Kupchak Talks Player Evaluation, Trade Deadline

On the eve of the NBA trade deadline, General Manager Mitch Kupchak held a brief media session to outline some of the Lakers’ plans for the remaining 27 games of the season.

Below is a full transcription from the practice facility.

Q: On Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell’s performances at the All-Star Rising Stars Challenge:
I thought they showed well. Obviously those games have to be taken with a grain of salt, but being selected by itself is an honor. I actually thought we should’ve had another player selected in Julius Randle. I was surprised he wasn’t. But I thought it was a great experience, and I know they’re both looking forward to one day being invited back for the game on Sunday.

Q: On Byron Scott’s future with the team:
He is under contract, and until or if that changes, we’ll let you know.

Q: On if he is pleased with Scott’s performance this year:
Once again, I don’t want to get into a Byron discussion right now. So I’m not going to answer anymore questions about Byron, because I’m concerned that one question will lead to another. If his status changes, I’ll let you know.

Q: On whether their will be any roster changes before the trade deadline:
I think it is unlikely that something will happen between today and tomorrow, but it’s possible. … There’s an awful lot of interest in our young players. I don’t think it’s likely we would do anything. A lot of the other players are on one-year deals, expiring contracts. Strategically it could affect the offseason in terms of cap room, stuff like that. So there’s a lot of conversation, but I think it’s unlikely that anything significant will happen.

Q: On what he is evaluating during the remainder of the season:
I think a big part of our team until the end of the season is to make sure that our young players develop and continue to play hard (and) be aggressive. We’ve got (27) games left to go and have lost a lot of games. So there’s a tendency to play it out, and I don’t want our young players to look at it that way. I spoke to a couple of them this morning about it: to finish the season strong. So we want to see them — in face of this adversity of a tough season — to show us some mental toughness, push through it. Show me your best, so it helps me during the offseason when it comes time to evaluate our needs.

Q: On Scott saying Kobe Bryant’s workload will likely decrease toward the end of the season in order to give the younger players more time on the court:
I think a lot of that’s gonna depend on how Kobe sees (it). Right now with Kobe, I believe we want to get him in every game that he’s able to play, and get to the end of the season. So I think that’s an important goal for Kobe. If that means reducing some minutes, I think that’s certainly possible. Clearly, he misses games for the same reason. … People that watch the games — whether it’s in person, on TV, listening on radio — they’re all hoping that he plays in every game. I know Kobe’s aware of people from all over the world that come to Los Angeles or other cities and buy tickets on the secondary market hoping he’ll play. So he does want to play in every game between now and the end of the season. But sometimes that’s not possible. Managing his minutes and keeping in mind that he does want to play and we want to get him to the end of the season — it is somewhat of a challenge.

Q: On how he evaluates Russell’s progression this year:
Based on his readiness during Summer League, he’s lightyears ahead of where he was in Summer League. For a 19-year-old moving to Los Angeles; being on your own and adjusting to the city; playing in the NBA; playing big minutes; the number of games and travel — it’s a big adjustment. We are seeing progress. I think the offseason, for all our young players, is gonna be really important.

Q: On whether the aforementioned minutes increase for the young players is important to him:
I think that there will be some increase even further between now and the end of the season. As you get closer to the end of the season, it’s probably less important to look at your veterans, and probably more important to look at your younger players. I think that would be the case with us.

Q: On how difficult this season has been on him:
It’s been a tough, long year, and it’s gonna continue to be tough year because we still have another two months to go. But when Kobe made his announcement and gave everybody the opportunity to recognize that this is his last year — and it’s not gonna be a surprise (like), ‘Oh by the way, I played my last game a month ago, I’m done’ — there’s a lot of satisfaction and joy just getting to watch him play, whether it’s the All-Star Game or an away game in San Antonio or Washington and just look in the crowd and see all the Kobe and Lakers supporters, (and) certainly at home. I think that’s certainly taken the edge off an otherwise tough season, and maybe it’s given our younger players and some of the others to kind of develop under the radar with not as much focus, because clearly there’s a lot of focus on Kobe’s pending retirement.

Q: On whether there is anything that is highly unlikely to happen before the trade deadline:
Of course Kobe’s not going anywhere. That’s 100 percent. … I don’t see, like I said, anything significant happening between today and tomorrow.

Q: On if he has fielded many offers from other teams:
Yeah, normal business. I make half the calls. You get half the calls. It’s a puzzle. You want to figure out what other teams are doing. You want to see if there’s an opportunity to get involved. When a deal is done, you want to understand why the deal was done. For example: The deals that were done yesterday — if you look at the closely, there’s pretty clear reasons the deals were done. We like to understand those things, and a lot of times you have to talk to other GMs and agents and kind of put the puzzle together.