What Mitch Kupchak Should Learn from Lakers' Failed Dwight Howard Experiment

Richard LeContributor IIIAugust 29, 2013

EL SEGUNDO, CA - AUGUST 10:  Dwight Howard (L) walks with General Manager Mitch Kupchak of the Los Angeles Lakers being introduced as the newest member of the Lakers at a news conference at the Toyota Sports Center on August 10, 2012 in El Segundo, California. The Lakers acquired Howard from Orlando Magic in a four-team trade. In addition Lakers wil receive Chris Duhon and Earl Clark from the Magic.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

As the Dwight Howard saga concluded, a lot of blame was placed on the management of the Los Angeles Lakers for losing Superman to the Houston Rockets

Although Jim Buss has received the majority of the criticism for the debacle, Mitch Kupchak also needs to learn from last season's disappointment. 

In prefacing my assessment on what improvements Kupchak needs to make, I need to clarify that I do not think he's a poor general manager. Kupchak is actually responsible for one of the biggest heists in NBA history. 

Kupchak's responsible for the acquisitions of Trevor Ariza, Pau Gasol, a player formerly known as Ron Artest and several other moves that for years kept the Lakers in contention for an NBA title. 

The problem with Kupchak doesn't revolve around his performance or his credentials. The problem is that his basketball acumen and business savvy are apparently being compromised if not outright challenged by the Lakers' front office.

As evidenced by the awkward manner in which the Lakers chose Mike D'Antoni over Phil Jackson, it appears as if Kupchak has become the scapegoat through which the Lakers are now funneling their shoddy decision-making.

That's not to say that Kupchak isn't complicit in some of the bad decisions that have been made. He appears to be 100 percent behind Mike D'Antoni as a coach despite the controversy behind the signing. 

However, as Kupchak has shown in the past, he has the knowledge and the skills to keep the Lakers afloat.

What Kupchak has to do is enter this rebuilding phase with a goal and a template in mind, meaning that if Lakers' management seems to be 100 percent behind D'Antoni, Kupchak then has to build a team around D'Antoni's preferred style of play.

The Dwight Howard experiment failed because the Lakers as an organization got behind a coach that could not maximize Howard's strengths.

There is no debate that Kobe Bryant, as long as he's still in town, will always be the focal point of the offense. And Kupchak, for his part,has shown the ability to surround Bryant with enough talent to get the job done. 

As Bryant enters in twilight years, Kupchak needs to focus on building a team that looks towards the future while still catering to Bryant, who will continue to remain a fixture until he chooses otherwise. 

It doesn't matter if the team Kupchak builds after next season revolves around D'Antoni's offense or not. What's really important is that the Lakers establish a team philosophy and style of play that Kupchak can successfully use to build the team. 

As general manager, it's Kupchak's job to learn from his mistakes from last season and clear up any ambiguities over the team's direction. If he can do that, the Lakers have a bright future ahead. 

However, this is easier said than done given Jim Buss' reputation as a man whose ego gets in the way of his decision-making. So, not only does Kupchak have to reestablish the Lakers identity, but he has to do so with an owner looking over his shoulder who seems intent on establishing a legacy of his own. 

In short, Kupchak has to learn to trust himself to do what he can with a team that has Buss' fingerprints all over it.