Magic Johnson, who was recently hired as a special advisor to Lakers co-owner Jeanie Buss, has heard from agents and executives around the league that GM Mitch Kupchak‘s management style is frustrating to deal with and it has cost the team in free agency, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com. Shelburne names Isaiah Thomas, Kent Bazemore, Kyle Lowry and Pau Gasol among the players who have signed elsewhere because of the GM.
“He’s the only GM in the league who won’t engage at all before 9:01 p.m. [PT] on the first night of free agency. Then when he calls to express interest, there’s no stickiness to it,” an anonymous player agent said of dealing with Kupchak.
Of course, speaking with players before the opening of free agency technically qualifies as tampering, though Shelburne notes that there are ways of gathering information on free agents without breaking the rules, so that the team doesn’t begin the process behind the competition. The Lakers aren’t operating like other franchises and it has contributed to the lack of success in free agency. Kupchak’s decision to chase stars has also been problematic.
Thomas told ESPN’s Zach Lowe back in 2014 that he always envisioned himself playing for the Lakers, but the franchise was “waiting on Carmelo Anthony and other moves” when he was a free agent during the summer of 2014. In the same summer, the Lakers were interested in signing Lowry, but they told him they would prefer to wait until Anthony made a decision. Anthony never came to the Lakers and both players signed elsewhere.
During the 2015 offseason, Los Angeles told Bazemore to wait on an offer while it unsuccessfully chased LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Monroe, and DeAndre Jordan. Bazemore ended up becoming a free agent again after a successful 2015/16 campaign with Atlanta. This time, the Lakers went after him more aggressively, presenting him with an offer that was more lucrative than Atlanta’s. However, Bazemore decided to be loyal to the team that gave him an expanded role and re-signed with Atlanta.
According to Shelburne, Kupchak rarely communicates with Jeanie Buss because he believes that he only reports to her brother Jim, who handles the team’s basketball operations. She handles the business affairs and mostly stays away from transactions on the court. Buss has often said that she learns of the on-court decisions through the news or texts from her brother.
Johnson is keeping an open mind when evaluating whether or not Kupchak should stay on as GM. As an advisor, he doesn’t have decision-making power, but he is expected to help Jeanie Buss reassess the basketball operations side of the franchise. Kupchak has been in the organization since 1986 when Johnson was a player on the team.
After the All-Star break, Jim Buss, Johnson, and Kupchak will meet to discuss the team’s moves over the last several seasons.
“I’m taking Magic at face value, that he’s here to help,” Jim Buss said. “He’s one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Who wouldn’t value his opinion? I’m excited to work with Magic for years to come.”