The Same Mitch Kupchak

The draft lottery had the potential for disaster, though considering the last three years of Laker ineptitude, disaster is a relative term. That the Lakers finished in the top three and kept their pick and have one more player under 24 years old to compete in a league in which young players don’t win was significant. The draft is the only place to grab inexperienced talent. So in that sense, the Lakers achieved by being a totally miserable and ineffective team in 2015-16. They reaped a reward in the short term. No one knows the exact ceiling of lottery picks and what they will be in the future, average, good, or elite. Nevertheless, it was a good night for Mitch Kupchak who exhaled a long sigh of relief.

Unlike last year when the Lakers finished in the same draft slot of number two, they don’t have much guess work. Whoever the 76ers don’t take, the Lakers will.

It’s a pretty good estimate that the 76ers will grab Ben Simmons, despite Simmons immature offensive game. Simmons allows the 76ers to return to the NBA conversation, a place they have been banished from because of their successive failures that were executed on purpose. Simmons explosiveness and athletic talent, his court vision, passing ability and finish around the rim will not just sell tickets, though that is a definite plus. Simmons will compliment Jahlil Okafor whose strength is away from the basket, in the mid-post. Finally, the 76ers got the break they were looking for. Or to translate, all you haters can now shut-up.

As for Kupchak, he’ll grab Duke wing Brandon Ingram if Simmons is off the board. Even though Ingram won’t have box office implications right away, he’s the more polished offensive player with a skill set already determined. He spaces the floor and can drive to the rim and finish with contact. He’s a polished offensive talent with a nice perimeter game, though he needs a NBA body.

All in all, it was good night for Kupchak. At point guard the Lakers have 20 year old D’Angelo Russell. At shooting guard, they have 23 year old Jordan Clarkson. Add in Brandon Ingram on the wing if he falls to the Lakers at number two. He’s 18 years old. Even if Ben Simmons is the Lakers pick, he is 19. Julius Randle is 21 years old.

The Lakers failures have allowed them to realign their organization with a young nucleus able to grow together. It’s hard to say at this point who is going to thrive or if any of the Lakers babies are going to become elite players down the road, if they have an All-Star in the bunch. But Luke Walton reorganizing the Lakers offense to legitimize what these young but inexperienced players can do as they continue their learning curve is a step up from the last three years of horror.

And then Mitch Kupchak ruined it all when he said, “I think we have something more to sell than we did a year ago.”

Sell? As in the pick? As in one of the young kids? As in a free agent who will dominate the ball and retard the growth of the players who have one job and it is not the playoffs. It is to develop into NBA players while building upon their innate talent.

The Lakers and change have never been synonymous. It doesn’t make them peculiar. Most people never change, they just can’t. It’s buried in the DNA to be who you have always been, and who the Lakers have always been as an organization is hunter gatherers, searching for a star another team can’t pay or won’t pay. They pursue as a matter of identity. Until recently, it is what they do well.

Instead of authorizing their young players to take the reins post Kobe Bryant, and teaching them the professional sport of basketball, the Lakers are fixated on who they can bring in off the free agent market to push the curve ahead of schedule. Would DeMar DeRozan fit? Of course. But DeRozan also takes 18 shots a game, is an iso player who holds the ball too much, and his presence on the court will suppress the growth of the young kids who need to thrive with and without mistakes. They have to lose and learn from it and then they have to win and become confident because of it.

The Lakers can’t grasp (or won’t) that they are rebuilding. When you rebuild you take it one step at a time. You don’t jump steps. You don’t try to do a back door to get to the front of the line. You go through growing pains and allow your young kids to succeed and fail.

But for Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss, it makes all the sense in the world to try to sell a free agent on the Lakers youth even if he can’t sell them on their achievement and playoff capabilities. Kupchak and Buss have jobs that are on the line. This may be the last of Kupchak and Buss in their current capacity, fired by Jeanie Buss next spring in a palace coup. Kupchak and Buss don’t have time on their side. They can’t wait on the three year development of D’Angelo Russell, and so it’s going to be swinging for the fences time on July 1st when the Lakers will once again try for a max free agent to save their jobs.

Will adding a max player with an identity that needs to be acknowledged bring the Lakers closer to their former glory of a consistent playoff threat? Or will it set back the growth of their young players who have promising futures? Enabling a 27 year old proven scorer to be a star because you are paying him to be the star forces the Lakers kids to take a back seat. Again.

What is gained in the long run? Adding 16 games onto the win column so a 17 win season becomes a 33 win season won’t save Kupchak and Buss from the civil war that’s brewing in the offices of El Segundo. Kupchak and Buss will be the first casualties in the summer of 2017 after the Lakers are out the playoffs, the fourth year in a row.


photo via llananba