Not Your Average Mitch: L.A. Lakers' Mitch Kupchak Is the NBA's Top GM
On May 30, 2007, pro basketball in Los Angeles frantically fell flat on its face, leaving Angelenos wondering, "Will we ever rebound?"
Following a third straight forgettable season -- the latest of which resulted in a repeat first-round exit at the mercy of the Phoenix Suns in the 2007 playoffs -- the Lakers were arguably the second-best NBA team in Southern California.
It was on the aforementioned date that Kobe Bryant began a barrage of banter -- not about bringing home another banner, or another back-and-forth episode with the Big Fella.
Instead, the Black Mamba struck in a way that no Lakers' fan thought he would, a way that pierced the thick-skinned hearts of those very same fans who stood by his side and virtually patted his back, as if to say, "It's going to be OK," during his Colorado rape case.
It was on this date that Kobe Bryant daringly demanded a trade from the Lakers, practically sticking a Samurai sword in Lakerland's back and twisting it 180 degrees in both directions.
"I would like to be traded, yeah, " he told 1050 ESPN Radio in New York. "Tough as it is to come to that conclusion there's no other alternative, you know?"
At the word "traded" Lakerland suffered a severe heart attack. At his concluding question "you know?" the nails were all but drilled into the coffin.
Lakers' general manager Mitch Kupchak, who began serving as the assistant GM under Jerry West in 1986, was already up to his shoulders in dire distress, first for sending Shaquille O'Neal to South Beach in exchange for the inconsistent Lamar Odom, questionable Caron Butler and ancient Brian Grant.
Then, to add a stale popcorn to a mundane movie, Kupchak unloaded the suddenly up-and-coming Butler for possibly the most hated Laker of all-time -- in hindsight, at least -- the one and only Kwame Brown, perhaps the only player to be bombarded with boos by the Staples Center crowd.
Brown hit rock bottom and Kupchak was right there with him, especially after West's successor elected to forgo the presumably-possible acquisition of Jason Kidd for an actual kid, Andrew Bynum.
But then, during the second half of the 2007-08 season, Kupchak pulled off the most lopsided trade in recent sports history, plucking Pau Gasol from Memphis and pleasing Bryant all at the same time. (Said Bryant of Kupchak after the trade: "He goes from an F to an A-plus.")
Later that season the Lakers' GM reeled in Trevor Ariza, a defensive specialist who would prove to play a vital part in L.A.'s longtime process of reascending to the top. Moreover, the addition of Shannon Brown in the midst of the 2008-09 campaign allowed for a backcourt competition that ultimately enabled Jordan Farmar to increase his contributions to the team.
However, it was during the dog days of 2009 that Kupchak was faced with the most difficult free agency decision since becoming the head of basketball operations for the Purple and Gold.
Rather than re-signing well-received Ariza with the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" mantra, Kupchak took the unconventional approach and replaced him with Ron Artest, a move that appeared to be an upgrade in theory, but in reality was a bigger gamble than going all in on seven-two off-suit.
Critics questioned whether or not the ill-tempered Artest would disrupt the Lakers' championship core; they wondered aloud if he was both willing and able to take one step forward without retreating two steps back; and after L.A. was embarrassed by the Cleveland Cavaliers on Christmas day, they pinpointed his mysterious, concussion-inducing fall later that night as the first of a few steps toward an inevitable Lakers letdown.
Fast-forward to just a few days ago, June 17, when L.A. re-cemented its place atop the basketball world by defeating the hated Boston Celtics in Game Seven of the NBA Finals for a second consecutive title. Ariza was sitting at home watching the game on TV, while Artest led the Lakers with team-highs in field goal makes (seven) and steals (five) for their 16th NBA championship and his first.
L.A. became the first franchise to repeat as champions since the team's three-peat at the beginning of the new millennium. Additionally, the Lakers have now appeared in seven of the last 10 Finals and each since 2008, despite a roster that featured only three of the same players from the Lakers' teams which won three in a row from 2000-02.
On May 30, 2007, Mitch Kupchak was close to losing his job as the Lakers' GM.
On June 17, 2010, he became the best in the business.
You can contact Josh Hoffman at JHoffMedia@gmail.com.
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