After three straight losses, the Los Angeles Lakers sit at 3-18, well on pace to set a new low for worst record in franchise history for the third consecutive year. D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle were pulled from the starting lineup in the Lakers' Monday night loss to the Toronto Raptors, Kobe Bryant is having the worst statistical season of his storied career as he fires away into retirement, and the reward for all of the team's struggles could be losing their draft pick to the Philadelphia 76ers at the end of the season if it falls outside of the top three selections.
One of the men who helped build the team, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, is understandably frustrated. "Going into the season, this is not what we expected," Kupchak told Mike Bresnahan of the L.A. Times. "We tried to find a mix of young players and veterans that would give our fans something that led to more victories."
There are many who think that the Lakers did find a mix that should have led to at least a few more victories, and that Lakers head coach Byron Scott is responsible for misusing those ingredients. Kupchak stopped short of holding Scott fully responsible, but he did not absolve him of blame either:
"Clearly, three victories at this time is not what we thought we'd be. So that's frustrating and it's up to myself and Byron [Scott] to figure it out and hopefully have some improvement toward something that's more consistent, more fun to watch and less frustrating."
"I know people aren't happy but that also should be directed at me. That's the bottom line," Kupchak said. "Everybody has to share in the blame. Whether that's the GM, the coach or the players, it's got to be directed somewhere.
"I think our fans would understand if you're actually developing young players and there's some growth, and maybe that's yet to come. But in the first 20 games, it's tough to find consistent results to feel good about."
There is certainly some reading between the lines that can be done here. Kupchak does say that Scott needs to "figure it out" in regards to putting together successful lineups. While he also puts some of the responsibility on himself and the players, his last line about fans understanding more if the team was "actually developing young players and there's some growth" is hard to see as anything other than a shot across Scott's bow. Kupchak obviously allows for that growth to come, but this is the first on the record evidence of Scott's seat warming just a bit.
Later down in Bresnahan's story, he notes that Kupchak "expressed support for Scott," but then had this to say:
"Last year and this year have been very challenging for a coach of this franchise. Period," Kupchak said. "I think Byron has got to continue to mess with combinations and search. That's really all you can do. What we're doing right now has not resulted in the kind of record that we like, so my guess is he's going to try and continue to move things around and try to find something that does. That's what a coach does."
Is Kupchak simply stating what he sees as the coach's job, or is this something more? Publicly citing that the Lakers' record is not to the team's liking is obvious, but doing so while talking about Scott needing to continue to experiment after expounding upon the necessity for the Lakers' youth showing signs of growth comes off as at least a partial indictment of the coach. Kupchak was not done mentioning the development of the team's young players and what he needs to see from them, and by extension the coaching staff's handling of them, going forward:
"I think our fans understand, this being Kobe's last year, after 19 just ridiculous years, that we're in a year that there's going to be a salute and a goodbye, which in itself is exciting. But we've got to give them more than that," Kupchak said. "Quite frankly, I have to get more answers on our players going forward on this [young] corps. I want to see them develop and not only just get through the season averaging X-number of minutes and then next year we just figure it out. We need answers this year."
This can again be seen as Kupchak just stating things that he hopes to see, or as public pressuring of Scott. It is not hard to connect the dots from "the team needs more answers about their young players" to "Scott needs to give these young guys more opportunities," especially after Kupchak said that this year needed to be more than a goodbye to Kobe.
The whole interview is worth reading for a rare on-the-record look at the front office's thinking, including Kupchak's thoughts on Russell, Randle, and Bryant's seasons so far. Give it a read.