The Lakers are in that weird in-between time where they have a head coach, but since he’s still working for another team others have to speak for him. So, here’s Mitch Kupchak speaking on how Luke Walton’s past has informed his coaching perspective and the style he envisions the Lakers’ playing. There’s insight to be gained from those comments, but in reality, until we get those comments from the horse’s mouth with more detail in the plan to make those things happen, there’s really very little to learn there.
Kupchack’s comments on building a better roster, though, those have more meaning. Him acknowledging the team needs to get not just better players, but players who can play in the style Walton projects to play is important. Saying these things about a team which won 17 games this past year seems like the obvious thing to do, but considering the team has seen a decline in wins for three straight years while also still paying lip service to “wanting to compete for championships”, these outright admissions are somewhat refreshing to me.
Staying on that theme, then, the biggest thing I took from Kupchak’s comments was him openly stating — several times in fact — that a main goal for next season is to have a team which would be entertaining and fun to watch. Adding that growth will not just be measured in winning more games, but in the progress the players make over a sustained period.
On the one hand, the cynic might say “of course the Lakers want to play an entertaining style, they have a TV contract to honor and with Kobe retiring, they need to play a fun style of ball to keep eyeballs on the screens“. There’s truth in that, of course. Kobe’s farewell tour helped pack arenas and kept fans tuning into games to watch the final moments of a legend’s career. The Lakers also have history in this area, moving on from Magic Johnson’s abrupt retirement to just a few years later morphing into the “LakeShow” teams which spawned a cult following and much fan interest even though they were not title contenders.
On the other hand, though, there’s a liberating feeling for me in comments which remove the facade that came in the past few years where, even though we all knew the team would be lucky to make the postseason, the rhetoric too often made it sound as though this team was still contending for something. Kupchack openly stating that maybe, if the team can really improve — really improve — the talent base, they can compete for a playoff spot or even go further is not new, but saying it more as wishful thinking than anything else is — and it is refreshing.
I understand that sounds strange. I am openly happy about the General Manager downplaying the Lakers’ chances and making it seem like they are far away from being a good team. But, the reality is, this is closer to the truth than anything else.
Maybe Kobe’s retirement has allowed them to (finally) publicly state this. During his career, the “championship or bust” mindset was borne as much from his relentless pursuit of titles as validation as his prodigious talent which allowed everyone else to believe those goals were possible. Of course, in recent seasons, we knew that was no longer true. But the comments of that being the “end goal” remained. Now, though, Kupchack says he just wants a team which is fun to watch and shows improvement that will be measured in weeks, not days.
This truly is a new era of Lakers’ basketball. I, for one, welcome it.