Lakers GM cautiously optimistic after headline-grabbing offseason
Mitch Kupchak knows stories like this one won't matter come June, when all the hype is gone and his Lakers will either be pushing toward the only goal that matters or explaining what went wrong during yet another offseason of change.
Championship-or-bust is an enviable stance to take, to be sure, a creed that only the Lakers, Celtics and Spurs have been able to realistically embrace for decades at a time. Which is why, when the Lakers' general manager agreed to speak with SI.com about the new superteam he created by adding Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, he didn't get past his first sentence before sharing the organization's unofficial mantra heading into next month's training camp: On Paper.
It's not the sexiest slogan, but they may as well mass produce the purple and gold T-shirts and get them ready for the preseason home opener against Golden State on Oct. 7. The Lakers, with a starting five for the ages in Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Howard, will have to prove they're worthy of all this ink. And if they don't, there will be hell to pay for all the hullabaloo.
Just nine months after Kupchak was devastated by the NBA's infamous voiding of the Chris Paul trade with New Orleans and, according to one Lakers insider,
Last year was a difficult year for everybody associated with the NBA. If you had your coaching staff in place, and you had your team in place, you had an advantage. Teams that made coaching changes, or made personnel changes, with the shortened season, it became difficult to play your best basketball. And then without getting into great detail, the way we started the season with the trade that had to be undone and a lot of feelings were hurt. That didn't help our coaches, who were new to Los Angeles in a strike-shortened season. But that shortened season applied to everybody.
There's been a lot of positive publicity surrounding this team, but I know when you lose three in a row that all of a sudden it's going to be "Break up the Lakers." And then you start to worry about injuries, and then you look around at the league and who else has made improvements. So you're never really feeling good about anything that's taken place. You just kind of keep moving ahead and then you always try to figure out what could go wrong.
Chronologically, yeah, he's one of the oldest players in the league. But we're not concerned that he's got two or three good years left in him. He's figured out how to maintain his health with years of experience. He's gotten cuts and bruises and sprains, and he's always had the little back thing that has bothered him, but he's figured out a way to have his maintenance get him through the season. And then I think most of all is the energy. He'll feel rejuvenated. The last year or two it probably got tough for him to get through the season. Just the load he had to carry, and maybe feeling like they didn't have a chance to contend -- although they could probably make the playoffs, which is motivation for a lot of people. But having a chance to win a championship, mentally he'll be fresh and that will make a difference.