Having acquired Lou Williams, Brandon Bass and Roy Hibbert earlier in the day, Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak held a conference call with the media to discuss the team's new players, along with the free agency period, Kobe Bryant and more.
Q: On not landing one of the top free agent big men:
Kupchak: We sat down with three, but we called a lot of players, which is what everybody does at that time of year. We’re always hopeful going into free agency. You’re not allowed to contact representatives, players or third parties until July 1. So you really don’t know what a player’s thinking. You can pick up information by reading the newspaper and social media and get a feel, but you really don’t know until you arrange a meeting, sit down with a player and get a feel for what that player’s thinking.
It wasn’t demoralizing. It’s a part of doing business. There are 30 very, very competitive NBA teams. All general managers are smart. They’re armed with brilliant supporting staff (and) owners that are very successful. And it’s a very competitive market. It’s unrealistic to think in this day and age that every time you go into the free agent market you’re going to get exactly who you target.
Q: On whether the current roster and the past two seasons affected the ability to land certain free agent:s
Kupchak: Your roster has a lot to do with your ability to recruit free agents who are established and may be looking for a team that can win right away, in addition to being paid the maximum salary. Just because you could pay a maximum salary, you may not have a team that a particular free agent … might find attractive. Not all free agents are the same, but I think it’s a big factor.
Clearly in the past here, it was a little bit easier and the rules were different. But when you had a team that was very, very competitive, players at the end of their career, who really weren’t that concerned with the money, would sacrifice to play in Los Angeles and win a championship. That component was not really a factor for us last year. We do feel that we have young, talented players that are going to be in this league for a long time. But clearly looking at our roster, it wasn’t a roster that an established player would say, “Hey, I can go there and win a championship next year.”
Q: On the Lakers’ meeting with LaMarcus Aldridge:
Kupchak: I don’t think the meeting was as bad as people have heard it was, nor do I think it was as good as we hoped it would be. So I would just say live and learn. … You learn how to improve your presentation. Everybody’s different. Every player’s different. You can’t have the same presentation for every player. In that particular presentation, I always felt that player was really underappreciated, and my goal was to make him as appreciated as possible.
Granted, at the end of the session, we ran out of time and didn’t have as much time to talk basketball as we had liked to have. And it wasn’t as intimate a setting as I would have liked. On top of that, there was a team waiting in the hallway for us to finish. I think we accomplished the part about how much we wanted this player in Los Angeles. But the basketball component of it I didn’t think was covered in depth. We did get a chance to do that two days later.
Q: On whether the team will alter its approach to free agent meetings:
Kupchak: Our team will get better. We’ll be more attractive. We continue to have financial flexibility going forward. A lot of the teams that were presenting initially got a lot of credit for great presentations, and then at the end of the day I saw a clip of Coach (Gregg) Popovich having lunch and maybe a glass of wine with a player, and that sealed the deal. Sometimes it’s not the presentation. Sometimes the presentation means something, but a lot of times it’s just the team, the ability to win right away, clearly the money has a lot to do with it, and sometimes a coach and a player just click.
Q: On whether Lou Williams will come off the bench or start:
Kupchak: That’s up to Byron (Scott). I don’t know what Byron’s going to do. We’ve got a very young backcourt depending on where Kobe (Bryant) plays. Kobe may play some small forward and that would make our backcourt very young with the exception of Lou Williams. You’d have D’Angelo Russell back there. You’d have Jordan Clarkson back there. It’s up to Byron. I don’t know what he’ll do. (Williams) may come off the bench. I know he’ll play a bunch of minutes. I know he’s a good teammate. I know he’s good in the locker room. And I know he’ll be a factor in the game. He’s a proven NBA talent.
Q: On whether DeAndre Jordan’s change of mind made him worried that it would affect who they could get:
Kupchak: In normal circumstances, no you wouldn’t, because of the nature in which these deals are made. But the events that unfolded yesterday, to some degree, set an uncomfortable precedent. I want nothing but the best for DeAndre Jordan. If he felt he didn’t make the right decision, then the rules as they are presently set up allow for him to change his mind. Yes, it became a little bit unsettling yesterday when teams that you thought had used their cap room and solidified themselves at the center position all of a sudden have cap room, and the center they thought they had is no longer there.
Q: On what the past three free agent periods mean:
Kupchak: Each summer is its own thing. For the veteran free agents they’re looking clearly for a situation where they feel they fit best. And most of the time that’s to win right away. And for the last two summers we were not a team … that would contend for a championship. So we take each summer by itself, and I’m hopeful that our players get another year under their belt this year and we become a team with a core of players with some experience that maybe free agents down the road look at and say, “Hey, I want to play with those guys.”
Q: On whether he sees any holes needed to be filled in the current roster:
Kupchak: No, I don’t. You always wish for the best player with the most experience. And the combinations we have don’t always fit that bill. We have some great talent, but they’re very inexperienced. And we have some players with a lot of experience, but they’re not as young as they used to be. So it’s not a perfect roster, but I like the balance of the roster.
Getting a rim protector (Roy Hibbert) and a force in the paint is something we have not had. I think he’ll be challenged to have a really good year going into a free agent year. I think he feels that the last year or year and a half in Indiana didn’t go as well as he’d like. And he wants to get back at playing at a very, very high level and make the all-star team.
And then I like some of the young players. Clearly we’re excited about our No. 2 pick (Russell). We haven’t had a pick like that in a long, long time. I think Jordan Clarkson has a chance to be a heck of a player in this league. Just looking at him out my window and and attending the practices — to me he’s clearly had a wonderful three or four days here. I’m really excited about watching him in Las Vegas. Probably the guy I’m most happy for is Julius Randle, who didn’t even get a chance to play in a full NBA game last year. It looks to me like he’s gotten a lot better without having any NBA experience.
Q: On whether he thinks the team can make the playoffs:
Kupchak: It’s a little early, but I would say yes. I have to go through the rosters in the West. So much has happened in the last three or four games. I’ve been most concerned with our team. I want to see who’s gotten better and who hasn’t improved themselves, and kind of project and say, “Who’s going to be in the top eight?” I don’t see why we don’t contend for a playoff spot, but our young players have to grow beyond their years, and we have to stay healthy.
Q: On whether he still sees Nick Young as a core part of the team:
Kupchak: I do, and that’s gonna be up to Nick. He has to convince our coaching staff that he can play within the system, and that doesn’t only mean scoring the ball. That means defending and doing the little things, which I know he can do. So the answer is yes. I do see him being a core player this year.
Q: On how the increase in the salary cap affects how he builds the team:
Kupchak: The cap is projected to go up dramatically next year, and that will result in most of the NBA teams having cap room. There will be a rare NBA team that won’t have cap room next year. I don’t know if all the NBA teams will have maximum cap room. As the cap goes up, the max salary goes up. … I think there’ll be a lot of activity next summer. I think we’ll have more cap room than most teams. Not only will we get the jump, which will be about $19-20 million, but we’ll also have expiring contracts that will result in us having at least two times as much as that. It’s up to us to use it wisely, whether it’s signing back your own players or pursuing a player in the free agent market.
Q: On how Bryant will mesh with the rest of the current roster:
Kupchak: We’ve added some veterans that I think will make him happy, and there’ll be some younger players that’ll frustrate him. That’s just the way it is. To be honest with you, I think his focal point going into this season will be his own conditioning and his own health. I think that has the potential to frustrate him more than anything. I saw him last week and he looked great and he had full range of motion in his shoulder. Yet he had not started shooting the ball yet. And it’s still pretty early. It’s only mid-July, but he’s fighting Father Time.
I’ve got no doubt that he’ll be in great shape and when he comes to camp he’ll be leading the group when they come to sprints and lines and suicides. He’ll show great grit during practice. But I think he’s most concerned with — not so much his conditioning, which he can control — but it’s how is he gonna be effective as he gets older. I think it would be easier for him if he had played the past three years. You can kind of ease into it every year. But he didn’t really have the last two years when played a lot of minutes. So here we are again. He listed a big portion of last year’s season, which is a lot of time off. He’s gonna have to find himself or reinvent himself in training camp with a different group of players surrounding him.
Q: On Bryant’s future past the upcoming season:
Kupchak: I’ve answered that question probably 10 times in the last two or three months. I understand you have to ask it, but in short my understanding is this is the last year that he intends on playing. If that changes a year from now, we’ll discuss it a year from now.
Q: On when it is realistic to expect the team to be back in title contention:
Kupchak: It’s a process. The rules are different than they were years ago. I wish I could predict with certainty what would happen. A lot of times you will start the season out four or five games above .500, and you’ll make a trade, and all of a sudden you’re right in the middle of it. If you’re asking me when we’ll be in the Finals again, I can’t predict that. I do know this: If you have assets in this business — which is the ability to make a trade, financial flexibility and young players that you think are good players — then anything can happen.