My Kup of Tea…

Darius Soriano —  April 16, 2009

When you’re a part of the Lakers organization, there is always a legend that you’re compared to or a legacy to live up to.  If you’re a player like Andrew Bynum, be prepared to hear about Mikan, Wilt, Kareem, and Shaq.  Or if you’re Kobe Bryant, you better understand the history of Baylor, West, and Magic and be prepared to have your accomplishments measured up against theirs.  If you’re a coach, even one with as many skins on the wall as Phil Jackson, there are still fans and media members that will talk about the four titles and multiple Finals’ appearances of Pat Riley.   And then there’s anyone who holds the title of GM.  Jerry West, while a fantastic, once in a generation player for the Lakers, will consistently be remembered as the architect of multiple championship teams.  He’s the man that built Showtime, signed Shaq, and had to have Kobe.  He’s the man that (seemingly) won every trade, mastered the salary cap, and made the Lakers the preeminent basketball franchise of the past quarter century.  So, for Mitch Kupchak, following is these footsteps has not been an easy ride.  Ever since he took on the Lakers’ GM position he’s lived in a fifty foot shadow trying fill size twenty five shoes.  But today, with the team that he built destined for another deep playoff run and considered a strong favorite to win the title, it’s time for this man to stand on his own and for him to receive the credit he’s earned.

But before we look at present day, let’s take a look at the path taken to get to this point.  For a long time, Mitch Kupchak was the guy that couldn’t get the job done.  He was the man who couldn’t build a team.  He was the butt of fans jokes and the victim of media scorn.  It seemed like Mitch would never measure up to the man we called the Logo.  Plus there was always someone more than willing to tell us how he wasn’t up to the job.  This was our GM?  I mean, this was the guy that traded Shaq.  The man that thought it was a good idea to exchange Caron Butler for Kwame Brown.  The guy that signed Smush Parker and then kept him.  The guy that made a lottery pick out of an unproven straight from highschool center (who had only played a season and a half of varsity basketball) over more proven college players who could have helped the team right away.  Needless to say, there was definitely reason for concern about the direction of this franchise.   

But what none of us understood was that Mitch had a vision of a team and he had the patience to execute his plan.  Throughout all the criticism that he received, he never wavered from the path that he laid out to rebuild and transition the Lakers from a Shaq-centric team to one that could compete with Kobe Bryant at it’s nexus.  We just had to wait for it to all come together.  Early in his tenure (and in support of a team built around Shaq) he drafted Brian Cook, Luke Walton and Sasha Vujacic.  To add to those players (and after the trade of the Diesel) he also drafted Andrew Bynum, Jordan Farmar, Ronny Turiaf, Javaris Crittenton, and Marc Gasol. (On a side note – Notice a trend here? Besides Cook and Critt all these players are currently playing pretty well on their respective teams.  Mitch can draft some good players.)  He also made a couple of key free agent signings in adding veterans Mo Evans and RadMan that would help us win games by improving our rotation.  And while only some of these players are currently with the team, the ones that aren’t have been used as pawns in trades that have vastly improved the quality of our roster.  And ironically, after being skewered for the quality of players received in his trade of Shaq, winning trades is what Kupchak has become known for.  Cook and Evans would become Trevor Ariza.  Recently, RadMan became Adam Morrison and ShanWOW.  And the crown jewel of his wheeling and dealing was turning Kwame, Crittenton, Marc Gasol, a future draft pick (that would become Darrel Arthur), and a stack of Jerry Buss’ poker winnings into Pau Gasol.  Not only have these trades given us a better and more balanced team, but they’ve also cleared some payroll and given us a chance to re-sign Trevor and Odom and keep a championship core together.

And he’s done it all through adversity.  We all know Lakers fans are accustomed to cheering for a contending team.  But in the aftermath of the Shaq trade, this franchise was anything but a contender.  The Lakers went from winning titles to missing the playoffs completely.  And when we did make the post season we ended up losing gut wrenching series’ in the first round.  This not only led to fan unrest, but it also led to turmoil and complaints from it’s best player.  Kobe’s trade demands and open pining for a return of Jerry West to his old GM’s post were only the opening salvo in a seemingly unsalvageable situation.  His questioning of Mitch’s decision making in a caught on tape parking lot performance was the icing on the cake that signalled to many people that Kupchak was not in control of this team.  But through it all, our GM displayed cool under fire and acted with patience.  (As usual) Reed made this point perfectly in a recent email exchange:

(Mitch) was severely attacked by everyone (us included) in the initial post-Shaq era.  In the critical summer of 2007 he faced pressure from every corner to blow up the team and trade Bynum, KobeOdom – anyone. We just wanted change and no one believed the team as it stood could ever amount to anything (Kobe included). Despite all of that, and with his job on the line, he held firm and didn’t cave in when nothing worthwhile presented itself. It’s probably difficult to overstate how much patience and confidence that took — and he was absolutely right, as we quickly discovered. Imagine a team with Kobe and Jermaine O’neal as the cornerstones. Or a team led by Deng instead of Kobe. So, some of my biggest props to him are as a result of what he did not do, as opposed to what he did do. 

Read that last sentence again.  Mitch had every reason in the world to dump everyone on this roster and rebuild with young players, picks – whatever he could get by trading any of the pieces on the roster.  Those same pieces, (besides Gasol) that currently make up the core of a championship contender.  But he didn’t.  Can you imagine the unrest we, as Lakers fans, would be going through right now if Kobe was in Chicago?  What we’d be like if we were watching Bynum flourish in New Jersey?  What we’d be missing if we swapped the versatility of Odom for the declining skills of Jermaine?  What our cap situation would look like? I, for one, don’t even want to fathom it.  And we really only have one person to thank for that.  And he’s the same guy that, just a couple of seasons ago, many fans wanted fired.

As I write this it’s only a few days before the playoffs start.  We all believe that this team is on the verge of something special.  We just completed a sixty five win regular season and won the Western Conference by double digit games.  We’ve got the one of the best players of his generation, two supremely talented power forwards, the second best young center in the game, and several excellent complimentary role players.  We are finally back to being a contending team.  And since there’s a credit crisis in this country, I’d like to give a little bit to the guy who rarely gets any – So, thank you Mitch Kupchak.  You’ve made the franchise we love a winner again.  And come playoff time, I think that’s all we could have hoped for.

-Darius

Darius Soriano

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118 responses to My Kup of Tea…

  1. “And since there’s a credit crisis in this country, I’d like to give a little bit to the guy who rarely gets any…”

    Nice!

  2. I hope Mitch reads this post, if so I’m so sorry you were right. So very right. I am officially in awe, how did you know about Jason Kidd and Bynum? Crazy.

  3. Great post. I wanted Mitch’s head back when he wouldn’t trade Bynum for Kidd too, but he’s made the right decisions.

  4. Great post. Loved it.

    Credit the organization for seeing the trend to a more perimeter oriented, fast-paced NBA and getting the personnel to put us on top of that wave.

  5. Too true, Darius. And it’s that foresight and patience (lacking in most GM’s) that makes me hope that Mitch will be around with the Lakers for many, many more moons.

  6. Great post Darius. Mitch really has done a great job, and has done so under severe pressure, scrutiny and time constraints.

    One other guy he drafted, Von Wafer, is playing well too.

  7. I could not agree with you more. What Mitch has done with this team merits the Executive of the Year award. He has built a solid – and multi-year – contender with this Laker team.
    However, the short sided media types will likely give the award to a less deserving guy solely on the merit that he built a team with the best record in the NBA – the same way they did last year.

    I usually don’t care about these types of awards, but it sure would be nice for Mitch to get some well-deserved recognition.

  8. the other Stephen April 16, 2009 at 10:26 am

    maybe we should all band together and buy him a present.

    P.S. CRISPY VON WAFERS!

  9. “We’ve got the one of the best players of his generation”

    Looks like you were going to write “the best player of his generation” and thought better of it. (Should’ve stuck to your gut =P)

  10. Good post. One other thing you didn’t really expound on is the Shaq trade itself. Mitch got back Lamar Odom and Caron Butler, which was actually a great return for the Lakers in hindsight. So that’s another move that looks a lot better than many of us thought at the time. The Butler-Kwame trade was horrible, but of course Mitch made up for that by turning Kwame into Gasol.

    I was certainly skeptical (to put it mildly) of Mitch’s ability to rebuild the Lakers, but like most of us I have been stuffing my face on humble pie for the last couple of years.

  11. #9. You’re right about what I was going to write but decided to change. It’s just when you think about Kobe, Duncan, and Shaq it got a little murky for me. I know who I’d choose, but that’s just my bias. Those big men have been so great and their prime years coincide with Kobe’s career enough that, to me, it’s not clear cut. It’s a great debate though.

  12. give me a break. he was able to pull a fast one with the worst GM in the leauge to bring in Gasol. you really think Kobe and Odom were bringing a championship? gasol’s quitely been the most valuable player on the lakers all year. as bill simmons says, “when in doubt, call chris wallace…”

  13. The comments over at CelticsBlog are interesting, to say the least. I agree that Bynum and KG are very different players and have different values to their teams. However, one constant remains true, and takes precedent over everything else – with Bynum, the Lakers were a title team. With KG, the Celtics are at the very least a potential title team.

    So you’ll excuse me if I’m a little annoyed that Celts fans did nothing but gloat and pound Lakers fans for excuses all summer long, and now that the tables have turned, excuses become valid.

    I’m usually the last person to rip on other fans (unless they’re in Salt Lake City), but I find the hypocrisy disgusting.

  14. Steven – if you’re taking advice from Bill Simmons, I think you have other things to worry about than a blog post praising Mitch Kupchak.

    I’m stick of Marc Stein’s clever “the Gasol trade, er, steal…” Shut up, Stein. Wallace isn’t a great GM, but he took the best available deal with the order he had from Heisley (to clear cap space) and took an absolute stud in Marc Gasol. Young centers like that are rare. Anytime you trade a star player you won’t get back equal value, but Wallace accomplished as much as he could.

  15. 13

    I have to admit, as excuses go, not having KG for the playoffs is hard to top. Losing Bynum doesn’t even come close in my opinion.

  16. in the spirit of this post.. i think we as fans really need to show some patience as well.. esp when players don’t perform.. the team will never be perfect.. and its silly for us to demand for odom/walton/farmar/etcetcetc to be traded everytime they make mistakes.. what will 90% of the posts be saying in june if shanWOW made some boneheaded play that gave away a series?

    the failures of our team are every bit as important because its all part of the learning/growing process.. thats part of the beauty of being a sportsfan..

  17. Years ago, before he inherited Jerry West’s seat, I got caught behind Mitch Kupchak in line at the Southwest terminal at LAX. He was fumbling with what was then a new self check-in machine and causing something of a line to form.

    A different machine opened and I slid around him. A couple of beeps and few boops later, the machine in front of me spit out a boarding pass. Kupchak was still wrestling with his machine. And a clerk from the airline had arrived to assist him.

    I thought about offering my own help. (Maybe he’d hook me up with tickets to a game?) But figured the professional he had by his side was better qualified than I to help him defeat that stubborn machine. So I proceeded toward my gate and off to wherever it was that I was going.

    I’ve thought of this scene often over the years that have passed since that airport encounter. Before I was able to see how the plan was coming together, I told that story as one shining example of Big Mitch’s ineptitude. As I did so, I likely advocated for a trade or a draft pick that I just KNEW would return the Lakers to their glory. After all, if I could figure out how to use an airport check-in kiosk, I must be qualified to run one of the NBA’s cornerstone franshises.

    During the last couple of seasons–as I’ve come to appreciate the great work Kupchak has done as Laker GM–I’ve thought very differently of that run-in at LAX. The takeaway for me today is that…it’s best to allow a professional to do their job.

    Mitch Kupchak is a real professional. One of the finest around.

    Respect.

    And thank you.

  18. 14

    Most of these ‘analysts’ would have preferred for Memphis to take on big salaries for average players like the ones Chicago was offering. It’s been proven over and over again that it’s better to be really bad and start over from scratch than to tread water with a mediocre team. This was especially true for a team struggling financially like the Grizzlies. If they end up with the #1 pick and Blake Griffin, wouldn’t that be better than winning 38 games and picking 14th? Same with getting Mayo in last year’s draft.

    Now don’t get me wrong – from the Lakers’ perspective, it was highway robbery, but that’s because they had exactly what Memphis needed: a big expiring contract and some draft picks.

  19. There are two trades that we still don’t evaluate properly – even in hindsight.
    1) Kwame for Butler: Butler was not going to start for us and was an unrestricted free agent the following year. We were not going to pay him Lamar money and he would have walked for nothing. We needed a big PF and Kwame was apparently the best available at the time. The trade was no an unmitigated disaster – just a risk, like all other trades.
    2) Gasol for Kwame: This was not a steal by us, no matter what the talking heads say/said. The Griz got what they needed – cap space, draft picks and two young talents. It actually worked out pretty well so far for the Griz and they are not only pretty well set going forward, but they still have a 1st round pick from us.

    We fans seem to have the memory of a fly and only think in the extreme moment. That is really what this column is all about.

  20. I have to disagree a little bit with this article. I admit that all of the peices have definitely come together for the Lakers, but I am not sure exactly how much credit Mitch deserves.

    Starting with the Shaq trade, we got absolutely hosed in that trade, because even though Shaq was past his prime, he was still one of the most dominant players in the game.

    We then traded the best player from that deal (argueably), Caron Butler because Mitch honestly thought that Kwame Brown could be an effective player. We didn’t trade for Kwame because it gave us a big expiring contract, so the Gasol trade was absolute luck at best.

    Looking at the draft, Jordan Farmar has clearly not panned out (and may be done after this season), Sasah Vujacic will never be a starter, Crittenton hasn’t shown as of yet that he is a capable NBA player. And of course, I have heard numerous times that Andrew Bynum was Jim Buss’s pick, not Kupchaks (I heard Kupchak was not on board with this pick).

    As for free agent pickups, they have been abysmal starting with Tierre Brown, Vlade Divac, Aaron Mckie, Vlad Rad (anyone who argues this was a good signing doesn’t know basketball), and Smush Parker. The Derek Fisher signing had nothing to do with Kupchak, and all to do with Fisher wanting to come back to L.A.

    However, I cannot deny that Mitch has recently made some very good trades with the pickup of Ariza, Shannon Brown, and of course the Gasol trade (which as I said was pure luck). He also made some decent draft picks like with Turiaf. And he made some decent free agent signings like getting Powel for nothing. So this track record is decent at best.

    But I think the one thing we can all credit Kupchak for, is not panicking, and staying patient. How foolish would we look if we would have traded for Garnett or Jermaine Oneal, giving up a combination of Bynum and Odom. I think that is his legacy, not necessarily being a good GM, but a patient one, and in his case, it worked out.

  21. I remember a lot of people wanted to trade Odom AND Bynum for Jermaine Oneal, thank the lord Mitch is making the decisions and not the fans.

  22. Guess, I’ve got to be the second buzzkill, but I don’t buy it. First, Darius has posted these sentiments about Mitch several times before, so this isn’t the first time I seen this here. I didn’t agree with it then, I don’t agree with it now. The time I absolutely wanted him gone and Jerry West back was when Kobe lost it in the media about how crappy this team was. Smush Parker as the starting PG for TWO years was beyond ludcrious. Jacking Pau for nothing doesn’t change the complete history.

    Also, if Bynum doesn’t go down, does Mitch even get in the conversation with Memphis for Pau? I highly doubt it, and that moves the Pau coup closer to luck than skill. This guy has done a C, maybe B job tops. He’s not a GM savior.

    Winning seems to cure all ills, even memories.

  23. Personally I think people kill GM’s way too much when things just don’t work out (versus something obviously incompetent like max contracts for B players), but likewise often give them too much credit when things do happen to work out.

    Whether or not the Gasol trade was a good trade for Memphis, if it hadn’t fallen in Kupchak’s lap he wouldn’t be lookig great right now. As much as I respect Bynum’s game- a big part of hias success this year IMO is having Gasol create spacing and taking away defensive pressure from him. Gasol is by far the second best player on the Lakers.

    A lot of people forget that Mempis was a playoff team and improving, until Gasol got hurt and basically had a lost season- which created the environment for the trade.

    I’m not denying Kupchak, I’m just saying good fortune has a lot to do with his current success. To act like everything that’s happened was just some big master plan is a little ridiculous I feel.

  24. Brendan- I have to disagree with you on the Shaq trade. Shaq demanded a trade after he learned Buss wouldn’t give him the extension he wanted. Mitch (much like Wallace was in the case of Pau) was handcuffed from the standpoint everyone (especially Riley) knew we HAD to trade Shaq. Regardless of how you want to see it (luck or skill) he manufactured Shaq into LO, Pau and Farmar.

    Also, the reason Butler was traded had more to do with Phil wanting a big than anything.

    Another positive attribute of Kupchak’s is his ability to deal with Phil, something the Jerry’s had a very hard time doing (both West and Krause).

  25. I’ve always thought that luck favors the prepared. While it’s reasonable to think that Pau isn’t even considered if Bynum remains healthy, I also think it’s unreasonable to believe teams aren’t always looking to improve and working the phones to figure out how to get that accomplished.

    I also think that you work with what you can when that’s all you’ve got. What many forget about the Shaq trade is the teams cap situation in the wake of that deal. We had no cap space to sign players and that impacted our ability to field a team with reasonable players at all positions. Smush Parker is a prime example of this. I know how his presence on the team looked at the time (and even in hindsight), but we needed low cost options at many positions considering we had three max (or near max) players on our roster in Kobe, Odom, and Brian Grant. The Kwame trade, as mentioned by Craig W, was also a deal that was meant to balance out our roster with a reasonable cost solution. And this is where Mitch’s success in the draft is so meaningful. Because while we again have three max (or near max) players on our roster, Mitch has filled the rest of the team with lower cost players (all below the mid-level exception) who all contribute. It’s this ability to build a *team* while executing a plan with patience and vision that deserves credit. I’ve had many a conversation with fellow fans of basketball about the importance of organizational vision, having a plan, and sticking to it. How many teams throw out players and shift gears mid stream? Luckily us, like the Spurs, are a team that doesn’t operate in that manner. That’s how you build long term success in this league. I know, I know it helps to have Kobe. But it’s also more than luck when you put together a team that wins at the level that we are.

  26. I didn’t lose my mind on Mitch until the Kobe fiasco from two summers ago. I understood the Shaq deal and, all things considered, thought we got what we could for the big man. I understood the Kwame deal even as I remembered hearing about Kwame’s last meltdown with the Wiz and thought at the time that they’ll never find a team crazy enough to take him. To a certain extent I see things through FB&G colored glasses but the team’s “spin” of those trades made sense to me.

    Since those moves we have seen two things.

    A) Mitch had a plan. His plan hinged on the fact that there is always a team that for various reasons (financial, personal, bad management, poor scouting…) you have 2 or 3 opportunities a year to make your team a bit better and once every few years you have a chance to greatly improve the team. All of Mitch’s moves gave the team the sort of flexibility required to make the Gasol move. He deserves credit for developing a salary and talent structure that would allow him to offer a team what it might want for their own reasons while retaining the core of our team. The fact that the Griz have since shown that the trade was not as one sided as it seemed (we see the same with the Shaq trade) should be held against the talking heads who told everyone it was a bad deal. Holding it against Mitch simply shows that the talking heads have a double standard, are short sighted, and tend not to admit they are wrong.

    B) Mitch has gotten dang good at identifying weaknesses on the team and finding ways to shift personnel in a manner consistent with the system, without blowing up the salary structure. Jerry West always talked about Mitch’s ability to think two moves ahead financially and I think we are enjoying the benefits of that talent mixed into a man who knows basketball.

    If we had more people like Mitch Kupchak running major American corporations, people who value finances, their product, personnel, and long-term viability, then I think America’s future might better mirror the Lakers’ future.

  27. Darius beat me to the “luck is the residue of design” part of Mitch’s tenure, so let me bring up the Shaq trade comments one more time.

    That Shaq had to be traded was not Mitch’s idea. That came from Buss, the only person it could have come from. Buss does not get involved in the little details, but he does with the big stars and long-term picture. Buss wanted Shaq out.

    And after the ugliness of the 2004 finals, Mitch had to make that trade fast. I honestly think Buss thought if the Lakers had beaten the Pistons Shaq and Kobe would have worked out their issues enough to stay teammates (that is up for debate). But if the Lakers did not trade Shaq before the start of the free agent signing period, Kobe was a Clipper (or a Mav or a whatever). He was gone.

    So Mitch had to make that trade under the gun, and he got the best deal he could. Equal value? No, but you never get equal value on the court for a superstar. What you try to get is the pieces to start rebuilding. Mitch did get that.

    Bottom line, I don’t think you can blame him for how that trade went down.

  28. I, too, was very critical of Kupchak. He has been right about the key things and I underestimated him.

    As to the Gasol trade: as Darius implies, reacll the old Branch Rickey maxim: luck is the residue of design. There are numerous parallels between the Gasol and Garnett deals and the skill/luck combo played into both.

  29. Lamar and Andrew for Jermaine O’Neal.

    Andrew for Jason Kidd.

    *shudders*

    Talk about franchise-crippling moves.

  30. Joe A.,
    It is instructive to remember that Mitch was talking to Memphis for a year before the Gasol trade. This wasn’t just a last minute deal. The relationships you build and the understanding of what the other guy wants is often as important as what you want.

  31. clutch824 – I think you make an excellent point with your discussion. However, I think your point cuts both ways. With Bynum out, few teams would have taken a package of Crit+Kwame+Gasol JR’s draft pick – yet Mitch was able to make it happen.

    Like Darius said, luck favors the prepared.

  32. At the time of the trade last year Kawame was the largest expiring contract on the block, plus we were able to give up a young center and young guard. Add to that the fact that we gave up 2 first round picks and you should begin to understand what Memphis say – in hindsight, of course.

    Mitch knew what they wanted and he could give it to them.

  33. KG out for playoffs…….that sux. I really wished every team was at full strength. I hate to hear the excuses that will spill out from Celtic fans.

    However, I have a really strong suspicion that assuming the C’s get past the 1st round, we might see KG show up “inspiration-style” in the 2nd round. If he does, I wouldn’t be surprised if its in a wheelchair.

  34. Great post, Darius.

    Another thing Mitch has done well is identify players that fit Phil’s system. There were some misses along the way (Smush, Kwame), but by and large he’s been very successful at trying to build a “team,” rather than a mismatched collection of maximized talent. The pieces fit, everyone has a role, they run the triangle beautifully, there is a clear pecking order, etc., etc. There are so many GMs that just collect talent without really thinking how it fits together — resulting in constantly changing coaches, systems, trades, and no real stabilizing cohesion. Mitch has shown great patience and purpose in building the team, even with some of the whiffs and it has resulted in a “whole is greater than the sum of the parts” that is very satisfying to follow as a fan.

  35. It’s all well and good to talk about ‘luck’, but is there anything luckier than losing your superstar for most of the season, then getting the #1 pick just before one of the greatest big men of all time is coming out? That’s how the Spurs ended up with Duncan *and* Robinson on the same team, and without that stroke of good fortune none of the great work they’ve done since would have been possible.

  36. That last post wasn’t meant to take a dig at San Antonio, just pointing out that most successful NBA teams need a healthy slice of good luck to get to that point.

  37. Joel,
    Perhaps that is exactly the point in complimenting Mitch. He has done his work without such ‘luck’. Ever since the Magic & Worthy drafts the Lakers have mostly been relegated to lower 1st round draft choices. Mitch has had Kobe throughout, but he has had to assemble the other components from lesser stars, end-of-career players, and low draft picks. When he has had the opportunities – the Shaq trade, the 10th pick in the draft, the Gasol trade – he has not wasted them. Remember, Odom has been a key bridge player, helping to keep people in the seats while we were rebuilding.

    I don’t feel I am being too Pollyannaish when I say he has been a superior chess master in the organization game.

  38. I have been in Mitch’s corner all along, and actually believe he is one of the best GMs in the game. It is interesting that virtually nobody in the media or blog-topia mentions how sought-after he was in the Jerry West days. He interviewed a lot, and if memory serves he was offered at least one GM job (Denver) while assisting West. While West probably had something to do with his development, Mitch deserves credit for putting this team together.

    As for luck, nobody succeeds without some breaks (this is similar to the “Phil only wins because he has good players” argument–like Sloan didn’t have a hall-of-fame inside/outside combo for more than half of his career!). Who can deny that the Lakers were lucky that Shaq was willing to leave Orlando (a star leaving is rarer than you might think)? Or the ultimate: a contending Spurs team loses David Robinson for a year, wins the lottery and…Tim Duncan. Brilliant! Who would have thought that guy could make it in the NBA? Do you think Danny Ainge was brilliant in getting Garnett? Was winning the Lebron derby a stroke of genius?

    I think GM genius shows up in getting players who turn out to be a good value at their draft position. In this sense, the Spurs should be proud of Parker and Ginobli, not Duncan. West had Divac (late first round), who he then parlayed into Bryant (13th pick). While Walton and Turiaf aren’t stars, they are valuable players whom everyone passed on. Cleveland showed more cleverness in selecting Boozer than James.

    As a lifelong Laker fan, I love the comparison with McHale (my most hated player of all time). mcHale and Kupchack were both faced with mega-stars who wanted out before last season. We know what Mitch did, but look at what got McHale to where he is today. He drafted Brandon Roy and traded him for Randy Foye. Nice. Forgetting everything else, how good would they be with Roy and Garnett? Do you think Garnett would have wanted out?

    Thomas in New York? Kerr in Phoenix? Mike Dunleavy and/or Elgin Baylor? If Mitch isn’t an “A”, who is? I think we as fans just have unreasonable expectations. We say “trade Vlad for [insert name of player who is way way better and cheaper]” like we could just make it happen. We forget when we have stupid ideas (Odom and Bynum for O’Neal). We ignore cap issues (current and future). It isn’t easy.

    Portland’s Pritchard has done a great job, patiently buiding a new team from the ashes of the old. the next two years will be the deciding factor in his plans to build a champion. Will they add the right piece? Personally, I think they’re going to screw up by overvaluing what they have and not pulling the trigger on a trade–they should have Devin Harris right now. They may have also blown the impossible to divine answer to the question “Durant or Oden?” So it goes.

    So luck is what we call the uncertain after it happens. Before you roll a die, it has an equal chance of being a 1,2,3,4,5, or 6. Afterwards it’s just a 3. So it goes. The key is planning, contingencies, and taking risks where necesary. I think Mitch has done this as well as anyone. For example, who thinks that Jerry West did a better job with the Grizzlies? Some, but not all.

  39. As good as LA is now though- I feel if you look at them player by player the success does not have as much to do with Kupchack as it does with 1. Beibg a marquee franchise coaching and Kobe. There are only so many true franchise players in the league. In some ways if you have Kobe, D-Wade, or Lebron the job of the GM just becomes so much easier. I mean if you look at those draft picks: Brian Cook, Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, Ronny Turiaf, Javaris Crittenton, and Marc Gasol, sure they are all players that contribute to the game in some way, but they are also very close to average. How much did these players benefit from being drafted by a top franchise that had a true franchise player and one of the great coaches in the game?
    I’m of the mind that a lot of players that get chewed up and spit out by the league face that fate because of the teams there on just as much as individual talent. Sure none of those draftees were complete busts, but none of them are lighting the league on fire either. I think people tend to overvalue the B players on their own teams when the team is good, and undervalue them when the team is bad. Think of Shannon Brown on the Bobcats versus what he could mean to the Lakers.

    Now Bynum, that is looking to be a great pick, especially from what was a draft with a lot of misses. I will give full credit for that.

    Look at a lot of the players on the Cavs and how much better they look because they play with Lebron and in a good system.

    The thing about NBA GMs is that some of them are so bad if you just do the job competently you will end up looking really good with just a little luck thrown in.

    Sorry- I’m rambling… just wanted to present the opinion of the skeptic a bit.

  40. It’s official. KG will most probably miss the entire playoffs.

    I honestly do not know how to feel

  41. Open thought: I just remembered the Vlade Divac signing…

    P. Ami, articulated the thought I had during my earlier post, “FB&G colored glasses”. I don’t want to seem malicious, but yeah, I’m seeing a lot of glasses today at FB&G.

    Darius, you’re point about bringing in low cost players is cool. I didn’t think about that. However, his success in the draft is debatable. And because of the salary cap stuff, we were basically rebuilding in disguise before 07-08. Apparently Kobe felt the same.

    And to Craig W’s point about him being in talks with Memphis – A lot of teams talked to Memphis about Pau deals 1-2 seasons earlier. And that point, they still had stable ownership and they were interested in real trades for their best player. If they would have had their crazy ownership situation a season or two earlier, they probably would have made a garbage, cost-cutting deal with some other team before Bynum ever had his injury. I don’t see anan intricate series of plans that allowed him to be in perfect position for when Memphis would be in complete turmoil. Memphis’ situation and Bynum’s injury basically fell into his lap.

    I hate to just focus on the Gasol jack move, but it seems to me without that, we’re not even discussing this right now. Actually his whole tenure has a lot of panic deals in it (that may or may not be his sole fault). The Shaq trade, the deal for Chucky Atkins, the Divac signing (that was terrible), the Butler for Kwame deal… He’s lucky he inherited Kobe from Logo.

  42. *stands up* clap* clap* clap* clap*

  43. Joe A.,
    Go back and reread Firewalker. A very good post.

    Don’t bang on Mitch because he had Kobe. That is a given and many good people have failed because they didn’t have a Garnett. The key is how do they work around a player like that. Mitch not only worked around Kobe, but he also drafted Bynum when he could and possibly insured the franchise value post Kobe. Now you can say Jim Buss wanted Kobe, but you are stretching things there. That’s like saying Baylor wasn’t responsible for the Clippers because Sterling was the owner – some truth, but we all have issues and we are judged on how we work within those issues.

  44. One key in the Gasol deal was that Mitch not only the one able to deliver the largest expiring contract, but that he had talked to the team over the previous year and he had LISTENED to what they wanted. He offered what they valued, not what he would value in their place.

  45. Bill Simmons on KG being out:

    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/090416&sportCat=nba

    Please. He actually claims this of the pre-season favourite defending champions:

    “If there was ever a team built for “Nobody Believed In Us” status, it’s the 2008-09 Boston Celtics”

    Wow. So ESPN is run by ex-Boston Globe employees. I never would have guessed that, since they refuse to cover the Red Sox. Seriously, if Manny wins the MVP this year, it will be a Red Sox headline on ESPN.

    Back to the gutty little Celtics, the team whom nobody believed in. I seem to recall that one of the two teams in last year’s final was picked to finish 8th in the west or worse by almost all of the ESPN basketball analysts. I remember giving impassioned speeches in December of 07 trying to convince people that they had any chance at all. Seriously, this guy is on crack.

  46. I’m not ‘banging’ on him because he has Kobe, I’m just saying that let’s not make him out to be some genius. Watching how Kupchak has operated, I have serious doubts that he would be able to go into an unstable, small market franchise and turned it around. The mark of what would be a great GM. It might not be fare to say that because he hasn’t had the chance, I’m aware. All I’m saying is that (1.) He has probably the best GM position in the league (2.) He has been lucky/shrewd in that none of his mistakes crippled the team (3.) He has had some things fall his way that have helped his legacy greatly.

    Firewalker is comparing Kupchak to the worst GMs in the league. Of course he’s going to look good.
    Other than Bynum, I don’t really see any of those draft picks that are really great. If we compare to the spurs, Tony Parker and Ginobli are both amazing picks, better than Bynum at this point. (I’m not grading on potential) Kupchak has nothing like that. I mean Cook? Crittendon? Turiaf? They weren’t all out busts- but they’re average role players or average at best.

    And it’s much easier to draft role players around a star than it is to try to draft player’s that you want to become stars.

    So I’m giving Kup a B with medium-low degree of difficulty.

    I’m not trying to tear him apart or anything.

  47. @ Joe A. It’s unfair to simply say look at these players he drafted they are just OK. You have to think what we’ve gotten out of them at their draft position, relative to the rest of the field. Would Walton be as good anywhere else? Marc Gasol is developing well. Bynum has matured into a solid player and has the potential to be a special player. For every Javaris, Farmar, and Vujacic drafted at a low position, there are tons of inept players drafted higher but few drafted lower. And that’s the comparison, along with how these players fit into our system like people have mentioned, to be made, not to better players in general.

  48. Great piece…but one legend you may have skipped is….Chick Hearn, he of the longest broadcasting streak and, of course, the best play-by-play man ever in any sports.

  49. But what I’m arguing is that it’s often the system that makes the players. I just think that this is often overlooked. It’s a simple point really.

    It’s so much harder to draft for leaders and starters than role players when you already have a good system in place.

    Really great players will be able to make bad teams better. Average players drafted by good teams will play well. Average players drafted by bad teams will get chewed up and spit out.

  50. All I know is that for the longest time, the Lakers have had somewhat of smallish and not very talented power forwards…especially during the era of great power forwards in the West. We now have two of the most skilled and versatile power forwards in the league. And we have Mitch to thank for that!

  51. He’s done a very solid job in LA, but don’t kid yourself, had Chris Wallace not inexplicably bit on the Gasol deal, the Lakers wouldn’t even be contenders. He deserves some credit for that, but the bigger story is the ineptitude of the Memphis Grizzlies. Send Wallace a ring if the Lakers win this year.

  52. kupchak’s done a great job in managing the team he was given. i’m not saying all credit goes to him, but going from the 2004-5 season to this one, hard to say that his impact on the team hasn’t been (1) positive and (2) significant:

    Chucky Atkins -> Derek Fisher
    Kobe Bryant -> Kobe Bryant
    Caron Butler -> Trevor Ariza
    Lamar Odom -> Lamar Odom
    Chris Mihm -> Pau Gasol
    Stanislav Medvedenko -> Andrew Bynum
    Jumaine Jones -> Jordan Farmar
    Sasha Vujacic -> Sasha Vujacic
    Luke Walton -> Luke Walton
    Devean George -> Josh Powell
    Brian Cook -> Adam Morrison
    Tierre Brown -> Shannon Brown
    Brian Grant -> DJ Mbenga
    Kareem Rush -> Sun Yue

    on a separate note – not that he’s underappreciated, but still, i’d also like to give credit to buss. the lakers are consistently a competitive (and often title contending) team, and he’s the one at the top. extremely nepotistic (laker player wise) when it comes to hiring for coaching (riley, rambis, shaw) and mgmt positions (buss, kupchak, lester), but man, it sure works out a lot more often than it doesn’t.

  53. I sometimes amazed how Spurs GM identified and drafted Parker, Ginobil in high 20s

  54. Off-topic, but I was wondering has anyone seen a study on how wingspan affects facets of the game? Something like this
    http://www.82games.com/trueheight.htm?

    I can only find it for draft prospects, but I wanted to see how significantly our length (and athleticism) affects games.

  55. #51, The Grizzlies are not inept in the sense that they got the CS they wanted and that they were never going to get anything better out of Gasol. Pau is a much better fit in the triangle offense and has looked better in the last year & half than in the 3 years prior because of it. His FG%, FT%, Offensive & Defensive Rebounding, and Assists are all UP, and his TO & Fouls are DOWN.

  56. *correction, the many years prior not just 3…

  57. WRT Simmons:

    I have been hearing about the ’87 Celtics’ injuries for 22 years.

    As to Kupchak: the ketys were his patience and adding two quality big men without trading Kobe or Odom. Even wuth some luck, that is great work.

  58. keys, with

  59. Yes, Kupchak got Gasol for Kwame Brown’s expiring contract, but compare this deal to Phoenix trading Kurt Thomas’ expiring 8.1 mill contract, a few months before the Gasol deal, to Seattle where Steve Kerr included two first round draft picks to get Seattle to bite! Wow, what a howler!

    Everybody said Seattle got a good deal at the time but Memphis did get Mark Gasol out of their deal.

    (That same off season, by the way, Phoenix traded Rudy Fernandez to Portland for 3 million cash!).

    Since the Gasol trade, now all the rage is to try to get a “steal” by trading an expiring contract.

  60. Thank you Mitch for not trading Lamar Odom and Bynum for a hobbled Jermaine O’Neal.

    Thank you Mitch for not shipping Bynum’s @$$ out for a declining J. Kidd.

    Thank you Mitch for not shipping the whole roster out for an obnoxious and mercurial Kevin Garnett (although we all know you tried haha!)

  61. Things just got worse for Beantown. Their GM (Ainge) suffered a heart attack.

  62. I think what we have to realize is that the NBA is a very, very fickle business.

    -How many Coaches of the Year were later canned? Sam Mitchell, Del Harris, Mike Dunleavy (*shudders*), Avery Johnson. Byron Scott was ran out of NJ and later won COY in NO. Doc Rivers won COY in 2000 and before last year was considered one of the coaches in the league, and last year he was a genius again.

    -A similar trend with GMs. Bryan Colangelo, former Exec of the Year, hailed as a new-age genius. Now on the verge of losing Bosh, and the media has soured on him all year long. Danny Ainge, maligned for so long, and then last year he’s a genius (not for the Big 3) but for finding “gems” like Powe and Perkins, who last year were reasons Ainge was maligned.

    This is an extremely fickle business. Fans and media have very short memories, and we judge based off recent moves or immediate payoff.

  63. *should say Doc was considered one of the worst coaches in the league (before last year)

    Get well, Danny Ainge.

  64. Kup signed Devan George, Aaron McKie, Vlad Rad, Luke Walton and Sasha to bad, long contracts. Those are helpful players on the cheap, but not at the mid level exception.

    Accepting Brian Grant in the Shaq trade caused 2 lost years for the Lakers. Riley executed a better trade for a worse and more expensive Shaq.

    The Gasol trade is mainly Buss’s glory from what I recall reading in a Michael Heisley (owner of the Griz) interview; he didn’t want to take any bad contract and Buss (not Kup) called him and made the deal.

    Kup has done some good things you mention, but several years of Kobe’s professional life were lost to his bumbling and none of it pans out without the Gasol trade. If you don’t credit him with the Gasol trade, its net negative.

  65. The thing about Simmons is how he adeptly manipulates the record to suit his needs. Notice that when talking about the Celtics last year, he fails to mention that EVERYONE in the sports world had them as favorites to win the championship from the pre-season all the way up to round 1 of the playoffs. Now he tells us that no-one belived these Celtics were title contenders from the pre-season – when in fact EVERYONE had the Celtics and Lakers tagged fora rematch.

    To me, this is his way of trying to convince himself that if the Celtics do not win the title then its not a failure – when it clearly would be one. This Celtics org bet the farm – and the short to medium term future of the franchise – on the acquisition of Garnett and Allen. EVERYONE has always said that the trade was seer genious – SO LONG AS Garnett and Allen stayed healthy. How convenient that he now changes his mind.

  66. Snoopy – another GREAT point. Doc was in everyone’s worst-coach-ever list – especially Simmons. Sure, give him Garnett and Allen and all of a sudden he’s a coaching legend who persevered dispite negative expectations by an incredulous press.

    People have used the same argument about Phil – if he didn’t have Jordan/Pippen/Kukoch/Rodman or Kobe/Shaq or Kobe/Gasol/Lamar etc. Funny thing is that Phil has always been known as a great coach and has been commended for the work he did with the Lakers pre-Gasol. Doc’s so-called greatness, on the other hand, coincidentally arrived with the trade that brough Garnett and Allen to the C’s. So tell me, who is more deserving of his reputation? After all, a single season does not a legend make.

  67. Simmons didn’t say everyone counted the Celtics out from the preseason, he said the current situation sets them up for a ‘siege mentality’ type of approach, i.e. nobody believes we can win *this year* (2008/09 season). And he’s right – you can bet Doc Rivers will have his team feeding off the doubters, real or imagined, who don’t think they can defend their title without KG. Unfortunately, I don’t think it will matter, because barring monumental choke jobs by the Cavs and then the Lakers, they aren’t repeating.

  68. 64,

    Yes, that is why Kupchak took so much criticism. But, I would say that he has learned on the job, and he has the team in great shape. He hed on to Kobe, he held onto Bynum, and he got Gasol without giving up Odom. That is the bottom line.

  69. +1 to David Rivers. And the link to irs.gov is cute.

    Snoopy, I got a loooong memory. Actually, most people posting at FB&G have long memories, so who’s the “we” you referred to.

    Also, anyone that “switched” to Doc Rivers the excellent coach, is probably a casual fan. Doc is an average coach. Wins with good rosters, loses with bad ones. Not great in any particular aspects. Managing rosters, nope. Late game situations, nope. That makes it all the worse that he outcoached our Hall of Famer. If PJ gets outcoached by Mike Brown in the Finals, I’m done with the NBA.

  70. Mitch is not a genius and he has learned on the job. What he is now is a very, very good GM; who knows what his coach and his team need and balances those needs.

  71. Seems like you’re giving Kupchak credit for how good Kobe Bryant is.

  72. I don’t think you can evaluate a GM on the big deals he pulls off, because those are mostly outside of anyone’s control.

    Shaq trade was something you can’t have equal value in return, and the Gasol trade, had Bynum not gone down, could’ve included Bynum in that deal (and not Marc Gasol), who knows.

    But I think there’s a lot of credit due to him, mostly because I think there’s a LOT of communication between him and our coaching staff.

    Despite their stats and despite their failures, almost all the players who joined us really did better than expected. Kwame played to his strengths, Smush was okay every now and then, and Trevor/Shannon probably won’t be where they are if they aren’t playing for us.

    I can’t stop thinking about how Phil must enjoy having Trevor and Shannon, the types he probably wanted so bad; those in the mold of his old Chicago players, although not quite up to par.

  73. There have been lots of good comments on this thread, so I wanted to just focus on a couple of ideas that haven’t come up.

    First, I will grant that Kupchak is an acceptably good GM. I don’t know if he’s a genius or the best, but fans really underestimated the bad situation the 2004 Lakers were in (beyond trading Shaq, the team was old and overpaid, etc.). And he did make the moves that have made this team today, mainly the acquisition of Bynum, Odom, Ariza and Gasol (and perhaps even ShanWOW).

    HOWEVER we cannot underestimate the contributions of Buss and Phil in this whole operation… the GM only gets the players… they have to be paid and cultivated.

    1. Gasol. Every team knew the Griz were shopping Gasol for a whole year and a half before the trade. Any team could have had Gasol for cap space and reasonable young talent or draft picks. But only the Lakers ponied up the money and took the luxury tax hit. That’s to Buss’s credit.

    2. Ariza, ShanWOW, Walton development. These guys had done nothing before the Lakers, but Phil and the staff are doing a fantastic job playing to these players’ strengths and giving them room to make mistakes. Look at how they encouraged Ariza to develop the 3 and shoot it without guilt. ShanWOW has been given run even though he doesn’t quite have the Tri down and even though it meant bumping the most sensitive guy on the team down in minutes. It’s hard to imagine Walton contributing in any other system in the league, but he gives lots of positive contributions in our system. The coaching staff really deserves credit for cultivating these players…

    (It deserves a post of its own, but I think Phil and staff really get underrated on how they develop their role players. Phil’s strength is in getting role players to buy in and flourish in the shadow of a superstar (or stars). Even Smush and Kwame were somewhat productive players here (though certainly not starter grade)… and look how they’ve been post-Lakers.)

  74. I think many are interpreting what I wrote that I believe Mitch walks on water. That is not the case. But, he has built a championship team. I am not sure how that can be disputed. People want to give him less and less credit and show every transaction that was not perfect, and I get that – it’s the other side of the argument. But, to me, that argument would hold much more water if we did not have a successful team at this point.

    So, sure, long contracts were given to Luke and Devean and Sasha and RadMan (but he did not give a long, big money contract to Aaron Mckie). However, and I make this point in the post, the players that are still here are contributors to our (very successful) team…so how is that bad? The players that are not here were (except for George) part of trades that made us better. Mckie was part of the Gasol trade and Radman (who *was* a starter for a Finals team last season) got us Shannon and Ammo (essentially in a salary dump, but with the added bonus of Shannon now contributing).

    In the end, I understand that my post can come off as all roses with no thorns. But I also think the team that we have currently is not only the product of great coaching and fantastic play/leadership from Kobe, but also because of the vision of the guy who acquired almost every player on the team and also had the patience to stick with his plan and the savvy to get the players that he knew would help our team win. To me, it’s obvious that it’s working. If you don’t think Mitch deserves recognition for this, I really don’t know what else to say.

  75. #71. kneejerk,
    I’m not going to slam Kobe, because that would be dumb. But there was a great exchange during the game against the Jazz between Harlan and Collins that I’ll reiterate now. Basically, Bynum had just scored and Harlan remarked that it was just two seasons ago that Kobe wanted this guy traded. Collins replied “And that’s why players aren’t the GM.”

    So while, I see your point about Kobe’s impact on the growth of this team being absent from this post, I also think you can’t discount the fact that it was Mitch’s patience in the face of tremendous pressure from Kobe to make drastic moves – moves that in hindsight seem unlikely to have been successful – that I think your comment shows that you may be giving Kobe too much credit for how good Mitch has been.

  76. To follow Darius’ comment…
    Even Kobe now allows that Mitch knew what he was doing and that he, Kobe, was wrong two years ago.

  77. It’s a truism that when doling out credit or blame, the people at the top get a disproportionately large amount of whatever’s being handed out, while people lower down get progressively marginalized. All the more so when their predecessors did, in the minds of fans and the words of Darius, walk on water.

    So when things were going poorly, Kupchak got more of the blame than he deserved; now, when things are going well, he probably gets more of the credit than he deserves. In a sense, that’s fine, we all like success, and these things do even out over time. I read Darius’s essay as a reminder to us that it takes time to properly evaluate a strategist’s body of work, especially when it takes years for that work to come to fruition.

    When Kobe was blowing up, a couple of years ago, I exchanged some e-mails with Larry Coon, he of the copious Salary Cap FAQ. Our two-man consensus was that Kupchak definitely knew what he wanted–again in Darius’s words, he had a plan–but we both doubted whether he had the tactical wherewithal to execute it. Well, he executed it. Sure, luck played a role, but I suspect luck plays a significant role in every done (and undone) deal in the league. We see Kupchak’s luck because we hang on every Laker deal, but it can’t be different for all the other teams.

    We’d like to think that superior GMs control their own destiny, and to a certain extent they do, but only in the long run. On any given deal, it’s no more certain than it is that Kobe will make any given buzzer-beater. With both, you put in preparation and training, and what you get out of it is percentage points. In the short run, the difference may not be great, but in the end, it might just be the difference between winning a title and being also-rans.

  78. Apricot (73): I always think that Phil and, really, all championship-team coaches are underrated. COY voters always seem overly charmed by win differential (from last year to this year). I felt this way about the MVP voting in 2000 (when a single vote for AI kept Shaq from a unanimous award), and I feel it now.

    What’s always overlooked is that it’s MUCH harder to go from (say) 55 to 60 wins than it is to go from 30 to 35 wins. Hell, I’d say that it’s harder to go from 55 to 60 than it is to go from 30 to *45*. In the first place, most of the way from 30 to 45 is regression to the mean. In the second place, you’re flying under the radar. No way you’re flying under the radar with 55+ wins.

    What’s more, the difference between 55 and 60 is significant for your title chances. You win 60+, and you’re a major title contender; if you only win 55, you’re probably an also-ran. The difference between 30 and 45 is between sitting on your couch at home and getting throttled in the first round. (If you’re in the East. If you’re in the West, there ain’t no damned difference at all.)

    So down with awards going to Cinderellas. They make the playoffs interesting (let’s hope that Utah doesn’t become a Cinderella overnight), but awards rightfully belong to the frontrunners. MVP winners tend to come from teams winning 50+, not because of some arbitrary bias against mediocre teams, but because outstanding performances for mediocre teams simply mean less. A lot less. I’d like Phil to win COY, but if Mike Brown wins it, I think it’ll be deserved, too. Just don’t give it to some coach of a bottom seed that just managed to straggle in beyond expectations.

  79. Most of being a great GM is luck. Shrewd planning and having a vision is one thing, but even with the most solid of NBA players, you never know what you’re going to get. Look at Elton Brand. He was a 20-10 guy before his injury; Philly stole him from the Clippers, and they were terrible when he was in the lineup. It could’ve easily gone the same way with the Gasol trade. The fact is, however, that it didn’t.

    People complain about this in poker all the time. Say I’m holding out for running hearts for a flush draw, while Kurt is betting big with an obvious over-pair. It terms of expected value, calling him would be stupid. Now supposed I call anyway and I hit my flush. I take all of Kurt’s money because he can’t believe it, and I make out like a bandit. Was my move the right move? Maybe not. Did I win in the end? Hell yea.

    It doesn’t matter how he accomplished it, the point is he got the goods in the end. You can play perfect poker and still lose to the worst player in the room. It is much the same with being a GM.

  80. clutch824 – lol it might be hard to believe, but there is a world outside FBaG.

    I haven’t been reading a lot of the back and forth on Mitch, I was more posting a response/extension to Darius’s great write-up. To me, Mitch is neither a genius nor a screw-up. My only point is that it’s very hard to judge a GM because the business is fickle, and people tend to judge based off recent results.

    And the “people” I was referring to were mostly the talking heads at ESPN and yes, the casual fans who take advice from Simmons and Stein and others. I wasn’t aiming that at any commenter on here (frankly, I haven’t read a lot of the comments today). The FBaG community is an exception to the rule, most fans (that we would consider casual) buy into ESPN and the mainstream media’s viewpoints.

  81. NBA talk outside FB&G? What you say? Does not compute… I don’t remember what my sports time on the internet was like 5 months ago.

    Oh ESPN, with their opinion shows and sports ticker. I love & despise it equally. If only Stern would work a deal where TNT shows all the NBA games.

  82. Brian Tung,
    Nice commentary, but you forget the cardinal rule of politics…

    Never underestimate the collective ignorance of the electorate.

    This is what news and sports organizations view as their mantra.

    They are interested in selling time on an instantaneous basis. Since this precludes any real reference to thought or history, the judgments are based on the spectacular or the obvious.

  83. 80 – I second that. TNT minus Reggie Miller would by far be the best option for the Finals. Or at least put Kevin Harlan with Reggie Miller, so when Miller makes an awkward and completely pointless joke, Harlan can scream in his face “YOU JUST SUCKED THE GRAVITY RIGHT OUT OF THE BUILDING!” And then hopefully Reggie will stop talking.

    What can we do to stop the Blazers ascent? It’s a bit concerning that already they match up better with us than perhaps any other top team, and they’re only going to get better from here on out. (With their chemistry and leadership, I don’t see them imploding like the Bulls). Does anyone have any compromising photos of Kevin Pritchard? Now clearly is not the time to worry about the future, but still….for a team that young to be that good is worrying. Normally I’d say their chemistry would be strained when the rookie contracts expire and players are up for extensions, but this is Paul Allen.

    I’m just rambling now, waiting for the playoffs to get here…

  84. Zephid – I get the general point, but that example is a little tricky. The Philly GM didn’t think through it enough, blinded by Brand’s talent and stats (as many of us and the ESPN crew were), and didn’t realize Brand isn’t best suited for a team whose only success came playing up-tempo. And Mitch, I think, clearly realized how well Pau’s skills would fit in the triangle. But I get the general point, there is a lot of unpredictability involved, and that’s why I said the NBA job is so fickle. GMs are geniuses one minute and idiots the next. Most likely, they’re somewhere between the two, but depending on how the dice rolls they’ll be seen differently. Often times it can go either way.

  85. Snoopy2006, Jamal Mashburn should replace Reggie Miller. He is one of the most thoughtful players turned analysts out there, and still in touch with what’s happening in the league.

  86. You guys are all diggin on Doug Collins for talking too much, but I think he’s one of the best color guys out there. Whenever I’m watching a game, I’m looking for all the little things: the hard screens, the box-outs, the back-door cuts, the help defense. All the time, when Mark Jackson or Jon Barry is the color guy, I see all this stuff that happens on the court but gets absolutely no mention by the announcing booth. Collins is the absolute best at picking out this stuff, with Hubie Brown a close second. After watching him and Mike Breen calling the Olympics, I wish I could see the two together for the finals. Kevin Harlan is ok, but he brings no insight into the game. Breen is far more knowledgeable and rarely makes mistakes during play-by-play, while Harlan makes mistakes all the time.

    Mark Jackson and Reggie Miller make me want to go into color commentary. If they can get those jobs, I can too. I have somewhere between 3 and 500 times the insight into basketball that Reggie Miller has.

  87. Snoopy,
    “What can we do to stop the Blazers ascent?”
    Salary cap/luxury tax and enough PT to keep everyone happy. That group will probably not stay together.

  88. Kupchak won two titles as GM, right? He deserves credit for not screwing up a good roster. And they probably beat Detroit if Malone isn’t injured. He doesn’t get enough credit for the successes during his first 5 years with the team.

  89. Joe A,
    How has being a marquee franchise helped the Lakers in the salary cap era, other than with Malone and Payton?

    Re Kwame Brown:
    When Mitch gave Kwame the big extension, I commented to someone was that the only way that made sense was if they were planning on trading him in the future. No way Kwame was worth that much. I still wonder if that was his plan all along; knowing that they weren’t going to be competitive for 1-2 years at the soonest, but that at that point Kwame’s contract could bring in a significant piece.

  90. #61,

    LOL… I wonder why. *cough* KG *cough* I hope he gets better soon.

  91. Here is how the Blazers are slowed (I don’t think they get stopped. I have a bad feeling I’ll be seeing a celebration of tall lanky athletes at Pioneer Courthouse Square sometime in the next 5 years).

    McMillan keeps restricting Rudy to a spot shooter and ally-oop target. (doubtfull)

    They fall in love with their players and hold on to practically all of them. (highly unlikely)

    Oden and/or Roy breakdown regularly. (very possible)

    They never make Bayless their PG of the future. (unlikely)

    We win it this year and gain that champion’s resilience (and eventually that won’t be enough).

    I think Outlaw’s trade value will be coming up this post season. They have a move or two to make to become unbeatable in the West (at least by anyone but us). Lets hope they always run a move or two short.

    PDX may be the hardest out we have on the way to our next 16 wins.

  92. Darius, excellent Post, many many good comments in this thread I would agree, it has been a good read for tonight indeed of a couple of hours or more. What can I say after all of this? I do think that Mitch is an excellent planner for the future of this Laker franchise.

    ‘I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.’ – Stephen Leacock

  93. Zephid – Please, saying you have only 500 times the bball IQ of Reggie Miller is an insult to yourself. Think higher self-esteem!

  94. I never even knew who mitch kupchak was until the year we took on Karl Malone and Gary Payton. At the time I remember we gave devean george a big contract base on… I think 1 quarter’s worth of good play in a playoff game in our previous championship run, and it cost us a chance at a more legitimate forward (I think at the time the hot name was Keon Clark) with our midlevel exception.

    I still hate that we paid George when he frankly sucked, and I still think that (and Karl Malone’s playoff knee injury) cost us a 4th straight title, which would have just been awesome.

    But I’ve enjoyed the ride all the same, and honestly those 3 years of irrelevance after we traded Shaq… they don’t compare in agony to the Van Exel/Ceballos years. We came out ok, and I’m happy with it.

  95. HI Darius,

    I’m very much in support of your praise for Mitch Kupchak.

    We must remember that Mitch functions as part of a management team that includes some strong personalities, not to mention superstar player egos that need to be stroked. Mitch has come across, and sometimes been ridiculed, as being unusually honest, ethical, and straightfoward.

    Some have seen this as a sign of weakness, but Mitch has made patience a virtue, and compatibility a trademark of both the front office and the team. The unusual warmth, support, and closeness so evident among Laker teammates doesn’t happen by accident. If chemistry is one of the great qualities of the Laker team, Kupchak is one of the chemists.

    Mitch and the Lakers have exhibited a remarkable amount of humanity and understanding, including the complementary surgical heart operation for Rony Turiaf, extended rehabilitation for Chris Mihm, and forgiveness for VladRad’s ski hill accident dishonesty. At the same time, Mitch has been capable of making the necessary business decisions, such as dumping Smush, trading Mihm to reduce the cap, and not signing Devon George.

    Mitch is living proof that nice guys do not always finish last.

  96. @drrayeye
    U forget to also mention coby carl, which was suffered from a cancer.
    But u have a very valid points.
    Thanks for bringing it out.

  97. I always was a supporter of Mitch but this is not to toot my own horn because it was not because I had enlightened or even correct forsight. I believe most people thought that trading Shaq was a terrible idea at the time (and probably many still in retrospect) both because of his dominance and his popularity. I think this turned most people against him and tried to find as much as possible fault in every decision he made (much like Kobe detractors have always tried to do- Tear down the statue so to speak).

    Anyway the reason I always supported Mitch was because I disliked Shaq significantly from the 01-02 season onwards because of his extreme laziness. I thought look the only reason the lakers didn’t win in both 02-03 and 03-04 was because he lacked any sort of offseason conditioning work ethic. If he had had 1/3 of Kobe’s drive they would’ve won 5 titles in a row.

    I mean what the hell was the “getting in shape as the season progressed by playing a lot crap?” WTF is that. You’re trying to win a title and you still have to get in shape during the season?

    My position at the time was trade the d-bag while his value was astronomical and get picks and guys to put around Kobe.

    I think the big issue when the Shaq trade happened was that the entire team imploded. Kobe got in a fight with Malone (who was playing well and on his way back from the knee thing to true form for one more season at least). Everybody left. If the 04-05 Lakers had retained DFish instead of letting him walk to a large contract at Golden State (where ironically he wasn’t worth that money but with the Lakers he probably was), had retained Malone for another year, and had managed to keep Phil then there probably would’ve been a much better year and likely title contention.

    (remember the Lakers were in the PLayoffs till Kobe got hurt with that pathetic cast and the league was unusually weak that year. The weakest Spurs team to win it all and a weak Pistons team. Plus the Suns weren’t quite there yet. The Lakers had only lost the year before to a team implosion and gary Payton).

    The Shaq trade in and of itself was a good trade. Odom was young and is still proving he can be very productive both numerically and beyond what his numbers say. Butler is an excellent player too. Two (very) young all star talents for an aging lazy just past his prime super center. Plus a good pick and what should’ve been one productive year from Brian Grant (I wonder what island he is on right now…)

    However, it couldn’t have turned out better by having that year of purging. By not retaining anybody the Lakers played themselves into a good pick (I still think Kobe shut it down extra long at the end of that season realizing that the team was going nowhere and winning then meant losing later) and panic traded for kwame for the needed center postion (remember that butler was good then but Kobe and he didn’t play well together and we had so many good small fowards) who’s contract turned into Gasol.

  98. also there was never a good replacement for Robert Horry. It was a mistake to ever let him leave.

  99. @ Shaky

    Karl Malone’s knee injury came two years after the last title. It was in 03-04.

    Remember in 02-03 the Lakers didn’t get the top seed despite Kobe’s amazing year because shaq waited to long to get toe surgery. They were clciking pretty well by playoffs and probably lost that title because kobe went from good shooting to very streaky with a torn rotator cup when he hurt himself in the timberwolves series in the first round. He was playing so well too that year.

  100. Max B,
    No matter how much we would have liked to retain Fish and Horry, we still had a salary cap to deal with. Those players were getting way too much money and would have had to be signed for too long – thus restricting our ability to bring in others. That was the reasoning at the time. As we went on Vlade and Walton were younger players with futures in front of them.

    You don’t win all the signings, but, if you are generally moving in the right direction and don’t sign a ‘wrong’ max contract, you can get to your goal.

  101. 86. Ah, but you assume that one’s ability to become a color commentator is at all related to insight! To become one it is necessary and sufficient to be a former coach/player and make the executives believe that you can relate to, or at least not freak out, the largely white audience. Sorry Josh Howard.

  102. 97

    “I still think Kobe shut it down extra long at the end of that season realizing that the team was going nowhere and winning then meant losing later”

    Kobe didn’t ‘shut it down’ at all at the end of that season. The big chunk of games he missed came in January or thereabouts (don’t remember what the injury was). Odom, on the other hand, got hurt towards the end (again, don’t remember why) and the Lakers went something like 2-21 to close out the season.

  103. Wow. I love the back and forth.

    First off, count me in on those impressed with Mitch. One thing many commentators are forgetting is that the Lakers last year, before Bynum’s injury and the trade for Pau, had the best record in the Western Conference. To say we lucked into having a good team because of the Gasol trade is not understanding the whole situation. We didn’t go from bottom of the barrel to top of the league because of Pau. We were already at the top, then Bynum went down, and then Pau came. The talent for a good team was already there before Gasol, but we became a LOT better with him.

  104. @exhelodrvr

    So, are you making the argument that the Laker’s would have been better off without Kobe? Kupchak’s job would have been easier?

    I would much rather have the challenge of building around a franchise player’s salary than building a franchise around nothing. Again, there’s only a handful of true championship level franchise players in the league. Kobe, LBJ, Wade, Duncan (whose era is coming to end.) Good luck winning a ‘ship or creating a dynasty without one of those players. The Celtics did it, but the way that team came together was something of an aberration. (And Garnett Pierce are as close to championship franchise as you can get without being it- if that makes sense.)

    Other than the Pistons, what team has won the finals in recent years without a World-beating franchise playeror near franchise collection of players?

    Kupchack had two world-beaters, Kobe and Shaq to start with. Basically his task from that point on was to not screw up. Which he did a little bit at times, but also has redeemed himself at times. We will see his real worth as a GM when Kobe is on the downside of his career and the Laker’s are trying to find a new way to be remain a top team. Bynum’s good- but he’s not going to carry a team to glory in my estimation without a lot of talent around him.

  105. San Clemente Steve April 17, 2009 at 9:04 am

    Before we get ahead ourselves with either praise or scorn for Mitch, lets FINISH the season properly with a championship and nothing less. Until that happens, any speculation on Mitch’s performance is moot because LA is about winning and also winning with style.

  106. 104) Joe A
    “So, are you making the argument that the Laker’s would have been better off without Kobe? Kupchak’s job would have been easier? ”

    I’m very curious how you could glean that from my post.

  107. My picks for the playoff:

    CLE-DET, Cleveland in 4
    BOS-CHI, Boston in 5
    ORL-PHI, Orlando in 4
    ATL-MIA, Atlanta in 7

    LAL-UTA, LA in 4
    DEN-NO, Denver in 7
    SAS-DAL, San Antonio in 5
    POR-HOU, Houston in 6

    If anyone wants to read my reasoning behind each pick, you can go to my blog which is linked in my name.

  108. Good post. For those who want my humorous take on Kobe, a.k.a. “The Black Mamba” check me out here!

    http://balmer.typepad.com/watercooler/
    #1 Comedy Blog

  109. @exhelodrvr
    I completely apologize. I was just skimmed the comments and completely misread your comment.

    I somehow read “being a marquee franchise” as “having a marquee franchise player.” Sorry.

    Being a large market marquee franchise has a lot of benefit I think. It’s easier to get players like Malone and Payton, as you mentioned- but it also allows you to not worry as much about the salary cap because of revenue.

    And in a general way, not necessarily related to Kupchak’s work, it makes it easier to get franchise players. Would Shaq have left Orlando for Milwaukee? Didn’t Kobe basically say he wouldn’t play for CHarlotte when they drafted him? (Am I making that up?)

    Consider the LBJ situation now. Had he been originally drafted by the Knicks- and they were as a result as good as the Cavs are now, would there be any talk about him leaving in 2010? Would Cleveland have a chance of getting him from the Knicks (in my bizarro world example)?

    I just think it’s something that needs to be taken inot account when analyzing the worth of the GM.

  110. re: the 2004-2005 season, the Lakers did have a plan. I didn’t agree with it because I never would have traded Shaq, I would have called Kobe’s bluff on going to the Clippers.

    Nevertheless, the plan was they signed Vlade and were counting on Karl Malone coming back. That would have made a starting lineup of Vlade, Malone, Odom, Kobe, and Chucky Atkins, with Mihm, Brian Grant, Butler, Walton, and Kareem Rush on the bench. That team if intact could have made some noise in the playoffs. Unfortunately Vlade got hurt and Malone got into a tiff with Kobe, and things went downhill from there.

  111. San Clemente Steve,
    You seem to be missing the point. Mitch has done his work – and it is very good work. Now it is up to the coaches and players. Where we finish this year should not affect the evaluation of what Mitch has done.

    Gee, we should have gotten ‘X’, instead of ‘Y’, after the fact is really not the issue.

  112. San Clemente Steve April 17, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Craig W,

    Criticism is welcome, because after all, this is the Internet. I am only suggesting that we hold off on praise or scorn, because EXPECTATIONS for the Lakers will always be higher than for most other clubs. The Lakers are a marquee franchise so Mitch gets measured by what happens in getting to the NBA Finals. For the Lakers and especially Mitch & Phil, anything less is a disappointment.

  113. First of all, thanks Darius for this post. Good work.

    I’d recommend that you watch the lakers town hall just uploaded on the lakers.com website. It is in 3 parts, 20 minutes each with both Phil and Mitch fielding fan questions regarding all sorts of issues. During it they cover some of the jobs Mitch does that has nothing to do with personnel.

    One quick comment about Mitch. Over the years I’ve been a big critic of Mitch. The Tayshaun Prince and Lindsey Hunter for Kareen Rush and tracy Murray (in effect) trade – when he worked out Prince several times and never worked out Rush comes to mind. But he has learned and improved.

    Watching the town hall, I’m reminded what a forceful personality Phil is. My theory is that in the beginning, the personnel moves were tailored to PJ and the triangle. Luke Walton, Cook, and even Rush (spot up shooting) indicate this. After PJ’s sabbatical, Mitch started to get athletes and players (Bynum, Trevor, Shannon) that can play in any system. I like his improvement and growth.

    Switching to broadcasting… Those of you who have international league pass will have seen the last game in full starting from the lockerroom, to the pre-game warmup (Sasha and Fish do not miss in warm ups) until the very end with no breaks, unedited and without commercials. The banter between Collins and Kevin Harlan was fun to hear. First of all, they both practice the lead in during every break. Harlan is also quite salty with his language…

    - … “when I was growing up, we were so poor that my father used to cut holds in the pants pockets so we would have something to play with…”

    Also, the last few minutes of the game was occupied with logistics and planning for the restaurant they were trying to go to for dinner after the game.

    Speaking of GM’s, I had the occasion to attend a few European basketball games and once Jerry West was over scouting when he was the GM of Memphis. First impressions: Jerry is tall. A legitmate 6’4″ barefoot and if he played today would have been listed at 6’6″… a really nice guy and a horndog (details omitted)…

  114. new post up: When the Jazz have the ball.

  115. Wait…we traded away the pick for Prince? Really? Why hasn’t anyone talked about this yet? I may spend tonight weeping.

  116. @ MAX B

    Yeah I think I condensed it in my head into one season. regardless my point was we settled for karl malone because he paid George for no good reason the full mid level, when we could have had an athletic power forward instead.

    …unless Jerry West was still our gm at that point?

  117. The Lakers will go as far as their defense will take them.

    Boom. Roasted!

    In reference to opponents…they’re about to be roasted…….Booom,,slam, DUNK

  118. Kurt – U Da Man