For 36 years, Mitch Kupchak was involved with the Los Angeles Lakers in some capacity. He spent 16 of those years as the team’s general manager.
During that time, Kupchak made more than a handful of splashy moves, including, but not limited to, the trade that brought Pau Gasol to Los Angeles in 2008 — and consequently two championships — as well as the trades that paired Kobe Bryant with future basketball Hall of Famers Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. The latter trades aren’t viewed in a positive light now, for obvious reasons, but they were at the time.
Unfortunately, Kupchak’s legacy was tainted in the summer of 2016, when he and president of basketball operations Jim Buss committed a combined $136 million to Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov. Those moves ended up costing the Lakers valuable assets, including former No. 2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell, cap space and Kupchak himself, who was relieved of his duties as general manager (along with Jim Buss) the following season.
Now with the Charlotte Hornets, Kupchak can reflect on his time in Los Angeles, which he told Bill Oram of The Athletic wasn’t that much different than his current role under Hornets owner and all-time NBA great Michael Jordan, at least for a time:
Kupchak holds the coveted dual title of president of basketball operations and general manager. He focuses solely on basketball, whereas he said he “had more responsibility in L.A. in other business areas.”
Of course, the organizational structure is more straightforward — like the Lakers before Dr. Buss died in 2013.
“There’s one person to report to, which was Dr. Buss, and that made it easy for me there, and I feel the same way here,” Kupchak said. “That was made clear to me. … At the end of the day, I report to Michael. And that makes it simple, too.”
Dr. Jerry Buss, who purchased the Lakers in 1979, passed away in 2013 due to kidney failure related to cancer. Following his death, Kupchak told The Athletic that “everything changed,” and not for the better, likely because he was at the forefront of the sibling power struggle between Jim and Jeanie Buss.
Although Jordan hasn’t had quite the same success as an NBA owner that Buss did with the Lakers, Kupchak said he still sees some similarities with the way they operate:
“I can imagine him and Dr. Buss in the same room, kind of sparring a little bit,” Kupchak said. “I don’t think Michael would feel overmatched for a second — because Dr. Buss was good. He was smart, he didn’t have a pad in front of him, he didn’t need a calculator, he just had a way about him. But I feel like Michael’s the same way.”
Jordan and Kupchak’s Hornets are on pace to make the playoffs for the first time in three years, thanks in no small part to three-time All-Star Kemba Walker. Meanwhile, the front office that replaced Buss and Kupchak are doing everything they can to try and climb back into the Western Conference playoff race. The Lakers are currently three games out of the eighth and final playoff spot.
There is still time for the Lakers to turn things around, but it’s looking like Kupchak might get the last laugh with his former team.