L.A. Lakers: 10 Worst Moves in Mitch Kupchak's Tenure as Lakers' GM
Mitch Kupchak has been one of the best general managers over the last decade.
Since taking over for Jerry West following the Lakers 1999-2000 championship season, Kupchak has helped the Lakers stay competitive and contend for a title almost every season.
Andrew Bynum was drafted under his stewardship and he was the mastermind behind the Kwame Brown-Pau Gasol trade. Those two moves directly helped the Lakers win championships in 2009 and 2010.
But not all of Kupchak’s moves have been successful. He has made several moves that have been questioned and some have proven to be flat-out disastrous.
Here are the 10 worst moves the Lakers have made during the Mitch Kupchak era.
Agree? Disagree? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.
10. Signing Ron Artest to a 5-Year Deal
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When I first started writing this article, I had no intention of including Ron Artest.
How can you include the hero of the 2010 NBA Finals as one of the worst moves that Mitch Kupchak has made?
Here’s how. Try Googling “Ron Artest” and “legally changes name.”
For a few seconds I thought his proposed name change was funny. Then I realized the Lakers still owe him almost $22 million over the next three years.
Then I stopped laughing and added him to this list.
9. Signing Dennis Rodman
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On February 24, 1999 Dennis Rodman signed a one-year deal with the Lakers.
At his signing, Kupchak said: “We’re rolling the dice here.”
Despite the hope and excitement that Rodman brought to L.A., he never panned out.
On April 15, less than two months after his signing, Rodman was released. The Lakers cited a long list of reasons including his bizarre behavior and repeatedly showing up late for practice.
Rodman saw things differently and said the Lakers were "cowards not to take the fall for some of the things that have happened (that) year."
While the decision to sign Rodman may have hurt the team that season, the consequences for the Lakers did not last much longer.
Note: Jerry West was GM when Rodman was signed, but Kupchak was the main one involved.
8: Including Marc Gasol in the Pau Gasol Trade
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In February 2008, the Lakers pulled off one of the biggest heists in recent NBA history.
The Lakers acquired Pau Gasol, one of the top power forwards in the league, for Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, the draft rights to Marc Gasol and two future draft picks.
At the time, many considered Marc, Pau’s younger brother, to be a throw-in. Few were familiar with Marc’s game as he hadn’t played in the NBA yet.
Just over three years later, Marc has developed into one of the best centers in the league and helped the upstart Grizzlies come within one victory of the Western Conference Finals.
It’s hard to fault a trade that brought the Lakers three Finals appearances and two titles, but couldn’t they have included Luke Walton or someone else of that caliber?
7. Signing Mitch Richmond and J.R. Rider
Isaiah Rider and Mitch Richmond share a slide because they were pretty much identical players while with the Lakers.
Both players joined the team in the twilight of their careers and played only one season in L.A. (Rider in 2000-2001, Richmond in 2001-2002).
Neither added any real value, but the Lakers still went on to win championships in both seasons.
6. Signing Karl Malone and Gary Payton
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Similar to Rider and Richmond, Malone and Payton joined the Lakers for only one reason—to win a title.
Many felt the addition of Malone and Payton all but guaranteed another championship for L.A.
Although they took huge pay cuts to join the Lakers, the experiment was an epic fail.
Payton did not fit with the Lakers system and the team suffered from major chemistry issues. The Lakers made the NBA Finals, but they lost to a Pistons team that had far less talent.
While Kupchak didn’t sacrifice a lot of money in adding Malone and Payton, the addition of the two stars put enormous expectations on the Lakers and the team was blown up after that season.
5. Signing Steve Blake to a 4-Year Deal
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Heading into the 2010-2011 season, it was clear that the Lakers needed help at the point guard position.
The signing of Steve Blake to a four year, $16 million contract seemed like a decent move at the time. Fisher would keep his starting job and Blake could play good minutes while being groomed to take over at some point.
One year into Blake’s contract, the deal looks disastrous. Blake still has three years to prove himself in L.A., but it is not looking very good.
The only hope is that Blake will improve now that the complex triangle offense has been abandoned.
4. Signing Vlade Divac in 2004
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Prior to the 2004-2005 season, the Lakers signed Vlade Divac to a two-year deal worth just over $10 million.
Shaq had just left the team and the Lakers needed to find a good big man who could replace the Big Fella.
Divac suffered through back injuries and played a total of 15 games while scoring only two points a game. He retired after one season.
Before his second stint with the Lakers began, Divac had a run of six-straight seasons where he hadn’t missed more than one game per season.
While Kupchak couldn’t have predicted his health issues, the move to sign Divac over a healthier center was part of the reason the Lakers struggled the next three seasons.
3. Trading Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins for Kwame Brown
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After the 2004-2005 season, the Lakers were desperate. They had missed the postseason for the first time since 1994 and were feeling pressure to put a competitive team on the court.
In an inexplicable attempt to strengthen his team, Kupchak traded Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins for Kwame Brown.
Prior to joining the Lakers, Brown had spent four awful seasons with the Wizards. He had been taken with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2001 draft and hadn’t lived up to expectations.
Although Brown showed flashes of mediocrity in Los Angeles, most of the time he was just pitiful.
The Lakers not only gave up Atkins, their starting point guard who averaged almost 14 points the prior season, but they also traded away Butler, a player who went on to be an All-Star in Washington just one year later.
2. Signing Luke Walton to a 6-Year Contract Extension
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Of all the deals on this list, the Luke Walton contract extension is the one I least understand.
Walton received his six-year, $30 million extension following the 2006-2007 season. He was coming off a decent season where he averaged 11.4 points per game, but his stats weren’t too phenomenal.
Walton was 27 years old at the time of the deal, so there wasn’t too much room for improvement. He had suffered through injuries that season that allowed him to play in only 60 games, so the Lakers had to have known about his health issues.
Why give him a six-year deal?
Over the last two seasons, Walton has averaged only nine minutes per game and contributed about two points per game. Although it feels like he signed the extension a lifetime ago, Walton still has two years on his deal.
Bad move, Mitch.
1. Trading Shaquille O’Neal for Brian Grant, Caron Butler and Lamar Odom
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In a perfect world, the Lakers never would have traded Shaq. But after the 2003-2004 season, it became clear that he and Kobe could not coexist.
The Buss family had committed to Kobe and Kupchak need to find a way to deal Shaq.
I understand why he had to deal Shaq, but I don’t understand why he made this deal. There had to have been better options available.
Brian Grant had been a good player, but he was way past his prime and his contract was awful. By taking Grant, the Lakers assumed his three-year, $42 million contract. He played only 69 total games in L.A. and averaged less than four points and four rebounds per game.
Caron Butler was decent, but he was very raw and had played only two years in the league. In the prior season, he scored nine points per game and shot 38 percent from the field. After one year, the Lakers made the decision to deal him and Atkins for Kwame Brown.
Lamar Odom was the third piece of the deal and a very good player by anyone’s standards.
But only one year after the Shaq trade, the Lakers had essentially given up the best center in the NBA for peanuts. All they had to show was Lamar Odom and half of Kwame Brown. The Lakers could have gotten much more.
Kupchak has had several blunders during his GM tenure, but this one was by far the worst.