Mitch Kupchak Talks Kobe, Pau Gasol and LA Lakers' Future

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 11, 2014

Mitch Kupchak Talks Kobe, Pau Gasol and LA Lakers' Future

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    Mitch Kupchak holds the keys to the Los Angeles Lakers' uncertain future, and he's starting to reveal some of them. 

    The general manager kept most of his cards close to his chest during a sit-down interview with Lakers.com's Mike Trudell, but he still allowed fans a nice glimpse behind the scenes. 

    Between discussions about Pau Gasol's future with the Lakers, Kendall Marshall's emergence as the team's starting point guard, the dreaded repeater's tax and the all-important 2014 offseason, there's a lot of information here. 

    The entire interview is worth reading, but these are the five most important takeaways of the conversation between Trudell and the man in charge of rebuilding this struggling team. 

     

    Note: All quotes, unless otherwise indicated, come from the Trudell interview, courtesy of the team's official website.

Rebuilding Is Acceptable, Tanking Is Not

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    "There are certain teams with young players and assets with a goal to still win games, but they may remove themselves and say, realistically, we're probably going to be a sub-.500 team. That's different from tanking. Tanking is intentionally instructing the coach to lose, and that’s (not acceptable). Rebuilding is another matter."

     

    Kuphcak won't accept tanking from the Lakers so long as he's in charge. 

    "I've been here over 30 years," the general manager said, "and it's never something that's been discussed or talked about." No one in the front office has said that it's in the team's best interest to lose, and ideally, they never will. 

    The Lakers have advocated this belief multiple times in the past, and they're not changing course now, even as this 2013-14 campaign continues to get tougher and tougher. Injuries aren't going to lead to tanking, and neither is a lack of talent. 

    Especially because coaches and players will always try to do as much as possible to promote winning, Kupchak claimed that "(Tanking) is the worst message you can ever give to anybody."

Repeater's Tax Is a Scary Thing

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    "It's a looming black cloud that was created for a reason."

     

    The repeater's tax is a terrifying entity, one that was created by the newest Collective Bargaining Agreement to prevent teams from working their way into the luxury tax season after season. You can see a full breakdown of what it does in Larry Coon's brilliant CBA FAQ, but it should be rather telling that even Kupchak views it as a deterrent. 

    After all, L.A. has never exactly lacked money. 

    Between the insane ability to pay almost any asking price, the revenue that's generated from the worldwide appeal of the Purple and Gold and the television contracts the Lakers enjoy, cash flow isn't usually a problem. 

    The Lakers general manager admitted "ownership here has never been afraid to be in the tax," but he wasn't done. "If you're $30 million over the tax as a repeater, that's a tax bill of about $130 million. But if you're in the tax and it's only $1 million over, it's around $2.5 million. So you’re still a repeater in the latter situation, but that’s a big difference."

    Fortunately for this team, that doesn't appear to be much of a problem. Thanks to all of the expiring contracts, it'll be tough for Kupchak to make enough signings that the luxury tax starts looming.

The 2014 Offseason Will Be an Interesting One

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    "When we’re sitting in here with all the scouts having our meetings, it's so much fun to talk about, 'What if we got this guy or that guy,’ or ‘What if we paired up these two guys?’ It's the same thing the public does. It makes for great speculation, great talk radio, great online (interaction), social media. It's great. But there's the reality part of it that tells us there is a lot that we still don't know."

     

    The Lakers have been targeting the 2014 offseason for quite some time, as the entire roster was built around contracts that expired at the conclusion of the 2013-14 campaign. Kupchak admitted as much, saying that going into the season, Steve Nash was the only player on the books past 2014. 

    That conscious decision was altered when Kobe Bryant signed his much-discussed extension, but the Lakers' GM doesn't really see another max contract being handed out anytime soon. When asked to confirm that he didn't want to sign a player to a lengthy extension while knowing who'd be available in 2015 and 2016, Kupchak responded with just two words: 

    "That's right." 

    It was his shortest answer of the interview, and that should tell you a lot. Kupchak didn't feel like that answer needed much explanation, even if most of the future decisions are still mired in uncertainty. 

    One thing is certain about the 2014 offseason, though: The draft class is stacked. 

    Before comparing it to the infamous 2003 class that featured LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, Kupchak said, "Right now, I would say one through 10 is as good as I've seen in a long time."

    He didn't specifically say so, but something told me Kupchak was thinking about how good Andrew Wiggins would look in purple-and-gold threads—not that he looked bad with that script "Jayhawks" written across his chest.

Kendall Marshall Thoughts

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    "You can only tell if you want to continue to watch him. If a guy just can't compete in four or five games, you know what his limitations are. But if a young guy puts together three or four pretty good games, you cannot say that he's made it. All you can say is, ‘We have to watch this guy a little bit closer.’"

     

    Through the first five starts of Kendall Marshall's career with the Los Angeles Lakers, he averaged 13.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 11.2 assists per game while shooting 46.4 percent from the field. 

    Impressive numbers, right? 

    Well, they weren't impressive enough to get Kupchak to commit to him. 

    The Lakers GM did reveal he was intimately familiar with the former UNC point guard's game, and he told Trudell that Roy Williams had some very positive things to say about him. But that said, Kupchak still wanted to see more from Marshall, and I'd assume he's saying, "We have to watch this guy a little bit closer" at this point. 

    "A lot of it (player evaluation) is about character," Kupchak espoused during his interview. Having a high-character guy can speed up the evaluation process, and by all accounts, that's the category Marshall should fall into. 

    Maybe we'll have our answer soon.

Pau Gasol's Future with the Team

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    Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Spor

    "Once July 1st rolls around, we’re going to have an option to extend him, and he’s going to have options to move on to other teams. Years and money will probably be a factor, and I don’t know how that will play out. I do know that he has tremendous loyalty to this city and this franchise, and I think if all things were constant, he’d love to continue to play here, and we'd love to have him here."

     

    Pau Gasol's name has been floating about in the trade rumors throughout what seems like the entirety of the 2013-14 season. 

    A large part of the reason is that—by most accounts—he hasn't been very good. That's relatively, of course, as we're comparing his current season to the standard he's set for himself throughout the duration of his impressive career. 

    Gasol is averaging only 15.6 points per game, and he's doing so while shooting just 44.8 percent from the field. However, as B/R's Kevin Ding writes, "Still he carries himself like a nobleman, like the champion he was for the Lakers—no matter how little he has accomplished since Jackson jabbed him in the chest here nearly three years ago."

    Now, why did I say "by most accounts?"

    Kupchak doesn't agree that Gasol is struggling, saying, "I think he's had a great year. I do." He then explained that an offseason knee procedure has held back the Spaniard. 

    In addition to holding that minority opinion, the GM expressed his desire to have the 7-footer back in a Lakers uniform next season, then he closed the interview by referring to Gasol as a "future Hall of Famer."

    Hard to argue with that part.