As speculation about the status of head coach Mike D'Antoni reaches a fever pitch, the Los Angeles Lakers secured the future of at least part of their brain trust on Tuesday.
ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne reported the Lakers and general manager Mitch Kupchak have come to terms on a multiyear contract extension. Particulars of the deal have not been disclosed, but the Lakers later confirmed the extension to their own beat reporter, Mike Trudell:
Kupchak, 59, has served in the Lakers' front office since his retirement in 1986. He's been the team's general manager since taking over for Jerry West, while working with the NBA legend to craft a multi-championship core. First with Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant and then Bryant and Pau Gasol, the Kupchak era is among the most fruitful in franchise history.
Of course, Kupchak's extension comes amid arguably the single worst season in team history. Los Angeles went into Tuesday night's game against the Houston Rockets with a 25-52 record, on the precipice of setting a single-season loss record. Only the Utah Jazz have a worse record among Western Conference teams.
With the amount of injuries and the rebuilding and the evaluating different players, I don't know that any coach is going to be real successful this season. John Wooden is not going to be dealt a great hand with all the change and injuries we've had. You look at it every week, someone else goes down.
But Kupchak is also the man who helped orchestrate the deals to put them in this bind. He was integral to the Dwight Howard one-and-done mess, the now-horrific Nash contract and even the Bryant extension, which is already looking like an albatross.
Given the uncertainty of D'Antoni's future, it wouldn't have been a major shock to see the Lakers move in another direction or at least keep Kupchak guessing. If the team decides to go high-profile with its next coach—most notably with a guy coming off a near national championship—it's possible he would have wanted some say in the personnel decisions.
As Shelburne notes, though, he's done more than enough to engender trust from the Buss family:
Kupchak's first order of business will be deciding who the Lakers take in June's draft. That's certainly dependent on where the team falls on lottery night. It would currently have the sixth-best chance at winning the lottery if the season ended today.
Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid are widely considered the top three targets in this draft—notably, Parker and Embiid have yet to declare—with each of their ceilings being that of All-Star, franchise-changing talent. Where the Lakers sit is more of a crapshoot, as they'll likely have the leftover pickings of Australian point guard Dante Exum and freshman stars Noah Vonleh, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon (the latter two have not yet declared).
Beyond the draft will be numerous other personnel decisions, including the fate of D'Antoni. Decisions like whether to use the stretch provision on Nash and what to do with the team's cabal of young talent cultivated this season will come in July.
The advantages that this franchise and this city have always had remain, which is our fan base, it's a great city, players like playing here, there are a lot of diverse components of this city that attract players. The organization itself, its legacy. So those things don't change.
Amid arguably the most uncertain time in Lakers history, there's something to be said for stability. Kupchak provides that in the interim.
What comes next, however, will be anything but stable.
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