Kupchak’s Presser: Ten Things to Know
Mitch Kupchak addressed assembled media members for a full 37 minutes on Thursday, prior to the official start to the season coming at Monday’s media day.
If you’re especially hungry for details, you can watch the entire thing on Lakers.com; if not, here’s a summary of 10 topics Kupchak opined upon:
Details: We know that Kobe Bryant is heading into his 20th NBA season with a clean bill of health, having fully recovered from shoulder surgery in January. Kupchak said there have yet to be “formal discussions” about limiting Bryant’s minutes, but that will happen, likely involving head athletic trainer Gary Vitti and head coach Byron Scott. We can expect that Bryant will miss many (if not all) back to backs depending upon how his body responds, but Kupchak said that he “looks great, is in great shape.”
I asked if the Lakers could count on Kobe to be a No. 1 option as he has for the bulk of his career. Kupchak responded this way: “Assuming he plays as well as he looked (Wednesday in the team’s gym), that would be our assumption going in. Once again, he says he’s 100 percent, he’s been shooting and playing basketball and doing his normal routine in Orange County for six or seven weeks now. I know what that means. I’ve watched him work out. I know what he puts himself through. Assuming he’s ready to go then he’ll go full blast and we’ll go from there.” The question, of course, will be to what level Kobe and his body can sustain his play and fitness as the season goes on.
Kupchak was measured when discussing No. 2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell. In short, he’s excited about his future – that’s the reason they took him so high – but wants to allow the necessary time for the 19-year-old to develop. Kupchak may be more excited about Russell than he’s going to be willing to let on, because he doesn’t want to create a ridiculous expectation, as if Magic Johnson is going to take the floor from Day 1. “He’s 19, and you rarely see 19-year-old kids come in and live up to their draft status,” Kupchak said. “We have to keep that in mind.”
However, there has been word out of the Lakers’ building that Russell has looked really good in scrimmages between the young players at the facility, already showing much more than the flashes he exhibited in an up-and-down Summer League. “He’s played much more at ease the last six weeks than he did this summer,” said the GM. “He’s going to get a chance to play from Game 1.”
3) BACKCOURT OF THE FUTURE?
Kupchak has steadily maintained that Russell and Jordan Clarkson can play together, which Kupchak told Russell before the Lakers drafted him. He feels their skills can complement one another, and likes that both players can handle the ball and make plays. Whether we see them start together from Day 1, or if one comes off the bench, they will definitely spend considerable time on the court together. Kobe is going to play plenty of SF this year, which opens up a backcourt spot should Scott want to roll with the young combo. Alternatively, both players could have the ball in their hands more often if their playing time is staggered to some degree. We’ll see.
4) RANDLE, CLARKSON WIN THE OFFSEASON
Kupchak raved about all the hard work that the two 2014 Draft picks put in over the summer. Each was a constant presence at the facility, working out with L.A.’s basketball development group and their training/strength/conditioning crew. For Randle, it’s been really important to develop in this manner, as he didn’t have the chance to do so having played only one game before the injury last season. It certainly wasn’t hard to find folks at the team’s facility willing to rave about how good Randle looks throughout the summer.
For Clarkson, Kupchak sees it as a big step towards validating what he did in Year 1, when he very much outplayed his 46th overall draft position to the point of making the NBA’s All-Rookie First team. Kupchak used the word “attack” to describe how Clarkson approached his offseason, which offset some thoughts Kupchak (or any basketball executive) would have about a player playing well on a bad team, which is sometimes difficult to judge. He still wants to see if Clarkson can perform similarly for a good team, but that’s mitigated by how impressive Jordan has been off the court. Those things matter to GM’s, as they show that a player will continue to improve and grow throughout his career.
5) HIBBERT: Defense and Bird Rights
Kupchak anticipates what from Roy Hibbert? “I’m hoping he can get back to what he was two or three years ago. He has great size and great length … his wing span approaches 7’8’’, and he’s on the last year of a deal so I know he wants to play well. I think he needed a change of scenery. He’s highly skilled and he could be our best midrange shooter. We know he can take up a lot of space in the paint and whether through positioning or contesting a shot he can be a presence defensively.”
Maybe it’s selling Hibbert a bit short to just dismiss his past season and change, as last year specifically he was dealt a healthy amount of blame for a team that lost wings Paul George and Lance Stephenson prior to the season. He was still very effective defensively, and lost 16 pounds in the offseason in part to deal with what he perceives to be a smaller, quicker league. He was an All-Star in 2012 and 2014, and is only 28, so if he does find that form, L.A. has his Bird Rights after the season and thus an advantage to keep him without inhibiting the team’s ability to sign free agents (cap hold discussions aside). Regardless, it seems a smart gamble for the Lakers to have a highly-motivated defensive force patrolling the middle.
6) YOUNG TALENT VS. EXPERIENCE
It will always be the goal for the Lakers to “try and win every game,” and even with a roster that won’t be favored by most to make the playoffs, that’s how they start the season. I wondered about the balance between developing young players and trying to win games, and Kupchak implied winning takes priority at least initially. For example, if a veteran is playing better early in the season and it’s crunch time, Byron Scott very well may ride that vet instead of putting a young player in a learning situation. But, of course, many of the young players may prove to give the Lakers their best chance to win as the season progresses. That competition between say D’Angelo Russell/Jordan Clarkson and Lou Williams/Marcelo Huertas will be evident, but just because Williams and Huertas are older, they won’t necessarily be called upon every time. In sum: putting a focus on winning doesn’t mean vets > young guys. Sometimes the young guys are just better.
7) WORLD PEACE?
Nothing is official, but Kupchak acknowledged the possibility that Metta World Peace will return to the Lakers. It’s no secret that MWP has been at the team’s facility scrimmaging and working with L.A.’s young players, and taking a specific role with Julius Randle that Randle raved about to Yahoo! this week. Kupchak is wary of the 2010 title winner taking time (at least) or a roster spot (at most) from a developing player when MWP is clearly on the tail end of his career, but every NBA team needs a balance between young guys and veterans. Kupchak’s been impressed with the shape MWP is in, and had this to say: “He can still be very effective on the court, but these are scrimmages that last 15-20 minutes and not a full-court, NBA game. Training camp will be very important. As a person, I’ve gotten to know him very well and I think he’d be great in the locker room with young players. But we have to be careful not to use a roster spot too early, because we have a lot of young kids that we’re going to bring to camp and we don’t want to put ourselves in a bind by (taking up roster spots) from talented (young players).”
8) THE UNKNOWNS
What, if anything, can we expect from No. 27 overall pick Larry Nance, Jr., and No. 34 pick Anthony Brown? Kupchak isn’t sure for 2015-16, even while liking some of what he’s seen so far. In other words, they won’t head into camp with a likelihood of grabbing a spot in the 10-man rotation, but neither do most players taken in that range. “Two young rookies that have to find their way in training camp. Their effort and character has been great. Larry I believe is still not 100 percent recovered from an ACL surgery over a year ago, but athletically he’s done some things on the court that were astonishing. That’s going to have to be sorted out in training camp.”
9) THE BRAZILIAN
Marcelo Huertas is a player that Kupchak has seen play in Europe “for years,” the F.C. Barcelona man and Brazil native showing himself as a true ballhandling point guard. Kupchak thinks he fits onto a roster that has shot creators like Kobe, Nick Young, Lou Williams and others, without serving as a threat to the development of L.A.’s young guards. “He looks to make all the players on the court better and he’d be a lot of fun to play with. I think we’ll share the ball really well. D’Angelo loves to pass the ball, our big players love to pass the ball. I think everybody will get involved … he poses no threat to the other ballhandling guards that are very young.” A good team player, Huertas won’t be complaining about what kind of minutes he gets or what his role is.
10) NICK YOUNG – LOU WILLIAMS: OVERLAP?
Sure, Nick Young and Lou Williams have both operated in isolation a good amount across their respective careers. But Kupchak bristled at the notion that they can’t coexist on the same roster. That’s too simple. “I think Nick has more to prove this year than he did last year,” Kupchak said. “He got injured and didn’t play the way he did the year before, and he has to make our coach happy. I don’t think Lou is in the same boat.”
Kupchak added that he can see why one would say that they both look to score offensively – Young in particular – but knows that Williams has averaged more than four assists in under 30 minutes per game in the past, and is versatile enough to play the point guard spot at times, bringing the ball up and getting other guys shots. Of course they can both create their own shot at the end of the clock, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be competing to do so amid an otherwise stagnant offense.
On Tuesday of next week, when the team practices for the first time in Hawaii, we’ll get a chance to follow up on most of these items. Stay tuned.