The Los Angeles Lakers parted ways with general manager Mitch Kupchak last February, a move that seemed to be years of disappointment in the making. The Lakers’ inability to recover from a handful of missteps, some out of their control, finally needed answers.
Kupchak’s 36-year career with the Lakers coming to an end was one of the tolls of another failed-to-launch season, ending an era that seemingly ran forever. In came Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka to revitalize the front office, and out went Kupchak, Jim Buss and the “old” Lakers way.
Mitch has since gone off the radar, enjoying a quieter life now that the weight of having one of the biggest sports franchises in the world no longer rests on his broad shoulders. As front office roles around the league rotated, Kupchak’s remained in the shadows.
He’s finally reemerged, though, with hours left on the clock until Lakers media day begins. Kupchak joined Adrian Wojnarowski’s The Woj Pod and gave his most revealing and insightful interview in perhaps his entire career, with so much commentary across such a large spectrum of Lakers-related topics it’s hard to pick a single angle to expand on.
Most relevant to the present, though, are Kupchak’s thoughts on being let go from the Lakers. Kupchak, like many of us, was shocked by the timing and could only come up with Jeanie Buss wanting to allow the new front office to control the final days leading up to the trade deadline. He also revealed that he hasn’t spoken to anybody in the organization since being let go, and that he only briefly considered Magic joining the franchise as an advisor as a potential threat to his future in LA.
“It was a great, great run, and I'm thankful to have such a run like that. Magic has always been a big supporter of mine and a friend. We would talk all the time, especially when he had an ownership interest. He would always be supportive. He helped recruit and talk through player possibilities with me throughout the years.
“And when he sold his interest and went to the Dodgers things changed a little bit but not a whole lot, and when he came into the office as an advisor to work with Jeanie everybody of course they nod their head to the side and they start to think 'well what's going on here?' For a second I was one of them, but I always felt my relationship with him would withstand anything that might happen,” Kupchak told Wojnarowski.
As far the timing on when the axe finally dropped, Kupchak had this to say (via The Woj Pod):
Of course Jim made some comments a couple years ago about getting into the playoffs maybe this year. Maybe that added on to the urgency with us, maybe it gave some people the ability to say 'well, they said they were going to do this and they're not doing it as quickly as we thought.' So I think that may have been a factor. We didn't get it back to where we said we would as quickly as we said we would.
Why did it happen when it did, I'm not sure. It was a week before the trade deadline. Maybe they just felt, and I haven't spoken to anybody since, so I don't know what their thought process was so I'm really clearly just speculating, maybe they just said 'well, if we're going to make a change at the end of the year, then why don't we do it now so we can control how the trade deadline goes.' That's the only thing I can think of. Having said all of that, I made business decisions for the Lakers that I know were not always popular.
The Jim Buss timeline ultimately wound up being the hourglass until Jeanie dropped the guillotine in the end, not the end of the franchise’s playoff drought. The entire podcast is fascinating, and the list of topics from Wojnarowski alone should be enough to tickle your interest enough to give the whole interview a listen: