Mitch Kupchak embodied confidence when he wore a basketball uniform for Brentwood High School in the early 1970s. He was the best big man on Long Island, and the 6-9 Kupchak surely realized his potential on, and later, off the court, where he became the general manager of the Lakers in 2000. Self-assuredness is a trait Kupchak, 58, clings to nowadays in Los Angeles, where the stars are not aligning as expected. The notion of an NBA title, prompted with the acquisitions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, has dissolved into the lone talking point of whether the Lakers can even make the playoffs. They are 22-26, 10th in the Western Conference, 3 1/2 games removed from the eighth playoff spot.