Mitch Kupchak has gone from the man most Laker fans blamed for the issues over the summer to hero of all Laker fans in about an 8 month span. When Kobe Bryant become overly frustrated with the front office this summer and requested a trade, Kupchak took most of the heat from the media and fans because of some of the moves he had made and some of the moves he had not made in seasons past.
Everyone knows that Kupchak did not want to be known as the GM that traded away both Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. He had to trade Shaquille O’Neal, it was not as if Jerry Buss gave him a decision. Shaq and Kobe could not play together anymore and Jerry Buss obviously decided to pick Kobe as his future of the team. So Kupchak traded Shaq to the Heat for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant, and a future 1st round pick, which ended up turning into Jordan Farmar. Obviously Kupchak did not get back a star in the Shaq trade, but no other team was willing to give up their superstar to trade for Shaq.
During the 1st season of the post-Shaq era, there was a rumor at the trade deadline of Carlos Boozer coming to the Lakers for Vlade Divac, Caron Butler, and others. That did not happen and no one really knows for sure how strong this rumor actually was to becoming a reality. Of course there are the other superstars who were traded during this time for very little such as Baron Davis and Ron Artest. Along with the Caron Butler for Kwame Brown trade, these moves frustrated Laker fans since Kupchak was not getting help for Kobe Bryant during the prime of his career.
There was also some very questionable draft picks and free agent signings by Kupchak. We can look at Brian Cook (also resigning Cook to a $10 million extension), Vlade Divac, Vladimir Radmonivic, and Aaron McKie. But, even with those moves, Kupchak did make some good moves by drafting Ronny Turiaf, Jordan Farmar, and Sasha Vujacic.
Of course, last year there was the whole Jason Kidd trade rumor when the Lakers refused to part ways with Andrew Bynum in the Kidd trade. This move actually turned out to be Kupchak’s best non-move, even though most Laker fans did not know it at the time. Obviously, Kobe was upset that he was not paired with Kidd (video over the summer in the parking lot in Newport Beach bashing Bynum). Even over the summer as Kobe was calling out Laker’s management and demanding a trade, Kupchak saw potential in this team when healthy and signed Derek Fisher to come back to help stabilize the leadership of the team. This was probably one of Kupchak’s best moves because it helped out Kobe given that Fisher is one of his best friends and it brought guidance to the point guard position after the two year debacle that was Smush Parker.
When the season started, Kupchak was certain that if this team could stay healthy, they could be dangerous. Kupchak was right and the Lakers started off the season playing very well in addition to playing with a team attitude. Also, the emergence of Andrew Bynum and improved play of the bench was key to helping the Lakers win and keep Kobe Bryant happy in Purple and Gold.
In November, Kupchak traded away Maurice Evans and Brian Cook for Trevor Ariza. Not only did Kupchak trade away one of his biggest mistakes in Cook, but he got a young, athletic wingman in Ariza who plays good defense and can fly with his dunks. This also paved the way for Sasha Vujacic to get playing time behind Kobe. Then when Bynum went down in January, everyone started to panic and the Lakers looked lost for a little bit.
Then on February 1st, Kupchak was able to pull off a trade (heist) for Pau Gasol that put the Lakers right back into championship contention only three and half years after the Shaq trade went down. Now everyone is saying that Kupchak should be rewarded with General Manger of the Year and that he made most of the right moves by not trading Bynum, signing Fisher, trading for Ariza, making smart draft picks, and getting Gasol for practically nothing. Let’s also remember that he made up for his mistakes of Brian Cook and Kwame Brown for Trevor Ariza and Pau Gasol, respectively. Kupchak has made the right moves to help put the Lakers back at the top of the Western Conference and make Kobe happy enough that he will not be leaving the Lakers anytime soon.
So, even though most fans have called for his job on many occasions, Mitch Kupchak has done right by all of Laker fans and it might be time for the NBA to declare him General Manager of the Year.