Julius Randle's play has been put under close scrutiny over the last week, starting when his head coach called out his defense after Randle was visibly unhappy when removed from the fourth quarter the Los Angeles Lakers' win over the Phoenix Suns. Scott and Randle have since reportedly cleared the air,but in an interview with Chris McGee of Time Warner Cable Sportsnet, Lakers general manager was asked about his thoughts on the situation.
"He's playing between 20 and 30 minutes almost under any circumstance," said Kupchak. "Like most players that have this competitive drive about them, they want to play every minute. He wants to play 35 [minutes] he wants to play 37 [minutes], and clearly theres a way you can do that and learn from your mistakes. But sometimes you can learn more when a coach is helping you, and sometimes that means if you make a mistake once or twice, 'hey come out of the game, you can't make that mistake 3 times in a row.'"
Despite the minor disagreement between coach and player though, Kupchak is still satisfied with Randle's progress thus far.
"We've not yet played I believe 40 games in what would be his rookie season, although he's not getting credit as a rookie so this would be his sophomore season. I think if he were a rookie he'd win rookie of the year." praised Kupchak.
Randle is not the only young player Kupchak is pleased with. The longtime Lakers executive is also bullish on the progress made by rookie point guard D'Angelo Russell.
"I thought he was very mediocre at best during summer league, and I think he would've said the same thing. Once the college season ends and the agents get involved, and they tell the high draft picks 'listen don't workout, don't play one-on-one, don't play five-on-five, don't do anything until the draft,'" said Kupchak, "So all they let them do is shoot. rarely do they run up and down the court because they are afraid they are going to get hurt."
"So we draft a player at the end of June and the next week is Summer League, and we have a pretty rigorous summer league preparation camp and I think some of that was a big shock to D'Angelo. He wasn't in great shape and I think he would admit that was the problem. So where we are today compared to where we were in summer league is night and day and I think he's got a very bright future."
As the second overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, D'Angelo Russell was the Lakers' most highly touted rookie heading into the season, but he was not their only first round pick. The front office shocked almost everyone when they selected Larry Nance, Jr. with the 27th overall pick, and Kupchak detailed how he first became aware of the springy forward:
"My son was recruited by Wyoming, and he's now at UCSB, but we visited Wyoming, and coach Shyatt at Wyoming kept mentioning to me 'you know we have Larry Nance's son here who had an ACL tear. You know Mitch, I think he has a really good chance to be a player in your league and you should really take a look at him," recalled Kupchak.
"Now a lot of coaches say that to me and to our staff, and so you've got to take it with a grain of salt, but [Nance, Jr.] was in Chicago for the pre-draft camp, he was in our board, and we did bring him in regardless of what the people at Wyoming told me. We felt he was going to get better and better," said Kupchack, "We knew he had an ACL tear that wasn't completely healed, so we knew that even what we saw was going to get better and better."
Kupchak and the front office's prediction is looking more accurate by the game, with Nance, Jr. catching fire from midrange and taking a stronger hold on his starting spot by the game, but even Kupchak was surprised by how quickly Nance, Jr. has adapted to the league.
"Now nobody can predict that a player drafted at that place in the draft is going to make an impact this quickly, so while I'd love to say we have a crystal ball and we're that good at what we do, but there is always a degree of luck in this thing," Kupchak told McGee. "He's fit right in, he's been unselfish, he's learning to take a shot when he's open, you know sometimes he hesitates because he doesn't want to take a shot and upset a veteran, but you can't do that in this league."
With all of these promising young players on the roster, many fans have wanted Kupchak to issue some sort of ultimatum to Scott to embrace the youth movement and play the team's younger players instead of veterans. Kupchak does not plan to do so yet, telling McGee "We hire a coach to coach."
"We (Kupchak and Scott) do talk every day, and I'll run some ideas past him and he'll run some ideas past me. I rarely ever direct him who to play and how much to play," Kupchak said before detailing a situation in which he did so.
"I do remember last year during the second half of the season, collectively we decided it was time to give Jordan Clarkson a chance," Kupchak recollected, "And then maybe he waited a week or two when he thought the time was right and we put Jordan into the starting lineup and that turned out to be a good thing,"
"We sit down together, we discuss possibilities. He can tell when I'm sending him a message, and I can tell when I have to be careful about what I say."
That whole window into Scott and Kupchak's relationship is interesting. Perhaps most notably, it confirms that Scott was given a directive to shift the focus of last season to developing Clarkson around midway through the campaign when the rookie went from bench-warming second rounder to first team All-Rookie. The whole interview was an interesting look into the thought process and opinions of one of the men running the Lakers, useful information to have when trying to rationalize or process why the team makes certain decisions.
All quotes transcribed via Time Warner Cable Sportsnet.