it’s been in year’s past. We may look to shore up a position going into the playoff run. It may not be. But certainly I’m respectful and mindful of our record.
Q: On how much travel and time is he investing into this year’s draft as opposed to previous seasons:
Kupchak: It really doesn’t matter. Our scouting staff in general has seen as many games and have traveled as much this year as they have in year’s past. Our feeling has always been even if you don’t have a pick, you can always end up with a pick. If you end up with a pick the day before the trade, you better know the players. That’s our approach in year’s past and that’s our approach this year as well.
Q: On his review of this year’s draft class:
Kupchak: I think it’s a really good draft. Like most drafts, it changes going into the season and when you’re in the middle of the season, and I still expect it to change between the beginning of March till the end of March. But I think it’s a good draft. Some players that I don’t think anybody expected to be formidable picks in the draft a month ago, you’re starting to see some guys you didn’t hear about play really well. So I think it’s a good draft in general and I think there are (two or three) guys that really jump out at you.
Q: On agents allowing players to work out or not dependent on if a team has a high draft pick:
Kupchak: Let’s see where we end up. I think it’s clear we’re not going to have one of the best records in the NBA. But I don’t know where we’re going to end up, whether we’re going to be high pick, a middle pick or what. The agents have gotten very good at manipulating the draft as best they can based on interviews, workouts and even physicals for that matter. They’ve gotten really good at it. So they’ll be able to continue to do that. We’ve always considered Los Angeles a desirable place for players to play, so I hope that wouldn’t be a problem for us.
Q: On the team’s record currently and the new CBA parameters, and whether that presents more challenges to sign free agents:
Kupchak: I don’t think that changes. It’s more challenging to me and the organization. The rules make it more challenging to acquire players that are free agents, so I think that’s a challenge. But this franchise and this city will always attract players.
Q: On balancing trying to make roster moves now while also looking ahead to next season, despite the fan’s desires with so many guys injured:
Kupchak: That’s up to the coach. The coach will play the players he feels he needs to win. Winning is never a bad thing. I’m not a karma guy, if you try to manipulate this thing, it never works out the way you think it’s going to work out. You’re better off doing what you know is the right thing to do, and whatever happens, happens for the right reasons. That’s our approach.
Q: On the luxury tax and if it has any implications on the team making moves around the deadline this year:
Kupchak: It’s not a big concern at all. It’s not a big concern at all.
Q: On the repeater tax and how much that affects decisions:
Kupchak: We have to be out of it two years (out of five) and if we were out of it this year, that would be one year, but it’s going to be very difficult to be a repeater in the next two years by virtue of all the free agents we have. If you’re in the repeater tax by $30 million, you get killed. If you’re in the repeater tax by $1.5 million or $2 million, it’s really inconsequential. So yes, you try to manage your payroll so you’re not in the tax and you don’t really need to know that there’s a repeater tax looming, but at the end of the day, it depends on the team you have, how well you’re playing, if you’re winning and if you’re going to pay a tax, how much of a tax is it and is it worth it? We’ve paid a tax many years here and it’s been worth it.
Q: On Steve Nash and his situation:
Kupchak: I feel terrible for him. I really do. Nobody expected him to break his leg in the second game of the season (last year), and it’s one thing after another since then. Some players would sulk and kind of get depressed and say: ‘Well, I’m 38 years old – or whatever it is – and maybe it wasn’t meant to be’ but this guy has worked harder than anybody to get back. I feel terrible for him. I really do. Someone’s who’s had that kind of career, that’s worked that hard, that came here to win a championship, something that’s eluded him for years. But those things are out of his control and they’re out of our control.
Q: On if he would still make that deal to acquire Steve Nash 100 percent looking back on it now:
Kupchak: Absolutely. No regrets. You had a chance. You have to recognize where you’re at as a franchise and we felt we had a two-year window, maybe three, to go for a championship and that’s what we did. Looking back on it, which nobody can do, that’s a different story. But at the time, we knew exactly what we were doing.
Q: On how hard this season has been on him personally:
Kupchak: I think it’s been a lot harder on our fans than it’s been on me. I take every loss personal, but certain things are out of your control. I don’t know what our record would be if everybody was healthy. I just don’t know, but I know it would be a lot better than it is today, and we’ll never know what the season could have been. Could we have won 38 games? 42? 48? 50? I don’t know, and we’ll never know. But I know it wasn’t due to people not trying and not working their hardest. We really thought when we were a game over .500 and Kobe was coming back and Steve Nash was coming back, we had a chance to put something together. We were optimistic going into the second month of the season.
Q: On evaluating Mike D’Antoni and the job he’s done this season:
Kupchak: I think he’s done a great job. Under very trying circumstances, I think he’s done a great job. The players – I want to win every game going out – but the one thing that I think is important is that our players continue to play as hard as possible and compete in every game and they’ve done that. They’ve done that. After games if they do lose, their heads go down and they’re upset. There’s no music playing, there’s no guys walking out of the locker room with a hop in their step. It bothers them to lose. But the important thing is they play hard and they are.
Q: On if he sees any player under contract now that could be back part of the team next season:
Kupchak: Like any free agent, we have to put our two cents in but they’re going to have a say also. So, who might be back, I don’t know.