EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Two years ago,
"Potentially we can be a better team," Kupchak said, with full understanding of the risks in trying to improve a roster that has reached the last two NBA Finals.
Kupchak's moves over the last two years reveal his desire to remain patient in addition to a willingness to move boldly when all else fails. He acknowledged last year that the Lakers might not have traded for
"You have a team that's young and you win a championship and you have a chance to bring them back," said Kupchak, outlining his thoughts in the week before the free-agency window opened July 1. "Why wouldn't you try to do that?"
As Kupchak pointed out, he had no way of predicting that Artest would be on the market to sign for the mid-level exception starting at $5.9 million. Artest became available at that bargain price when the Rockets decided to let him walk following the recent news that
"You can't predict what July 1 will bring," Kupchak said. "Because we didn't know Yao was going to go down, we didn't know Houston was going to take a certain approach, we didn't know that the negotiations with Trevor would get out of control so quickly. If you're in a position to move quickly, and get a player who may make you just as good and maybe even better, then I think we got lucky."
Kupchak was able to adjust so quickly because Lakers owner Dr.
"This came up in the meeting on July 1," Kupchak said of his talks with the Buss family. "You end up talking in financial terms for an hour or two, and then at the end of the conversation [Buss] looks at you and he says, 'You know, Mitch, we're so damn competitive.' So it's like the [luxury tax] things you talked about for the last hour, they go out the door because he wants to win.
"The balance is that he's knowledgeable enough to be able to make a good decision when it involves basketball and business. And we do have to make hard decisions. A year ago we let
Only two years ago, a rumor spread on the eve of the 2007 draft that Kupchak was in danger of losing his job with the Lakers. Though the franchise quickly put out word the gossip was false, the report had credence because it emerged within a month of Bryant's demand to be traded amid innuendo that Kupchak's predecessor,
"Going to North Carolina and watching the guys trying to follow in
"I had complete, unequivocal support on a decision to pursue Ron Artest. It was well thought-out. Dr. Buss has been through this -- the cycles of winning, rebuilding and rolling the dice, so to speak. He's a big poker player. You can't always assume that he's going to take the safe way out. He's not averse to risk. So we had a long, long discussion on July 1 and we were really together on this move."
Not only does Artest enable the Lakers to build on what they've established over the last two years, but his relatively low salary has provided Kupchak with the resources to re-sign
Should Odom return as sixth man to the Lakers, they'll enter training camp as strong favorites to defend their title and earn a fifth ring for Bryant, which would match the championship total of his idol
"I would prefer that it didn't happen and I would prefer that it never happens again," Kupchak said of that troubled summer. "But I understand that he was frustrated with the season, and I know that this was his way of putting pressure on the organization to do everything that it can to win. Yeah, I get that. Maybe there are other ways to put the pressure on it, but that's a decision he makes and that's fine, I understand. It's not the first time a player asked to be traded. Most times a player asks to be traded for other reasons. But his reason was, 'I want to win.' I can't hold that against him."
Despite those pressures, Kupchak has patiently built a young team of lasting influence around Bryant while also making a couple of finishing moves to surround him with Gasol, and now, Artest. It appears Jerry West taught him well.