Mitch Kupchak won't talk about the Buss deadline for Lakers improvement
Longtime GM says team has to win more than 17 games but there are no real standards for improvement.
Let's take a trip back to 2014. Lakers owner Jim Buss, who has been the primary decision maker for the team going back several years, before the 2011 decision to let Phil Jackson go after the Lakers' sweep to the Mavericks, told reporters that if the team did not return to contention in "3 or 4 years," he would step down.
In 2015, his sister, president of the team Jeanie Buss said that if the team didn't get back on track, there would be changes. Last October, Jim Buss said the team had "turned the corner," but tried to make it seem like all the team had to do was show progress. Jeanie wasn't buying that, saying that 2017 remains the deadline.
But that's between the Buss family. Where exactly long-time general manager Mitch Kupchak stands is a different matter. Kupchak was asked about that deadline this week, and this is what Kupchak had to say:
"I'm not in a position to debate the stuff you talked about," Kupchak said on Tuesday at UC Santa Barbara. "I'm not sure what was said with certainty. From my point of view, we've created a team that has a lot of young talent that can grow into really good NBA players that can leave an imprint on this league. I think we've surrounded them with older veterans to help us win games. I'm excited about our coaching staff."
Kupchak also made it clear that there isn't a set number of wins the team needs in order to show progress, but that it has to be significantly more than the 17 the club won last season .
It was no surprise that Kupchak wouldn't set a target number of wins, saying, "That's something I would stare at for the rest of the year."Last year, the Lakers finished a franchise-worst 17-65, a campaign that came on the heels of 21- and 27-win seasons."It's got to be more than 17," Kupchak said. "And it can't be a game or two more. We have to show progress."
There's reason to believe Kupchak, who played with the Lakers and has been with the team for over 30 years, might not be tied to the fate of Jim Buss, that in fact he could stay on. Looming in all his of course is the report that Phil Jackson has an opt-out that would allow him to leave next year. The scuttlebutt of course is that Jackson would then join his fiancee Jeanie (and no, this will never stop being weird -- he got fired by his future brother-in-law) in L.A. Kupchak and Jackson worked together for years, winning titles together, so it's not hard to see a situation where they could work closely again if Jackson replaced Buss (somehow making family holiday dinners even more awkward).
But what's telling in this is how the deadline has constantly been moved back, and much of that is because of free agency. If you had asked Jim Buss in 2014 how many years he would swing out completely in free agency, even being denied a meeting with Kevin Durant this summer, he wouldn't possibly have thought it would go this badly. But that was always the gamble of the "We're the Lakers" approach, which relied on the team's legacy and notoriety.
The Lakers should be better this season ... but that's a really low bar to clear. Unless the Lakers make a wholly unexpected leap behind the rise of D'Angelo Russell or Julius Randle in shocking fashion, there are going to be awkward conversations this summer. Will Jeanie really hold her brother to that deadline, or will Buss get to keep the position his late father entrusted to him based on the inevitable improvement that comes with drafting in the top 10 three years in a row?
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