OK, Laker fans…
Sure this off-season hasn’t been eye-popping, but the time has come to accept the fact that the Lakers are in a rebuilding phase. And while this is something we’re not used to in Lakerland, rest assured the man leading the charge has proven time and time again that he’s a top quality assessor of budding talent. Let’s have a look at Mitch Kupchak’s track record from a pure young talent evaluation perspective so we all feel better about our team as the season approaches:
In 2005, Mitch took Andrew Bynum with the 10th overall pick in the draft. Finding above average centers in the draft is about the hardest thing to do. Say what you will about Bynum today, but this “project” turned out to be the best value in the draft and was the big man the Lakers needed to complement Kobe and Pau en route to *cough* 2 more titles *cough*. Nice work Mitch.
Speaking of those two titles, in 2009, Mitch swapped Mo Evans and perennial eye sore Brian Cook to the Rockets for Trevor Ariza. Ariza seemingly came out of nowhere to be a top notch perimeter defender and reliable scorer, just as he did to seal games 1 and 3 of the West Finals against the Nuggets that year with timely steals in the waning moments of those games.
Marc and Pau Gasol
He drafted Marc Gasol in 2007. Yes, future defensive player of the year Marc Gasol. The same Marc Gasol that no one (haters) seems to remember (conveniently) was the focal point of the trade for his brother Pau Gasol, a trade that was the missing link to the back-to-back titles in 09 and 10.
He gave Earl Clark a chance. The same Earl Clark that CARRIED the Lakers bench in 2012-13.
He brought in Josh McRoberts. The same Josh McRoberts that everyone is touting as a “great signing” this off-season for the Heat. McBob was a journeyman that Mitch knew had talent. He’s now coming off a solid season for Charlotte, which he parlayed into a 4 year/$23 million deal this past offseason.
He’s a master of plucking talent from the scrap heap. Just last season, he gave second chances to guys like Xavier Henry, Wes Johnson and Kendall Marshall who looked like they were out of options, but all showed that they could play in this league.
Who knew that second round pick Ryan Kelly would be as productive as he was last season? Mitch Kupchak did. A one dimensional player coming out of Duke, Kelly was 7th among all NBA rookies last season with 8.0 ppg, 5th in three-point percentage at 33.8% and 3rd in free throw percentage at 81.5% while playing 22.2 minutes per game.
Now we’re relying on Mitch’s draft skills and bargain player assessment more than ever coming into 2014-15. Mitch drafted two rookies in Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson who led the Lakers summer league team in scoring and look like they’re ready to produce right away. Xavier Henry and Wes Johnson have re-signed following successful showcase stints last season. Big man Ed Davis was a free agency steal at a million a year and this is what Mitch does: He gives young players and journeymen an opportunity to showcase their talents and get big minutes if they can play.
This team has the classic look of a surprising one. The team that gets killed by the media coming into the year, but develops and surprises into the season. They’ve still got “that Kobe guy” leading the charge, who’s also rolled into an underrated light (as incredible as that sounds), but Mitch has surrounded him with young talent. Don’t fear Laker fans, trust in the man from Hicksville, NY (not a typo) and things will be fine.