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Mitch Kupchak talks tanking, supporting Mike D’Antoni and the possibility of trading Pau Gasol

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It’s been yet another eventful season for Mitch Kupchak as the general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers. Once again this year, Kupchak’s Lakers have been ravaged by injuries and have fallen into a deep hole at 14-22.

However, Kupchak isn’t ready to throw in the towel. Not now, not never.

Firstly, according to Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News, Kupchak says that the Lakers would never consider tanking:

[pullquote]“That’s the worst thing an owner, general manager, coach or player can even consider. I can’t imagine going into a locker room or having a closed door meeting with a coach to say I want you to lose,” Kupchak said. “I can’t imagine doing that. It’s almost un American.”[/pullquote]

Of course, Kupchak would never publicly admit to tanking, though I believe him here: So far, the Lakers haven’t tanked their way to 22 losses, they’ve reached that mark simply because they haven’t been able to stay healthy.

Now, if the Lakers did move Pau Gasol in that rumored trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers, some would’ve claimed that L.A. was headed into tank mode – the Lakers would’ve waived Andrew Bynum in a potential deal, according to reports, though the Cavs wouldn’t part with a first-rounder and so no trade was made – though any such move would’ve been more about getting under the luxury tax line and receiving a first-round pick for Gasol who is likely a gonner this coming summer.

Also according to Medina, Kupchak and the Lakers aren’t about to give up on Mike D’Antoni anytime soon. In fact, Mitch even feels that D’Antoni was an early Coach of the Year candidate before his troops started going down:

[pullquote]“Six weeks ago, I thought he would’ve been candidate for coach of the year,” Kupchak said, praising D’Antoni on how he managed a roster full of castoffs despite never-ending injuries. “A month and a half later, our record is what it is. I know I’ll get criticized and he’ll get criticized. But the coaches in this league can’t win without players. That’s my job. I thought we were deep enough in the backcourt. Maybe we weren’t. But you can’t win in this league without players.”[/pullquote]

Mitch is right: after beating the Los Angeles Clippers on opening night and then the Houston Rockets a few games later, D’Antoni was really getting the most out of his players. However, it’s hard for any coach to win when the likes of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are banged up or not playing at all, not to mention key role players such as Steve Blake, Xavier Henry and Jordan Farmar sitting out games for a prolonged period of time.

No matter how much you hate D’Antoni, there is no coach in this world who could make his team look like a title contender when your role players – who would typically see 15-20 minutes per game at the most – are playing 40 minutes a night just because there is no one else available.

Coming into this season, the Lakers needed Nash, Pau and Bryant to all stay healthy and play at All-Star levels in order for the Lakers to have a shot at making the playoffs. So far, that hasn’t happened.

Finally, with the trade deadline coming up next month, all Laker fans know that Gasol’s name will resurface in rumors once again.

Here’s what Kupchak told ESPN Los Angeles‘ Dave McMenamin on the chances he moves Gasol or another player on the Lakers before the deadline:

[pullquote]Will Gasol still be a Laker when the trade deadline passes Feb. 20?

“I’m always looking for ways up until the trade deadline to do what’s best for the team for that year or what’s best for the team going forward,” Kupchak said. “That obviously depends on the team you have and what the record is. Some years you’re looking to forge up an area that you may have a weakness on a championship roster and then some years it may be different where you’re looking a little bit beyond that year towards the next year. So, that’s kind of where we are right now.”[/pullquote]

Again, this is pretty much the go-to answer for a general manager who is asked whether he’ll make a trade before the deadline. However, the interesting tidbit in Kupchak’s answer is where he mentions “looking towards the next year.”

Now, as Mitch has already said, he’s not into tanking, but looking to the future could mean bringing in younger players and/or picks in exchange for Gasol, as well as trying to get under the luxury tax line to avoid the costly repeater tax in future seasons. That’s basically what the Lakers were searching for in a potential trade with the Cavaliers earlier this week.

Seeing as the Lakers have already reportedly talked to Cleveland, Houston, Brooklyn, New York and Chicago about trade scenarios involving Gasol, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear Pau’s name come up in rumors once again before the February deadline passes.

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