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NBA AM: Lakers Won’t Involve Kobe

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak says his team isn’t rushing into anything, and Kobe Bryant won’t be part of the decision making process… Who has declared for the 2014 Draft, and who is about to.

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Kupchak Talks Lakers:  USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick sat down with Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak to discuss a wide range of topics, including what he sees his team doing this summer.

The Lakers are getting ready to close one of their worst seasons in franchise history, and surely the worst season in the modern era. While this is an unusual place for the Lakers to be Kupchak reminded everyone that this isn’t exactly uncharted territory for his club.

“10 years ago we had a year like this,” Kupchak said. “ We haven’t had a year like this in the last six or seven years, that’s for sure. But we’ve had a bunch of years like this since I’ve been here. I’ve been here since ’81, and there were three or four years in the early ’90s, and then we had that year in ’04. But we haven’t had a year like this in eight or nine years, that’s true.”

Kupchak cautioned that his club wasn’t necessarily looking for the quick fix and admitted that the new Collective Barging Agreement has really changed how his team can approach this new rebuild in LA.

“I’m confident that over time, that we’re going to be able to assemble a team that’s competitive, fun to watch,” Kupchak said. “The advantages that this franchise and this city have always had remain, which is our fan base, it’s a great city, players like playing here, there are a lot of diverse components of this city that attract players. The organization itself, its legacy. So those things don’t change. Now the collective bargaining agreement changed considerably (after the 2011 lockout) the playing field. That’s just the way the owners wanted it, and as a manager all we’ve ever said is just give us the rules and we’ll play with the rules.

»In Related:  LA Lakers Team Salary.

“The playing field is considerably different. But having said all that, our advantages remain the same. And considering where a lot of teams have ended up in this kind of position, we have a lot of flexibility going forward. We don’t have a lot of players that are good players but not great players who are on long-term deals. Those kinds of contracts can sometimes bury an organization for four or five years. Going forward it’s pretty clean, so it’s up to us to use that money wisely. We are going to have a good (draft) pick this year, so those are the advantages that we have. The short answer is that yes, I’m hoping to be very competitive in a year or two, but the key really is over time.”

The Lakers inked star guard Kobe Bryant to a two year contract extension this season. Bryant has already been vocal about not having interest in another rebuilding year in LA, however Kupchak says that Bryant won’t have a lot of input in the direction the team is headed this summer.

“We won’t consult with him,” Kupchak said. “Our decisions going forward — we’re not going to do knee-jerk stuff. We’ll let the season end, and take some time. We’ve got a lot of injuries and surgeries to sort through. That’s a lot to accomplish. We have the draft coming up.”

Kupchak said that he and Bryant have talked frequently this season, mainly due to his injuries. Despite some comments in the press, he is on board with where the team is headed.

“He had that one outburst, but I think he got caught up in all the sensation of the moment — is Phil (Jackson) going to stay or is he going to go?” Kupchak said. “He wants the same thing we want, which is to win as much as possible as soon as possible. I meet with him. (It’s) not on a regular basis, but in the last two or three months we have met several times, and he gets it.

“I see him in the locker room, we talk. So that’s all that was.

“He’ll be fine. He’s got no choice. He’ll be fine. When we lose, he’ll rant and rave and be upset and be hot and won’t talk to anybody, but that’s the way it is. You’ve got to take the good with the bad.”

The Lakers have a decision to make on several fronts, but the biggest is whether head coach Mike D’Antoni will be back next season.

“I told Jimmy let’s get to the end season, take some time off…then review the season,” Kupchak said. “Look at our roster. I mean we have a plan. We’ve aligned our contracts in such a way where we’re at a position where we’re not financially stuck. But there’s a lot we don’t know. We don’t know where we’re going to get our pick. Are we going to be sixth, are we going to be eighth, are we going to be two or three? We don’t know. We know who may be a free agent, but we don’t know for sure until June 30.

So we know a lot, and we’re set up to take advantage of the situations — whether it’s to make a trade, take back a player, get a good draft choice, pursue free agency. But once again, it’s a different world than it was 20 years ago. And as much as we’d like to be very competitive and competing for a championship next year, it may or may not happen.”

»In Related:  All The NBA Draft Picks Owed.

Kupchak understands that rebuilding is going to be a process. He wants to be in a position to acquire major talent like possible Miami free agent LeBron James or possible Knicks free agent Carmelo Anthony, but either way he also doesn’t plan to have another ho-hum season next year.

“Our goal is not to go 41-41. That’s not our goal,” Kupchak said. “Our goal is to be considerably better than that. And maybe we can do it in a year, or maybe it takes two or three years. Any of those scenarios would be wonderful scenarios.”

Kupchak has been consistent in his message all season. His team wouldn’t be making any crazy moves or one-year band-aid moves that compromised their flexibility.

Kupchak’s continued stance that Bryant won’t factor into their planning has also been consistently part of the Lakers message.

As things stand today the Lakers have what looks to be at least $38.3 million in salary commitments for next season, giving them what’s expected to be roughly $23.7 million in potential salary cap space this summer, which is room for a single max contract player with some room to spare.

If the Lakers manage their cap well this summer, they could be in a position to have just $25.98 million in salary commitments in the summer of 2015, which could put them with as much as $38.02 million in possible cap space.

The Lakers are currently positioned to get the sixth pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, assuming the Draft lottery results hold true to the standings.

The Dance Begins:  As expected Kansas big man Joel Embiid declared his intentions to enter the 2014 NBA Draft. Several other notable underclassmen have already made their decisions and a few more remain on the fence.

Here are the players that have either outright declared, or are close enough to out the door to say they are in the draft and a designation of what their expected draft range is:

  • Andrew Wiggins – Kansas – S – 6’8″ (Top 3)
  • Joel Embiid – Kansas – C – 7’0″ (Top 3)
  • Julius Randle – Kentucky – PF – 6’9″ (Top 5)
  • Dante Exum – AIS – PG/SG – 6’6″ – 188 (Top 5)
  • Marcus Smart – Oklahoma State – PG – 6’4″ (Top 8)
  • Noah Vonleh – Indiana – PF/C – 6’10” (Top 10)
  • Tyler Ennis – Syracuse – PG – 6’2″ (10-20)
  • T.J. Warren – N.C. State – SF/PF – 6’8″ (10-20)
  • Kyle Anderson – UCLA – SF- 6’8″ (15-30)
  • Zach LaVine – UCLA – SG – 6’5″ (20-40)
  • Johnny O’Bryant – LSU – PF/C – 6’9″ (30-45)
  • LaQuinton Ross – Ohio State – SF – 6’8″ (40+)
  • Jabari Brown – Missouri – SG – 6’3″ (40+)
  • Semaj Christon – Xavier – PG – 6’3″ (40+)
  • James McAdoo – North Carolina – PF – 6’9″ (40+)
  • Jordan Clarkson – Missouri – SG – 6’4″ (55+)
  • Jakarr Sampson – St. John’s – SF – 6’8″ (55+)
  • Roscoe Smith – UNLV – SF – 6’7″ (55+)

Here are some of the guys still wavering, but are likely to be in.

  • Jabari Parker – Duke – SF/PF – 6’8″ (Top 3)
  • Aaron Gordon – Arizona – PF – 6’9″ (Top 10)
  • Nik Stauskas – Michigan – SG – 6’6″ (10-20)
  • Montrezl Harrell – Louisville – PF – 6’8″ (10-20)
  • James Young – Kentucky – SG/SF – 6’7″ (15-30)
  • Rodney Hood – Duke – SF – 6’8″ (15-30)

»In Related:  Top 100 Draft Prospects.

Here are some of the notables that are out of the draft:

Sam Dekker (Wisconsin), Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin), Wayne Selden (Kansas), Marcus Paige (North Carolina) and Chris Walker (Florida).

The NCAA requires that players wishing to return to school to notify their teams the day before National Signing Day, so players have until April 15, however there is no penalty for leaving after that date. The only restriction that date imposes is the ability to return to play in college.

The NBA’s deadline for Early Entry is April 27 by 11:59pm ET. To enter the NBA Draft, a qualified player must submit a fax or e-mail to the NBA declaring their availability. Once all of the early entrants are made official, NBA teams can begin having contact with those players.

NBA teams are prohibited from contact with players until the draft class is official.

»In Related:   The Basketball Insiders NBA Mock Draft – Landing Page.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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