BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
Ladies and gentleman, basketball fans alike, we have been duped. The world told us Mitch Kupchak was an incompetent, bubbling, puppet, who was incapable of rebuilding the Los Angeles Lakers into a championship team. Oh how we were all wrong.
Laker fans created petitions and online websites denouncing all things Kupchak. The streets of Figueroa were laced with cries of “We Want West”. This was all done under the belief that the general manager was incapable of successfully doing his job.
The frustration with Kupchak and infatuation with West has always been a bit perplexing. West has gotten an abundance of credit for his tenure with L.A. When in actuality it was Pete Newell who acquired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and made the trade that landed the draft pick to select Magic Johnson. It was Bill Sharman who secured Jamaal Wilkes from the Golden State Warriors and who made the trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers that secured the pick used to grab James Worthy. In addition, it was Sharman who traded for Bob McAdoo and who drafted Magic Johnson.
To be honest, West’s contributions to the Showtime Lakers were A.C. Green and Bryon Scott. Now West does deserve a standing ovation for the foresight to select Kobe Bryant, drafting Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones, Derek Fisher, and eventually signing Shaquille O’Neal. The drafting of Bryant and Fisher combined with the signing of O’Neal began another dynasty. At the very least it was Newell who brought a much longer and more gratifying dynasty to L.A. first.
Furthermore, Kupchak’s body of work is much more impressive than West’s body of work. For every Bryant selection there is a George Lynch or Elden Campbell. West had the luxury of respect and envy on his side as well.
When West grabbed O’Neal the world was not as against the Lakers as they are now. Many even expected the big man to head west. Things have drastically changed since that acquisition for Los Angeles. There was a time when L.A. could easily replace Magic with Kobe, Wilkes with Worthy, Worthy with Fisher, and Kareem with Shaq. These moves all were done without a peep from the league.
This has not been the circumstances for the current general manager, who has all eyes on him at all times. The San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat have been the only multiple champion since 1998 other than the Lakers, however only Los Angeles has won back-to-back titles in that time frame.
West walked away from the Lakers on August 7, 2000, and Kupchak officially took the title on that date. The new G.M. replaced starters on each of the two championship rosters, dealt with the Colorado issue, and added contributing veterans like Mitch Richmond, Lindsey Hunter, Samaki Walker, Horace Grant, and Isaiah Rider. Three straight championships should garner some respect.
Unless your mental capacity has been undervalued to the point where people cannot fathom you are better than the perceived best. This is a role Mitch has fostered and played to Oscar winning effectiveness.
The G.M. has convinced the world he is too “nice” to be a shrewd businessman, yet he traded Lamar Odom for a space bar. Many questioned his mental wherewithal when he traded Shaq and didn’t even get an All-Star player in return or when he called Kobe Bryant’s bluff in 2007. Still Kupchak is not strong enough to make these moves on his own. He is too weak and unassuming to make such a power play, it has to be Dr. Buss, or West is running two organizations.
This is the perception regarding the former understudy during his reign. Most geniuses are overlooked in their time. Kupchak has not only allowed his genius to be overlooked, he has gone as far as to escort it to someone else.
His aggressiveness is so passive one doesn’t realize he has been played until he gets home and counts his “magic beans”. The Memphis Grizzles were given cap space and two first round picks in the trade for power forward Pau Gasol. After two bad seasons Memphis decided they were ready to rebuild, but who found it prudent to trade the most skilled big man in the world to a team in your conference.
Certainly West was behind that move, because his understudy could not have possibly talked the Grizzlies into such a swindle.
The Laker GM showed the Grizzs the same blueprint he used when he traded his All-Star big man for cap space. You know the trade we ALL questioned. The difference between a man with an idea and a man with a plan is accomplishment. Gasol was added to go along with the addition of Trevor Ariza (whom he stole from the Orlando Magic, sound familiar) and Derek Fisher it was obvious the Lakers were ready to compete for another title.
Before anyone can blink Ron Artest is added for pennies on the dollar. Then trouble hits and the Lakers struggle the last two seasons. With each gut wrenching season ending loss Kupchak gives his State of the Union address, and he channels his inner Verbal Kint. When asked specific questions about how to improve the current roster by reporters, the Laker boss responds with an obscure answer that most times is the question just reworded.
The doubters have been convinced that the act was sincere. Truth be told, Mr. Kupchak is everything the Lakers want but more importantly he is what they need. Born in the city where everyone has a hustle, the general manager has chosen underestimation as his hustle.
The man who was deemed incapable has been playing us all along.
The nullified Chris Paul trade was nothing more than a warning shot. Coming off a lockout orchestrated to stop the Purple and Gold’s reign on the top, the G.M. knew there was no way he could make a move that landed him another superstar.
The former player listened as owners cried broke and dually notated who said what to whom. When the time was right he played Mark Cuban in the Lamar Odom deal. Then Verbal used Cuban’s money to get the point guard the Lakers wanted. Ramon Sessions was nothing more than a stop gap used to convince the world L.A. was no longer in the running for a big name player. People questioned the Odom move and most agreed with the Sessions move. The Laker boss knew all along they had no intention on keeping Sessions.
Los Angeles is about the now. One can save the future for Charlotte and Cleveland.
L.A. not only grabbed Howard and Steve Nash but the organization used Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s whining and Cuban’s money to do it. The G.M. snatched the league’s wallet while their hands were in their pockets. There is no possible way Commissioner David Stern would veto another trade, after vetoing the Paul trade. Kupchak knew he had immunity in pursuing Howard because Gilbert played his hand in the Paul fiasco.
Cuban could not complain about a Los Angeles takeover because he was armored with cap space and resources he received from the Lakers in the form of Lamar Odom. He was in position to turn his space into players. There was nothing left to do but iron out the deal. Yet he could not.
Howard’s indecisiveness was nothing more than a helpful distraction. In the end Kupchak tricked us all into believing he could not do what he had done before and eventually did again.
At the Howard’s introduction press conference, when Kupchak was asked about how he orchestrated an off season that bought both Howard and Nash to the Lakers, gone was his usual Verbal Kint responses and just for a moment we all saw Keyser Soze.