Mitch Kupchak Q&A: Lakers' draft strategy, Kobe's influence and more
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak joined The Chris Mannix Show on NBC Sports Radio last Sunday to discuss the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NBA draft, Kobe Bryant's future with the team and the evolving role of big men in today’s NBA. The following interview has been edited for clarity.
Chris Mannix: Will Golden State's success influence how teams are built or how teams want to play?
Mitch Kupchak: I think the answer is maybe. Yeah, the game has certainly changed in 30 years. Yeah, the rules have changed. The way they call players guarding each other has changed, so the game is going to change. A lot of the way a team plays clearly is going to be based on the players and the talent they have. For example, Golden State, they get the most out of Stephen Curry playing a certain way, so why not play that way. So, there is a trend. It’s fun to watch, it’s fast-paced, the three-ball is really big time right now, you don’t see as much midrange as you once did, but, once again, a lot of what you do is going to be dependent upon the players you have.
Mannix: The league has trended more towards guards in recent years. Is that because of the style of play or is it because the number of great big men coming out of the amateur ranks isn’t what it used to be?
Kupchak: Clearly, we’re not seeing as many low-post players as we once did. It’s hard for me to pinpoint why that is. You know, in Europe, a lot of the big players—6’10”, 6’11”—they grow up with great ball handling skills. For example, Dirk Nowitzki. Maybe if he grew up in this country, at his size, a coach in junior high or high school would have put him down to low block, and he would have turned into a back-to-the-basket center. But, being in Europe with the way they coach and the way they teach, his skill level was such that he was more versatile. So, I don’t know. But we are not seeing as many true centers as we once did.
Mannix: In today’s NBA, is a great low-post-oriented big man as valuable as it used to be?
Kupchak: I think it could be. That’s not going to diminish the three-ball, which really has taken hold in our league. For a big man or a low-post center to be effective—and we’ve had a couple here in L.A.-- I’m not really making a joke, but the three-ball was around here with Shaquille and Pau and Andrew Bynum, and we were pretty effective. So the low-post player will be effective, but you really do have to surround him with the right players. Otherwise, if he’s really good, he’s going to get double-teamed, and there will be no place for him to move.
Mannix: I was talking to Flip Saunders the other day, and he said that when you start drafting for need instead of the best player on the board, that’s when mistakes can be made. Do you agree? Disagree?
Kupchak: Well, Flip is really smart, so he’s not going to tell you what he really thinks and let the rest of the country hear it, and, quite frankly, neither am I. So, I don’t know what to say about Flip’s comments. It depends where you are in the draft. If you’re drafting No. 1, you control the draft, and you can look at the draft the way you want to look at it. If you’re drafting No. 2, you have to guess what the guy in front of you is going to do, but you’ve got more control than the guys drafting No. 3, No. 4, No. 5. So, it kind of depends. It’s great to be in a position to control the draft.
Mannix: Has this process of drafting guys become more difficult? And, when I ask that, I mean players can be very selective about who they work out for, a lot of times, they’ve been coached so well about how to respond to certain questions during interviews. Does that make it more difficult in recent years to really get a read on these guys?
Kupchak: Your comments are right on. And, just as a side note, in Chicago [at the draft combine] we interviewed a lot of players—you know, we’re allowed to interview 18 players—and when they walk into the room, they all have on new shoes, and I kind of joke with them, “those shoes look uncomfortable,” and they say, “well, we just got them yesterday.” And my point is, the representatives or the agents, they coach them, they make sure that they come into the room with new shoes, new slacks, new belts, shirts, that they’re presentable, and that’s the job of a representative. There’s so much money at stake that they want their player presented in such a fashion that any variable outside basketball is not really considered in the decision. So, they’re very manipulating and controlling, and that’s their job. Representatives, they’re really, really good. Some representatives won’t allow their players to work out for anybody. So, it is more difficult. You know, we rarely have a problem getting a player to come to Los Angeles for an interview or a workout, and we’re very fortunate because of the franchise and the legacy here, that’s not normally a problem. But I know a lot of cities in the NBA, it is a problem.
Mannix: Has anybody said something to you during an interview that made you decide to take him off your board?
Kupchak: No. It’s very rare. There are red flags every now and then. As well as a player is coached, if you ask the right questions and you kind of jump around a little bit—unfortunately, kind like a prosecutor with somebody on the stand—you can get a kid to show his true colors. There really are no secrets to the general managers. There’s so much information that comes out about players in this country and in Europe and Asia that we pretty much know if a kid has a problem before he comes into the draft room for an interview. So the representatives, if they’re smart, they tell the kid, “Listen, just tell the truth.”
Mannix: Your phone’s blowing up with offers for this pick, a lot of offers, a few offers?
Kupchak: Well, to be in the running for the No. 2 pick, and this is just my take on it, general managers in this league know they have to offer or they will have to offer something very substantial. You can’t just call and say, “Hey, listen, we have interest in the No. 2 pick” if they’re not willing to be really, really serious. They know that. The No. 2 pick is valuable, so, to answer your question, yeah, we’ve gotten phone calls, 30 teams, 29 teams haven’t called us, and they wouldn’t. They know what the price would be, but we have gotten phone calls, and we will entertain the possibility of moving the pick if the right phone call, the right offer comes along.
Mannix: When you’re making your decision here and you’re going through this process, do you factor in Kobe Bryant’s future? And when I ask that, I’m asking, are you looking for a guy that might be able to make a more immediate impact because Kobe’s career is down to the last year, two years, whatever it is?
Kupchak: To some degree. We feel we want to make significant progress from this year to next year. And if we can do that and not mortgage the future—in other words, with a player who is in free agency that’s a veteran—then yeah. It’s a factor because we do want and we need in this city to show progress. And we’ve not made the playoffs for two years running, I suppose you can do it a third year, but our fans are impatient, and they’re used to a good product, and that’s not what we want to do. And we know Kobe is not as happy when the town around him is not enough to win. But, we’ve got to be careful that we don’t do something that puts us in the middle of the pack for the next six or seven years. Because all that does is get you the eighth seed in the playoffs and a draft pick that’s not very good.
Mannix: You’ve been asked all the time about Kobe’s future. But I’m curious how many, if any, conversations with Kobe have you had, do you have, about what he wants to do beyond this season?
Kupchak: Other than a conversation or so a year ago, really nothing, and I talk to him or, in this day and age, text, on a regular basis. And that doesn’t mean once a week. Maybe, perhaps, if you average it over two or three months, it might come out to be once a week, but I would guess every couple of weeks he’ll hear something, he’ll call, he’ll text, and I’ll ask a couple of questions. Regarding his future, there’s nothing really that’s been discussed. In fact, a couple of weeks with all the rumors that were out there, I made some comments and I asked him, “Are you O.K. with my comments,” and he said “absolutely.” So, that’s not something that really needs discussing right now. If there is a future beyond next year for Kobe, I don’t think he even wants to talk about it until next year.
Mannix: So you don’t think that’s a conversation for this summer at all, it’s not a real conversation until after the season?
Kupchak: I don’t think it’s a conversation for this summer, no.