Being Mitch Kupchak

 —  February 8, 2005

After three consecutive losses, and with Minnesota just 1.5 games back of the eighth-seed Lakers in the playoff chase, Mitch Kupchak is feeling the pressure to upgrade this team before the trading deadline Feb. 24.

There’s no doubt the Lakers need better talent, particularly at the point and the need for another real inside presence to go with Mihm. Frank Hamblen has tried just about every player combination short of bringing Mychal Thompson out of the radio booth to spark this team, all to no avail. Getting Kobe back will help, but this was barely a playoff team with him.

But before he makes a trade, Mitch has one key question he has to answer:

What kind of team is this going to be?

It sounds like a simple thing, but I’m not sure the Lakers can answer it right now. Whatever the answer it will affect both the players traded for and the players kept on the roster. More importantly, it affects who gets hired full-time as coach. The Lakers need to settle on an organizational philosophy of what they want to see on the court — an up-tempo Showtime team, a Phil-coached “triangle” team, or some other option — then build to that.

The current Laker roster problems are evidence of a team in philosophical flux. The best example is Slava Medvedenko, who got a two-year, $3 million per contract because he fit in the “triangle,” but in the isolation-and-three offense of the current Lakers Slava is averaging 5.6 minutes per game. Luke Walton was another guy lost in the rotation, at least until the last few games.

Then there is this example: Dr. Buss said numerous times that one thing he wanted to see in this remolding (he would never say rebuilding) of the Lakers was to become an up-tempo team. According to 82Games, this year’s Lakers are averaging one possession fewer per game than last year. If the Lakers want to become an up-tempo team, you can’t bring in Phil Jackson as coach and you need to make some big changes at the point and other spots.

I’m not saying what style the Lakers should go with, but that they need to choose one now and follow through on it with both player moves and hiring a coach. It is something Jerry West was quite good at and it is the real job that falls to Mitch K. now.