All transcription via Lakers.com
Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak spoke to the media on a conference call on Thursday to round up the most meaningful portion of the team's offseason, and it sounds like he may be bit higher than most analysts are on the Lakers prospects for the upcoming 2015-16 season. "I don't see why we don't contend for a playoff spot," Kupchak said, "but our young players have to grow beyond their years, and we have to stay healthy." Those are two huge caveats in an already uber-competitive Western conference, but Kupchak did also say that he still has "to go through the rosters in the West."
Kupchak also revealed his thoughts on the Lakers free agency period, telling reporters that the team is "always hopeful going into free agency... but you really don't know until you arrange a meeting." On the subject of meetings, the Lakers underwent a lot of criticism related to reports of their free agent meeting with LaMarcus Aldridge, who ultimately signed with the San Antonio Spurs. "I don't think the meeting was as bad as people have heard it was, nor do I think it was as good as we hoped it would be. So I would just say live and learn," Kupchak said.
Many of the reports focused on Aldridge allegedly not getting along with Kobe Bryant or the meeting not being focused enough on basketball. While Kupchak did not get into specific details, he did say that his goal in the meeting was "to make [Aldridge feel] as appreciated as possible." As far as what the team may have to change in future meetings, Kupchak thinks that natural roster improvements will make the Lakers' pitch more impressive for them. "Sometimes it's not the presentation. Sometimes the presentation means something, but a lot of times it's just the team, the ability to win right away, clearly the money has a lot to do with it, and sometimes a coach and a player just click."
While missing out on Aldridge was disappointing for the front office, Kupchak did sound pretty impressed with the players the Lakers did acquire (via Lakers.com):
Getting a rim protector (Roy Hibbert) and a force in the paint is something we have not had. I think he'll be challenged to have a really good year going into a free agent year. I think he feels that the last year or year and a half in Indiana didn't go as well as he'd like. And he wants to get back at playing at a very, very high level and make the all-star team.
And then I like some of the young players. Clearly we're excited about our No. 2 pick (Russell). We haven't had a pick like that in a long, long time. I think Jordan Clarkson has a chance to be a heck of a player in this league. Just looking at him out my window and and attending the practices — to me he's clearly had a wonderful three or four days here. I'm really excited about watching him in Las Vegas. Probably the guy I'm most happy for is Julius Randle, who didn't even get a chance to play in a full NBA game last year. It looks to me like he's gotten a lot better without having any NBA experience.
For more insight into Kupchak's and the front office's thinking about the offseason and the 2015-16 season to come, head over to Lakers.com to read the entire transcript of Kupchak's wide ranging discussion, including details on Bryant's recovery and much more.