Mitch Kupchak On Draft, D’Antoni, Kobe

After finishing with the worst record in the Pacific Division, the Lakers are looking to turn things around in a major way.  The Lakers bid farewell to coach Mike D’Antoni and they could be moving on from free agent Pau Gasol as well.  In advance of the NBA Lottery, GM Mitch Kupchak took some time out from his schedule to talk with Mike Trudell of about the road ahead.  The whole Q&A is worth reading but we’ll provide a few of the highlights here..

Does having only three players on the roster right now for next season change how you approach the coaching hire?

You do take into consideration the make up of your roster. Although I won’t rule out hiring a coach prior to the lottery on May 20, I think it’s likely that we don’t, because that’s really the first step in terms of additional information for this franchise. Let’s find out what kind of pick we have. That may even help us decide what direction to go with for our coach. It will be a consideration.

Does the search for D’Antoni’s replacement and the uncertainty over where you’ll pick effect your draft preparations?

As you mentioned, May 20 is the lottery, and it’s hard to focus 100% on the draft until you know where you’re drafting. If the stars all line up and you get No. 1 instead of No. 9, there’s a difference, and it’s impossible to schedule workouts because the agents won’t cooperate until they know where you’re drafting. That part of it has proved uneventful, and probably won’t change until the 20th. We are working on setting up some interviews, and we’ve been successful, but you’re not going to really get moving on it until the agents know where you’re drafting.

You’ve been criticized for the contract extension that was given to Kobe Bryant. How does it factor into the way you build this team over the next two seasons, with salary cap implications and so on, and how would things look different if you’d given him less money?

When we gave Kobe the extension, we took a lot of factors into consideration, including the factors you just mentioned. We felt it was the thing to do. We’re still in a position to be a big player in the free agent market. Signing Kobe when we did, we felt, gave us one of the top two or three free agents that would be available this summer. We had the rare opportunity to get that done and not have to wait until July 1. Everybody can debate whether they would have waited or not, but our mindset was: ‘This is somebody we can get done now, and we still have a chance to be a player financially with free agency.’ Cap space is valuable and you don’t want to misuse it. You do have to use it, but you don’t have to use it going forward unless you want to.

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