This season began with championship aspirations for the Lakers, but not much has gone according to plan. The Lakers have dealt with a lot of adversity that has threatened to derail those hopes. Changing coaches. Drama. Numerous injuries. It looked like getting to the playoffs would be an improbable task. Through it all, Kobe Bryant continued to impose his will on his team. He refused to give up. He refused to let his team give in. Will this final injury, the one to the team’s unquestioned leader, be the final hurdle that LA can’t get over?
The Lakers’ season comes down to one game on Wednesday night. Bryant will be watching, recovering from Achilles surgery. The team of All-Stars and future Hall-of-Famers was put together to hang a banner. Things change though, and now it’s all about getting in the playoffs. Bryant got them to the doorstep with his incredible play late in the season. They control their own destiny. It’s up to the rest of the team to finish the job.
Mitch Kupchak joined Fox Sports Radio with Primetime to talk about the season, how the uncertainty of Kobe Bryant’s future affects decisions he could make about the team, whether he has thought about using the amnesty clause on Bryant, whether there has been any pressure lifted because of the injury to Bryant and whether the amount of minutes contributed to Kobe’s latest injury.
On the season:
“Every season is different. Certainly, going into the season, there were high and great expectations. Bringing on Steve Nash early in the summer really made us feel good about the upcoming season. Then in August bringing Dwight (Howard) on board even raised expectations even further. But this league is not something that you can predict. In Game 2 of the season, Steve Nash goes down with a broken leg and then after fives games we decided to make a coaching change. Looking back on it, we kind of should’ve known what was coming because it was that kind of start. It just continued with injuries to Steve Blake, Metta (World) Peace eventually has surgery on his knee, Pau Gasol had a torn fascia in his foot and missed about seven to eight weeks, (Antawn) Jamison, Jordan Hill had surgery on his hip. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very unforgiving league and nobody wants to hear about the injury part of it, but you brought it up.”
How the uncertainty of Kobe Bryant’s future affects moves the franchise can make:
“Every offseason is a challenge and we traded for Dwight Howard a year ago and we knew he had one year left on his contract. We also knew he wouldn’t sign an extension because under the existing rules it makes no sense to do that. We kind of rolled the dice that we could convince him that this is the place to be. That is going to be a challenge for us this summer. We knew that a year ago. Kobe’s most recent injury, he had surgery within 12 hours. I talked to him on Saturday and there is no doubt in my mind what he wants to accomplish and what his thoughts are going into next season. There are some issues that we have to address during the offseason, but at least today, nothing has really changed. Kobe is expecting to play in the early part of next season and we have to deal with bringing Dwight back. Of course, we have a couple of other players that are free agents. Our team is not the youngest team anyway, so at some point in time there will be changeover, but we are no different today, other than dealing with the emotions of Kobe, than say we were several weeks ago.”
Any thoughts on using the amnesty clause on Kobe?
“I’m going to refer all Laker amnesty questions to Mark Cuban.”
How about getting Chris Paul over the summer?
“We are not allowed to comment on other team’s players. That is called tampering. We are very aware of the players that are going to be free agents this summer. The other thing you should know is that we are so far over the cap that signing some kind of a substantial or significant free agent this summer is not really possible, but a year from now we plan to have a lot of cap room. We’re hoping at that point we can be very active in the free-agent market based on how things go with existing players right now.”
Has any pressure been taken off since people don’t have a lot of expectations with Kobe getting injured?
“I don’t feel that way. I’m not sure our coach or players do. We are not in. If Utah loses the early game on Wednesday then we are in, but I think that game that we play with Houston on Wednesday night still may be significant because if I’m not mistaken, there is still a chance, a small probability, that we can move up if we get into the playoffs and maybe end up with a sixth or seventh seeding. We’re not in yet. The pressure is still there and I’m really hoping we can get in and make some noise.”
Whether Kobe’s increased minutes contributed to his injury:
“I would say the fact that Kobe has played big minutes for the last four or five weeks probably had nothing to do with it but we will never know what actually did happen. … I think this falls into the category of a freak accident, very unfortunate. We will never know the answer. The other part of the coin is to keep Kobe off the court for the last three or four weeks, when we are in a playoff run like this, it’s impossible. It’s just not going to happen. After 16 or 17 years in the league, a lot of times you defer to a player. The player tells you what he is going to do and sometimes there isn’t much you can do to change it.”