Mitch Kupchak appeared on "The Herd With Colin Cowherd" on ESPN this morning to discuss the Los Angeles Lakers draft picks and their plans heading in to free agency. Mitch had a number of telling comments about the Lakers thought process in their draft selections and was forthcoming about their strategy moving forward.
While it's clear that Kupchak still has a lot of work to do, his comments were, as usual, very insightful. The Lakers do need plenty of help in the middle, and it's possible that the addition of Robert Upshaw to the Summer League roster will help in that area.
However, most likely the team will be looking to add size via free agency, with players such as LaMarcus Aldridge,DeAndre Jordan, Kevin Love, Tyson Chandler, Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez, and many more on the market. The Lakers also have their own free agent Ed Davis to consider, and need to make decisions on the team options on the contracts of Jordan Hill and Robert Sacre.
Here is a transcript of the interview:
On needing a strong point guard in the West driving the decision to select D'Angelo Russell with the second pick:
It was part of the conversation, part of the discussion, but it didn't drive our decision. We just thought he was the best player going forward, and we had a couple of really good choices. Getting a big guy in this league, you know, they are hard to come by also. You watch Golden State play and some of the other teams, their style of play for the last couple of years has been a lot of fun. Certainly you can make the argument that a player like this (Russell) would fit with that style of play.
On the reports that Okafor's second workout was not good, while Russell's was fantastic. Did that factor into the decision to take Russell?:
I would say no, the workouts were...different. The first workouts were solo workouts, in other words the player is out there by himself, and there is nobody other than a couple of coaches to put them through drills and rebound. The next time through, there was another player that played with Okafor...and with Russell it was three-on-three. You can probably show your wares better in three-on-three, especially if you are a ball handling guard. So I don't know if that had anything to do with our making the selection. I thought the workouts by all the players, with the exception of maybe the first workouts when guys were nervous, I thought the guys came in great shape and competed hard. They did the right things, said the right things, they were coached well, but they were good kids too. We don't see too many bad kids anymore, so somebody somewhere is doing a great job, clearly parents and family is a big factor...
On when he decided to take D'Angelo Russell:
Well we had a great feel after the last workout, and D'Angelo was the last workout. We had seen each player that we wanted to see twice, and it was kind of a reassuring thing at that point, but that was a week ago this Saturday (June 20th). There was still Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, where anything can happen, you can change your mind or get intelligence or intel that makes you think hey let's look at this thing differently or look at trade opportunities. So you never are completely sure what you are going to do until draft day, but we had a really good feeling that we could go (picked Russell) Saturday. [Full interview transcribed by Trevor Lane, Silver Screen and Roll]
On free agency:
...we have a lot of money, cap space is the expression fans are familiar with, that begins on July 1st. We do feel that we have improved the outlook of this team going forward... we have enough room to get at least a max player, which is another expression that if you are a basketball fan you know what that means. Then we have, with the cap going up a year from now, along with a lot of other NBA teams, another big jump in cap space. So, I can't predict what's going to happen, but we are going to be very active and aggressive in free agency...and we will do our best, but clearly, if there is a need on our team right now, it's to get a big or two, and we will probably focus on that area.
On Byron Scott's influence in the selection of Russell:
(Byron was) not very influential at all. The coaches were present during the workouts, they are all veterans and they don't watch any college basketball, they don't attend any college games, there is just no time. They are smart enough to know that what they see in a workout or two is not nearly the body of work that you need to see to make a decision with a college kid. They were present, they conducted the workouts, I solicited some opinions, but Byron would have been happy with any of the guys we brought in to work out. He would have been very, very happy.
On Kristaps Porzingis, who Knicks fans were unhappy with:
I think after the top three picks you hit an area where there is more risk but more upside. That's not to say that the guys who go top three don't have an upside, because they do, but four and going back you start to enter that area. That Porzingis kid, we know him well and he's gifted in a lot of ways. He's number 1 at his size, he's legitimate 7'1" in his stocking feet. He's a very tough competitor, he loves to play, and he's got a great skill set. His body right now is going to take some time. His position, if I had to guess, he would be a versatile center in this league. At 225 pounds it may be a little tougher to guard centers right now, but I think down the road as he ages, you know he's going to get stronger, he's going to be in the weight room, and I think that's where he'll end up playing. But he will be versatile, he will not be a low-block player. He can score down there but he will step out and shoot threes from the corner or threes from the top of the key. He won't be your prototype center.
On scrutinizing domestic players more than internationals:
We are a lot more familiar with them, but in some regards that gives us a better comfort level because we know the players. At least the people in our country that watch basketball don't really get a chance to watch the kids in Europe play on a daily basis. It is covered, and with the internet there is access today that we didn't have 20 years ago, but I think in general what you are saying is correct (sometimes domestic players get picked apart more than international players).
On Larry Nance Jr.'s infamous Kobe tweet from 2012:
We did not know that he did a tweet 3+ years ago prior to the draft. We follow our players via social media...and our P.R. Director John Black has this saying that nothing good ever comes of tweeting, and it's probably accurate. Maybe it's something that changes going forward, but I don't think it's going to be an issue, I think it's something that will come and go. Larry Nance Jr. does feel terrible about it, and it was over three years ago. He's 22 now, not that it matters because we are accountable for our actions and what we say, but I know he feels terrible about it. We spoke to him about it last night and he will address it as soon as he can.
On whether the 2015 draft will be seen as a good draft:
I like this year's draft. We had the 27th and 34th pick in the draft this year and we had many opportunities to move one of both picks and we wanted to keep them both because we felt from start to finish that we were going to get two good players in the top 34 picks in the draft. We will have to wait 5 years to look back on it and see if we were right, but we felt it was a good draft. In getting number 2 we knew we were going to get a good player.
With D'Angelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr., and Anthony Brown signed on the Lakers roster is beginning to take shape, and we should see some major additions once free agency begins on July 1st.