A recent video detailing the struggles of the Los Angeles Lakers over the past three seasons hinted at the possibility of general manager Mitch Kupchak and vice president of basketball operations Jim Buss both being gone at the end of this upcoming season. It’s hard to see Buss stay in his current role when the team tries (and inevitably comes up short) of his self-imposed deadline for competition, but Kupchak should absolutely not be on the hot seat for this upcoming season.
As detailed by ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, the Lakers have lost a lot over the past three seasons. They’ve also failed to snag a big-time free agent star (LeBron, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, LaMarcus Aldridge), and the signings of Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng don’t really move the needle towards competing for a championship in 2017.
The current rebuilding effort is a result of the disastrous 2012-13 season. The Lakers saw Kobe Bryant go down late in the year after over-working himself, Dwight Howard left for nothing after LA traded for him, and Steve Nash was injured in the second game of the season.
The Lakers were also incredibly unlucky when the league decided to veto a trade for Chris Paul. That cost the Lakers both Paul and Lamar Odom. Pau Gasol wasn't exactly a happy camper either. Kupchak can’t control injuries and authoritarian league decisions, so he shouldn't be blamed for quite possibly the first big move in Lakers history that didn't go LA's way. Losing Howard for nothing would never have happened if the Lakers had assembled the team Kupchak and the late Dr. Jerry Buss had envisioned.
Kupchak even signed Bryant to an extension with the hopes that he could return to his pre-injury form. Unfortunately, that move didn’t work out as Bryant had some of the worst years of his otherwise Hall of Fame career. Kupchak knew a full-scale rebuild couldn’t truly begin until Bryant’s retirement but he made use of the heavy protections the front office put on traded picks by acquiring lottery talent to develop even with Bryant on the court.
Over three historically bad seasons, Kupchak has not only acquired high-end lottery talent in D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram. He also drafted Jordan Clarkson and Ivica Zubac in the second round, and both choices are looking golden. Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. are also looking solid. When Kupchak and the front office made the decision to hire Luke Walton, the rebuilding process truly began.
Kupchak is not without some fault. He’s delayed the development process by not hiring a coach that could be with the franchise long-term and signing Bryant to an extension when conventional wisdom says business decisions shouldn’t be made with emotion. Kupchak also didn’t, in my opinion, put his foot down during the 2012-13 coaching search and hire Phil Jackson.
Rebuilding is normal in all professional sports and it takes time. Franchises go through periods of ups and downs. The Lakers have been one of the few that haven’t experienced a lot of losing in one stretch. However, that doesn’t mean everything gets scrapped. Kupchak has set the rebuilding process in place and should be around to see it through. If Buss decides to step aside, that’s his decision. Kupchak shouldn’t be collateral damage.