People act like Mitch Kupchak has only been the Lakers' GM for the past three seasons, rapidly guiding a proud franchise into oblivion.
That's not fair to Mr. Kupchak. He has been marching the Lakers towards mediocrity for much longer than that.
Also be sure to check out Matt's take on How Mitch Kupchak Could Have Saved the Lakers.
Jerry West retired during the 2000-20001 season, leaving the team in the hands of Kupchak, his protege. Yes, the Lakers won two more championships after that—but Kupchak had absolutely nothing to do with either of them.
Kupchak's first real move was to bring in Gary Payton and Karl Malone prior to the 2004 season. Well, sort of. That move actually required no effort on the part of Kupchak, other than to draw up the paperwork and be present at the press conference.
Most analysts at the time agreed that the players themselves brokered the deal, with some help from the media. Regardless, it was a big step for Kupchak, who was still trying to escape the shadow of the Logo.
The Lakers had been outplayed by the Spurs in the playoffs the year before. There was a need to refresh the roster—to bring in new role players to replace West's aging acquisitions. Which is exactly what Kupchak did.
From the looks of it, Mitch had the makings of a competent GM.
Oh how times have changed.
Kupchak's first real responsibility was to find a taker for Shaq. We all know now that Dr. Buss had decided to get rid of the Diesel—and it was Mitch's job to get it done.
The result: Shaquille O'Neal, one of the most dominant players in the game's history, for Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, and a future first-round draft pick.
Talk about strike one.
Kupchak supposedly passed on more fruitful deals because he didn't want to trade Shaq to another Western Conference team. But not only did he get taken for about 20 cents on the dollar—he acquired players that were locked up in bad contracts.
In 2004, Kobe Bryant got paid $14,175,000. Brian Grant? $13,233,434.
Grant played 17 minutes per game that year, averaging 3.8 PPG and 3.7 RPG.
Sure, Odom was considered a decent talent, and Butler had a huge upside...but Kupchak proceeded to trade Butler to the Wizards for Kwame Brown and Laron Profit.
Butler made the All-Star team this year. Brown continues to disappoint. I don't even think Profit plays in the NBA anymore.
But thank God for that draft pick Kupchak got from the Heat. After all, he would need it to draft a point guard, as he didn't see fit to re-sign Derek Fisher prior to the '04-'05 season.
Fisher was an experienced role player who hit open shots, never turned the ball over, played solid defense, and helped lead the team. Who needs that when you have an aging Gary Payton?
Stupid as it is, at least that line of thinking would have been logical. But Kupchak never intended to keep Payton. Instead, he traded him to the Celtics for Chris Mihm, Jumaine Jones, and Chucky Atkins.
And he couldn't even make that deal properly.
A little known fact is that the Lakers were supposed to get Marcus Banks instead of Jumaine Jones. When Payton didn't show for his mandatory physical, the Celtics swapped Jones for Banks...as if Kupchak didn't look stupid enough already.
That said, even Atkins would look okay to Laker fans compared to Smush Parker and Sasha Vujacic. Unfortunately, Kupchak proceeded to get rid of him too, including him in the Butler-for-Brown deal.
So let me do the math on this. The Lakers had both Gary Payton and Derek Fisher. Kupchak managed to turn them into Jumaine Jones and Laron Profit.
In a word: Wow.