(J Alexander Diaz/Lakers.com)
Kupchak Reflects On 2016 Draft
General Manager Mitch Kupchak came out of the 2016 NBA Draft having secured Brandon Ingram with the second-overall pick and Ivica Zubac with the 32nd.
Afterward, he met with the Los Angeles media to discuss the two new Lakers along with the draft process and immediate future.
Below is a transcription from the Lakers' practice facility in El Segundo.
Q: On his thoughts about 32nd pick Ivica Zubac:
Kupchak: We saw a young, big, developing player. When I was over there this year back in January or February, I watched him. He’s young and he’s big and he’s got skills. He did remind me of NBA players that, in this league, have made it. But he is a young player. So if he continues to work hard and develop, he has a chance to stick in this league and be a good player. But our knowledge of the European players is clearly not what it is to our knowledge of players in this country. We don’t see them as often and they play a different game: Fewer number of games, and in Europe the young players don’t play much. A lot of times the coaches over there will play the veteran players and the young players will hardly play at all, so you have to go to practice to scout a player who’s 19 years old. So you don’t get the same body of work to examine as you would in this country. It makes it a little more difficult, so you do rely on your international scout a little bit more than you would a domestic scout.
Q: On if Zubac will be on the Lakers’ roster next season:
Kupchak: I believe he would like to play next year and we wouldn’t be opposed to that.
Q: On the potential for Zubac to join their D-League affiliate, the Los Angeles D-Fenders:
Kupchak: Right now, the D-Fenders really aren’t in the equation in terms of this pick. It’s not something that was discussed. We hope to get him over to play in Summer League. We don’t know if that’s something we can do yet. As I mentioned, it’s not quite as easy with the European guys; logistics and contracts. I do believe he is under an existing contract, but he does have an NBA out. So can those kinds of things be addressed in the next 10 days? I’m not sure. But we would like to bring him over and get him to play in Summer League if that’s possible.
Q: On how much interest they showed Zubac:
Kupchak: We were in contact with all the representatives. There’s always an indication of who you like and who you don’t like. Certainly, his representative knew from the get-go that he’s a player that we liked. … I don’t know how that (interest) is translated to the player, but certainly going into the pick there was, from their point of view, an understanding that: “Hey, the Lakers might take you if you’re there.”
Q: On how much international scout Antonio Maceiras influenced the Lakers making this pick:
Kupchak: Antonio Maceiras is our international scout. And when I go to Europe, he arranges all the players and all the games for me to go see. As I mentioned, he arranged for me to go scout this player. We also looked at, for the last 10 days, film. There was a workout in New York last week with a bunch of international players, three or four of which were drafted in the first round today. There’s a body of ability that we try to assess. Sometimes it’s a workout that’s controlled by a representative. Sometimes it’s on film and sometimes it’s a practice and sometimes it’s a game and sometimes it’s relying on your scout. But without Antonio Maceiras, we would not have made this pick.
Q: On if he feels that the team got better with these picks:
Kupchak: I think we’ve added more talent. I do. Clearly we’re very happy with Brandon. The No. 2 pick, under most circumstances, is a player that’s gonna have an impact right away. It’s not a player that we anticipate won’t play. Clearly he’s gonna play and hopefully he’s productive and gets better quickly. Ivica, we don’t know that yet. There’s probably a bigger learning curve for him. And a lot of it has to do with Summer League and training camp and how he plays in front of our coach and how our coach wants to play and how quickly he comes along. I don’t think language skills are gonna be a problem with him. His English is pretty good. We’ve drafted players in the past where that was a hinderance: the language barrier. That’s not gonna be the case here
Q: On if he likes the team’s crop of young players:
Kupchak: We like the young Lakers core. It doesn’t mean we’re not gonna pursue some veteran leadership. When July 1 rolls around, I think we will. I think history tells you that a bunch of young guys on a team is probably not a good thing. They look around for leadership and advice from somebody who’s been through this a couple of times, and if there’s nobody to talk to then they really don’t know how to handle the situation. So I think we will look to add some veteran leadership and hopefully not only leadership, but guys who can help us win games. It’s unlikely that would come about trade, although it’s possible. But it’s more likely to come about through free agency.
Q: On how he sees the team’s approach to free agency:
Kupchak: It’s gonna depend on the free agent.
Q: On which players Zubac reminds him of:
Kupchak: I do have a couple players in mind, but I don’t want to share that with you to be honest with you. One of the guys I’m thinking about turned out to be a heck of a player, and I just don’t want to label that player.
Q: On Zubac’s style of play:
Kupchak: He started playing late, (has) a body that’s still developing. You may say he’s not as fluid or … clearly still growing into his body and becoming more comfortable on certain parts of the court. But we’ve been through drafting young players of size in the past. And I’m not comparing him to Andrew Bynum, but Andrew was 17 years old, (he was) big, long, gangly, almost clumsy at first. So that’s what you deal with when you deal with big men. I was a big player. You kind of develop late. That’s kind of what you’re dealing with when you have somebody who’s of that size, starting playing late, is still growing and developing into their body.
Q: On if he worries when the player he picks seems to have dropped in the draft:
Kupchak: All the general managers, after the draft, are very happy with the way the draft went. They’re always saying, “We though he’d be a first-round pick and he dropped and we didn’t think he’d be there and we’re ecstatic to draft him.” I think that’s just the nature of the business. … There’s always going to be somebody somewhere that drops or doesn’t take place the way you thought it would take place. And every year we’re happy with who we draft. The reality is you have to wait a couple of years and look back on it and see if you were right: The guy should have been higher and he dropped and you had him pegged correctly and you were happy to draft him at a lower number. So yes, we did think (Zubac) would be drafted higher. I don’t read many of the mock drafts. A lot of people do. I’m aware that he could have been drafted in the first round, and he almost was drafted in the first round. There were other guys right next him that we thought would be drafted and they went 20 slots past him. So I don’t know. … Were we wrong or was the mock draft wrong? We don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see. We did think he’d be gone earlier. We did think he’d be a first-round pick. But there’s so much that goes into the draft. You have 30 teams. They’re all trying to figure it out. A lot of times a team that’s definitely going to pick at 24 or 25 — a player they didn’t think was going to be available all of sudden is available — and they take that player. And then that one player they were going to take slides. Then they slide to a point where someone like us comes along and we have a pick available and we have a need at that position and we take him.
Q: On if he thinks the team will land a superstar free agent this year:
Kupchak: It might not be different. I think this year is different. In years passed, our team was different. We didn’t have nearly enough cap space as we do this year. I may have talked a couple of times about what we tried to sell a summer ago or two summers ago. We just didn’t have that much to sell in terms of: “Well, I’m going to come to Los Angeles. Whom am I going to play with?” Last summer was: “Well, you get to play with Kobe, but Kobe’s been injured.” “Is he going to be healthy, Mitch?” “Well, I don’t know that.” “Then who else am I going to play with?” “You’re going love playing with Julius Randle, but he only played one game. Then you’re going to love playing with the No. 2 pick who hasn’t played at all.” So we didn’t have as much to sell last year and the year before. And we only had enough money for one (max) player last year, too. So I think this year we have more to sell. We have Julius, D’Angelo (Russell), Jordan Clarkson, who’s a year further along, and Larry Nance, who unexpectedly had a good year. We added Lou Williams, who had a good year. Now we have the No. 2 pick and the No. 32 pick, who may be a good player and may not a good player. And on top of that, we had enough cap room to add multiple players of a maximum contract or add one player and save some money for next summer. Or maybe use all the money and divide it up between three and four players. So I think our asset allotment is better, and I think the circumstances are better.
Q: On how patient he plans to be with the development of his young players:
Kupchak: I don’t think there’s a plan in terms of: If it doesn’t work in a year from now, we’re going to break it up; O if we don’t win 36 games or 42 games or 48 games, it’s over. That’s not the plan at all. I think what we’d like to do is put together a group of players that are growing, fun to watch and improve as the season goes along. Clearly (we have) the intent to keep the interest of our supporters, fans, partners, TV, season-seat holders. You do have to win games. That doesn’t mean we have to win 40 or 45 or 50. It may not even mean you have to make the playoffs. I don’t know what it’s going to take to make the playoffs next year. Maybe you got to win 48 games to get into the West and we win 47 — or maybe we win 37. But as long as the team is fun to watch, our fans and our partners can see a team that’s growing and getting better as the season goes along — I think that’s the barometer that’s best for us.
Q: On if he thinks the team is heading in the right direction:
Kupchak: I do. We earned it a little bit. The past two years we’ve lost a lot of games No one really looked down on us and gave us a gift. We earned the last two No. 2 picks. It’s not like they gave it to us. But we did get lucky with the Lottery the last two years. So that was some luck. But I do feel like we have a lot more going for us this year than we did last year. And that’s not because it’s anything we did or didn’t do differently. It’s just the nature of this business.
Q: On if he knows who will be in the room during the pitch to free agents:
Kupchak: It depends. We do have a plan. I don’t think we’re going to have to rely on our partners as much as we have in the past. We can focus a little bit more on the basketball side of it, because we do have more to sell. The franchise and the city have always sold themselves. I’m not sure we’ll concentrate as much on that as we did last year. I think clearly myself, Jim (Buss), Luke (Walton). Depending on how quickly things move, there may be meetings or not be meetings. Things may be done quickly. They may take a week or two. There may not be face-to-face meetings. There may be a couple. It all depends on how quickly things move.
Q: On if he has signed any undrafted free agents:
Kupchak: Not yet. But I’m hoping we’re close. I’m expecting a call.
Q: On if they tried to buy a second-round pick:
Kupchak: We tried, yeah. It’s a mad house the last hour. You’re kind of chasing your tail trying to buy a pick. Everybody’s trying to buy picks. The team that you’re trying to buy a pick from says, “Well, if our guys there we’re going to use it. But if he’s not there, we’ll sell it. But we really don’t want to sell. We want a future pick. You’re not going to do it for a future pick? Well, this team offered us this.” That takes minutes then that pick is gone and you’re going down and you’re kind of just chasing it. So it’s nerve-wracking. The stakes aren’t nearly as high as the first round. So to some degree it’s kind of fun because you’re scrambling and it gets a little exciting. You’re trying to nail a player that you thought would be drafted and isn’t drafted. But we did not get anybody.
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