Kobe Bryant: GM Mitch Kupchak Is the Secret To Lakers Star's Success

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IAugust 5, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 29:  Los Angeles Lakers legend Jerry West, Kobe Bryant #24 and general manager Mitch Kupchak of the Los Angeles Lakers smiles after defeating the San Antonio Spurs in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2008 NBA Playoffs on May 29, 2008 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Lakers won 100-92.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant may go down as the greatest Los Angeles Laker of all time once he finally decides to retire, and along with thanking Dr. Jerry Buss, Bryant should show some appreciation for general manager Mitch Kupchak.

If Bryant is the force that drives the Lakers' success on the court, and Phil Jackson is the wizard who orchestrates, then Kupchak deserves credit for providing the players necessary to make it all happen.

Kupchak's brilliance is often overshadowed by the Lakers' success and broad range of talent on the roster, but ironically he may be more responsible than anyone else for the Lakers' last two championships.

Kupchak has come a long way since the end of the 2001 season when he officially received the reins from Jerry West, who decided to take his talents and vision to the Memphis Grizzlies.

It's hard to follow a legend and West embodies the word. Even though Kupchak was his protégé, the pressure of continuing the franchise's tradition of success must have been immense.

Kupchak's first significant move as general manager was bringing Karl Malone and Gary Payton to Los Angeles in 2003 in an attempt to return to the NBA Finals after missing out the year before.

Kupchak's ruse nearly worked as the Lakers were able to reach the 2004 Finals, before falling in six games to a Detroit Pistons' team who lacked the Lakers' talent, but were a picture of true chemistry.

The Lakers began to implode after the loss to Detroit in 2004, and Kupchak entered the most trying time of his career as the Lakers' general manager.

A rift between Bryant and star center Shaquille O'Neal ended with Kupchak dealing the disgruntled center to the Miami Heat in exchange for Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and Caron Butler.

Kupchak was lambasted for that move, and things only grew worse as a laundry list of ordinary players like Smush Parker and Kwame Brown found their way to Los Angeles under Kupchak's watch.

During this period, the Lakers missed the postseason for only the second time in the history of the franchise (2005), and Bryant's displeasure with the direction of the team began to reach a boiling point.

That point was reached in 2006 after a first round playoff loss to the Phoenix Suns when Bryant demanded to be traded to a team that was dedicated to competing for a championship.

Kupchak's next move in the face of Bryant's demands were critical, and they likely were the defining point of his career to that point.

Lakers' owner Jerry Buss was rumored to be displeased with Bryant's insolence, and a trade that many people never thought could happen reached a point where it seemed almost a certainty.

But Kupchak reportedly convinced Buss to ignore Bryant's demands, because he understood the blow the franchise would take with Bryant's departure, and he also had a plan.

Buss couldn't see past what he considered to be Bryant's show of disloyalty, but Kupchak had already begun to lay a foundation for the Lakers' return to NBA supremacy, and Bryant was essential.

In 2005 Kupchak selected center Andrew Bynum with the 10th pick in the draft, and by 2007 Bynum had started to show signs that he could be the dominant center Kupchak envisioned.

Kupchak also brought Derek Fisher back to Los Angeles before the 2007-08 regular season, and he traded away Brian Cook and Maurice Evans to the Orlando Magic for Trevor Ariza.

Bynum's knee injury in 2007 ushered in the next significant move in Kupchak's career, and a moment that could have ended in disaster for the Lakers was instead their pivotal turning point.

Before Bynum was injured, the Lakers were actually competing for first place in the West and Bryant's trade demands had disappeared, but the severity of Bynum's injury threatened to end a promising season.

But in a move that is still discussed today, Kupchak was able to trade Kwame Brown and Javarris Crittendon to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for star forward Pau Gasol.

Gasol blended seamlessly into Jackson's triangle offense, and more importantly, Bryant finally had a big man who complemented him perfectly on both ends of the court.

Immediately after the Lakers acquired Gasol, Bryant said Kupchak's grade as a general manager went from a F to a A+, and that sentiment was echoed by anyone who loved the Lakers.

Kupchak's genius was revealed in that moment, and the fact that Los Angeles has appeared in the Finals each season since acquiring Gasol is a testament to Kupchak's own vision.

The Lakers' championship in 2009 signaled the end of a long and challenging journey for Kupchak, and that team was the first he could take sole credit for constructing.

Every player on that team except for Bryant and Fisher were acquired by Kupchak, and it was only fitting that both players were there to see his vision play out to the end.

Bryant will likely be remembered as one of the greatest and most decorated basketball players of all time, and he deserves all the accolades. Yet Kupchak deserves just as much credit for making it all possible.

Bryant's harsh trade demands of 2007 are a distant memory for most Lakers fans, but Kupchak's resolve under those circumstances should be a moment that is never forgotten.


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