Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak addressed media during his annual preseason press conference, painting an optimistic perspective for the franchise's front office. The Lakers are less than a week away from media day and the start of training camp, and Kupchak said he's never seen the team's training facility in El Segundo this active in the past.
"The players just show up, and they're all out there working," Kupchak said about the evidence he sees of the franchise's culture progressing. "They're all asking our coaches, 'can you work with me on this, can you work with me on that,' and I'm not talking about three or four guys. I think every day for the last four or five weeks have have 10 or 12 Lakers players out there."
Anticipation has built up with increased expectations, but Kupchak urged patience in watching a young team grow together. The mix of players they've put together is reason for optimism, but how those pieces all come together remains to be seen.
"We want to exceed whatever the expectations may be, and we want our core to develop so that the blueprint can follow the next step, which is to add more talent next year," Kupchak said on what he hopes the team can achieve this season. Flexbility will be key for Los Angeles, and he was happy with the options the team will have to continue improving as they look ahead. Seeing how things play out in training camp before making any commitments was a recurring theme throughout the press conference.
Whether it was the low-risk gamble on Robert Upshaw's talent, Metta World Peace's intangible knowledge possibly deserving a further look, Marcelo Huertas' veteran stability or even the possibility of waiving a guaranteed contract if need be, Kupchak made it clear every option is still on the table. The Lakers have huge roster turnover to sort through, and discovering young talent like Jordan Clarkson appears is one of the ways the team intends to continue improving.
"The rules have significantly changed the way you can address rebuilding a team, and it's become clear that draft choices and building through the draft is a big part of it," Kupchak said. "We don't have the luxury to have a 10-year rebuilding program done through the draft, which is why we've maintained a lot of flexibility with our cap going forward."
The Lakers are expected to bring the maximum-allotted 20 players into training camp, ultimately having to whittle that list down to 15. Only 12 players are on guaranteed contracts, giving the team even more angles to tackle their roster. These are all calculated moves as the team looks ahead to an expanding salary cap now that their young talent is in hand.
"Our position has been to try and do it the right way under the existing rules, and we think that's a combination of doing it through the draft, and we've gotten very lucky with the second-round pick last year," Kupchak said. "The other way to do it in conjunction with the draft is through free agency, and I don't think there's anybody in the league that has more money than we do available this summer, although everybody will have money." That salary space could be enough to land two maximum-level players in a single swoop, but there's still uncertainty on how Kobe's future with the team will play out and whether or not they can land the kind of talent they're hoping for.
"The third thing we can do it through is via trade. I think we do have pieces that we can be in the discussion this season with other teams," Kupchak said of the final avenue the front office intends to explore. "We didn't have as many pieces a year ago as we do this year, not to say that we'll be any more active than we were a year ago, but those are the three ways to do it, and we're going to utilize all three."
The Lakers are preparing to unveil the new roster as training camp begins on Sep. 29 in Hawaii, with their first game and fresh start just on the horizon on Oct. 4.