SANTA BARBARA — Another season is officially underway as the Lakers begin training camp on Tuesday, and General Manager Mitch Kupchak has certain expectations for his roster.
Kupchak addressed the media before the first practice of camp at UC Santa Barbara and says that the Lakers “have to show progress” this year.
“From my point of view, I want this group to show great chemistry and, as the season goes on, get better and better,” Kupchak said, “and not only have fun playing but be fun to watch. And certainly the number of wins is a factor. We can’t continue to lose (so many) games every year.”
The Lakers are hoping to wash away last season, which saw them finish with a franchise-worst 17-65 record.
Kupchak doesn’t want to give the team a number of wins to shoot for, but he did say that it needs to be more than the year before, and not just slightly.
However, he also keeps the perspective that this season will not be judged solely on the team’s amount of victories.
In particular, it’s about continuing to develop the team’s young core, featuring players like D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Brandon Ingram.
“We want these young players to get minutes to develop,” Kupchak said. “We think several of them can be starters and perhaps even leave an imprint on this league.”
Kupchak says that he expects Ingram, this year’s No. 2 overall draft pick, to play “a lot,” while Ivica Zubac, chosen 33rd, will not be anticipated to play a similar number of minutes.
Playing time should not be much of an issue for Russell, who shuttled from the starting lineup to the bench and back last year as a rookie under then-head coach Byron Scott.
Russell has been relentlessly positive under the tutelage of Scott’s replacement, Luke Walton, and Kupchak claims that his potential with the Lakers is “up to him.”
“Last year he had moments of brilliance, and then also moments that clearly showed he was a 19-year-old player playing for the first time in the NBA,” Kupchak said. “This offseason, which was very long, he was in the gym every day — not that he was the only one — but he seemed to have gotten a feel for what the first year is all about.”
To help groom the young guys like Russell and Ingram, Kupchak placed particular emphasis on acquiring veterans with reputations as intelligent, respected teammates, like Luol Deng and Jose Calderon.
“The guys we added, in particular Luol, I think — because he’s played a lot of minutes and proved himself in this league and his character on the court and in the locker room is impeccable,” Kupchak said. “So we felt that was a huge acquisition.”
While signing free agents like Deng and Timofey Mozgov, Kupchak kept an eye on the future, saying that he expects the team to have “significant cap flexibility” next offseason.
As for the rest of this year’s roster, he made a pair of somewhat surprising additions in Yi Jianlian and Metta World Peace — both of whom will need to make the roster by impressing at training camp, he said.
Kupchak noted that the Lakers have scouted Yi at several workouts over the last two years, but his popularity and financial compensation in China prevented them from making a run at him until the NBA salary cap significantly jumped this summer.
Meanwhile, World Peace — who was the final player to make last year’s roster — is aware that he will have to earn a spot once again over the next four weeks, according to the general manager.
“Those 28 days are going to pay huge dividends for this organization,” Kupchak said. “But we didn’t expect him to make the team last year and he made it, and the same thing can happen this year. I don’t expect if he makes the team that he’ll be in the rotation, but if he did make the team I know practices and the locker room would be a really good place.”