No one lasts 17 years running an NBA front office without acquiring some significant talent. And just as certain, no one goes 17 years in the same general manager position without making moves he’d love to have back.
Mitch Kupchak ran the Los Angeles Lakers from August 2000 (when Jerry West left the front office) until February of 2017, when the Lakers let Kupchak go. Now, Kupchak has been offered the Charlotte Hornets’ general manager job, where he would work for owner (and fellow former North Carolina star) Michael Jordan.
For nearly all of Kupchak’s time with the Lakers, his job was to build a team around superstar guard Kobe Bryant, who West acquired from the original Hornets in a pre-arranged draft-rights deal in 1996. Key in that process was pairing Bryant with big men: First Shaquille O’Neal (who West signed when Kupchak was assistant GM), then Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard.
What can be gleaned from Kupchak’s moves with the Lakers? Here's a look at his body of work:
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Likely best move
Was probably the trade with the Memphis Grizzlies for Gasol in February 2008. It was such an apparent coup that San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich joked there should be some process to veto trades that look too lop-sided.
The Lakers gave up a package of veterans that included Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton and Aaron McKie. Ultimately, the deal worked out fine for the Grizzlies, because the draft rights to Gasol’s younger brother, Marc (a second-round pick), went to Memphis, and he became as big a star as his brother.
Pau Gasol was a Laker from 2008 through 2014. He was on two NBA championship teams there and was four times named All-NBA.
Likely worst move
Was probably the signing of free-agent center Timofey Mozgov to a four-year, $64 million contract in the summer of 2016. In fairness, that was the summer of the massive, sudden rise in the salary cap because of the new national television contracts. The Lakers certainly weren’t alone in overpaying that summer, as many Hornets fans feel about Nic Batum’s $120 million contract.
However, Mozgov averaged just 7.4 points and 4.9 rebounds in his single season for the Lakers before being packaged with guard D’Angelo Russell in a trade to the Brooklyn Nets.
Other major moves
Kupchak used the 10th pick in the 2005 draft on center Andrew Bynum, one of the last players to jump straight from high school to the NBA before the draft rule changed. Bynum played six seasons for the Lakers, had impact on playoff teams and an All-Star appearance before a knee ailment started his decline.
Among others Kupchak drafted: Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Julius Randle, Russell, Marc Gasol, Luke Walton and Ronny Turiaf.
Key trade: Acquiring Howard from the Orlando Magic in August 2012. It was a complex deal that sent Bynum to the Philadelphia 76ers. Howard and Bryant didn’t blend particularly well, and Howard moved on after one season for the Houston Rockets.
Anther major trade that Kupchak made but was never approved was acquiring All-Star guard Chris Paul from the then-New Orleans Hornets in December 2011. At the time, the Hornets' franchise was owned by the league at large and Commissioner David Stern, serving as defacto CEO of the Hornets. vetoed the deal.
Free-agent signings of note: Much of the job description with the Lakers was finding veterans to complement Bryant. Among the vets Kupchak added: Karl Malone, Gary Payton, Charlottean Antawn Jamison, Lou Williams and Nick Young.
Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell