Lak­ers aim to fix it quick

Kupchak says team can turn for­tunes around in a hurry. Lot­tery re­sult is key.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Mike Bres­na­han

Eons have seem­ingly come and gone since Mitch Kupchak’s dec­la­ra­tion last Septem­ber that “our ex­pec­ta­tions are to win a cham­pi­onship.”

It’s hard to imag­ine a Lak­ers sea­son that felt longer than this one. So many losses, so many ques­tions, so many peo­ple glad it’s over.

But it was time for the Lak­ers’ gen­eral manager to meet with the me­dia af­ter an­other fruit­less cam­paign. Kupchak called it a “ter­ri­ble” sea­son Thurs­day, ac­knowl­edg­ing the ob­vi­ous less than 24 hours af­ter the Lak­ers’ 122-99 loss in the much-wel­comed fi­nale against Sacra­mento.

“Los­ing 60 games is re­ally noth­ing to be proud about,” Kupchak said, round­ing down just a bit af­ter the Lak­ers fin­ished 21-61.

It was the worst sea­son in the fran­chise’s 67-year his­tory, nudg­ing aside the 195758 Min­neapo­lis Lak­ers. Where to begin the re­build­ing process? Kupchak tried to sound op­ti­mistic.

“We can get bet­ter quickly. We can be in the hunt quickly,” he said. “A lot de­pends on May 19.”

It’s a date thrown around a lot. It would be dev­as­tat­ing for the Lak­ers to lose their top-five pro­tected draft pick that night in the lot­tery be-

cause of the Steve Nash trade. They fin­ished with the NBA’s fourth-worst record, cre­at­ing a 17.2% chance of fall­ing be­low the all-im­por­tant fifth spot, which would go to Philadel­phia.

“We’d like to have some­thing in our pocket for the way the year went,” Kupchak said. “This would be a good draft to par­tic­i­pate in.”

The Lak­ers would em­brace cer­tain per­cent­ages, specif­i­cally the 37.8% chance they have of mov­ing into one of the top three draft spots on lot­tery night. Re­gard­less, they get Hous­ton’s firstround pick (27th over­all) for the Jeremy Lin trade and their own sec­ond-round pick (34th over­all).

And they will have money to spend on free agency in July. Not a ton but enough for at least one max­i­mum-level player.

“We have no idea how it’s go­ing to play out,” Kupchak said. “We’ll be ac­tive par­tic­i­pants.”

The pro­jected head­lin­ers will be Ra­jon Rondo and Go­ran Dragic, and maybe Kevin Love if things don’t go well in Cleve­land or LaMar­cus Aldridge if Port­land’s play­off run is short. Marc Ga­sol is also el­i­gi­ble for free agency but he is not ex­pected to leave Mem­phis for Los An­ge­les, see­ing how his brother, Pau, left the Lak­ers for Chicago last sum­mer.

In fact, Kupchak men­tioned the el­der Ga­sol when asked if he had any re­grets.

“I do wish that we would have been able to keep Pau Ga­sol,” Kupchak said. “He’s still play­ing at a very, very high level. But on the flip side of that, he did need a change of scenery and I think it was best for him to move on.”

Oddly enough, Kobe Bryant, usu­ally the fo­cal point at end-of­sea­son in­ter­views, was barely men­tioned Thurs­day.

He was a part-time player by the time he sus­tained a sea­so­nend­ing torn ro­ta­tor cuff in Jan­uary. He also shot an unim­pres­sive 37.3%.

What can the Lak­ers ex­pect from Bryant next sea­son? He’ll be 37 years old and mak­ing $25 mil­lion in the last year of his con­tract.

“I don’t know,” Kupchak said. “I do know that he’s go­ing to work as hard as any­body can work in the off-sea­son to get his shoul­der right, keep his body in shape. But the makeup of the team right now is just not clear enough to draw Kobe in and say, ‘This is what we’re go­ing to ex­pect. Can you do it?’ ”

There were other notes of in­ter­est from the exit meet­ings Thurs­day be­tween Kupchak and Lak­ers play­ers. Coach By­ron Scott also sat in on them.

Re­serve for­ward Car­los Boozer said he would want to come back to the Lak­ers “if we had a team that could com­pete” for a cham­pi­onship. In other words, he’ll prob­a­bly be on a dif­fer­ent team.

Scott said he might rep­re­sent the Lak­ers at the lot­tery — “They asked me to go,” he said — but then ex­pressed con­cern if the Lak­ers hap­pened to lose the pick that night.

Nick Young re­cently told re­porters they could find him in Maui if they needed him. Rookie Jor­dan Clark­son took a dif­fer­ent an­gle Thurs­day: “I’ll be here all sum­mer. It’s home for me.”

The Texas na­tive was the Lak­ers’ lone bright spot this sea­son, pos­si­bly carv­ing out a place on the NBA’s all-rookie team while mak­ing a lot of teams re­gret pass­ing him up in last year’s draft.

Clark­son said he watched the NBA draft eight to 10 times this sea­son af­ter a bad game, a “mo­ti­vat­ing thing,” he called it Thurs­day, well aware he was the 46th over­all pick.

He av­er­aged 15.8 points and five as­sists in 38 games as a start­ing point guard and wouldn’t dis­miss play­ing on the Lak­ers’ sum­mer-league team in July. “I’d be go­ing out there and get­ting some work in with Julius [Ran­dle] and what­ever guys come in,” Clark­son said. “It’s a cool op­por­tu­nity.”

Dur­ing his sit-down Thurs­day with Kupchak and Scott, Clark­son was told to work on lead­er­ship and adding more mus­cle this off-sea­son.

He was also asked to learn to play off the ball more of­ten in case he slides over to shoot­ing guard. Kupchak de­clined to say whether Clark­son would be the point guard of the Lak­ers’ fu­ture, with­hold­ing com­ment un­til af­ter the June 25 draft.

The team could be in po­si­tion to se­lect a point guard (D’An­gelo Rus­sell or Em­manuel Mu­diay) or might try to pur­sue one a week later via free agency.

In a re­lated note, Boozer told re­porters Clark­son could be a “baby West­brook,” in the mold of Ok­la­homa City’s Rus­sell West­brook.

“That’s a great com­pli­ment,” Clark­son said. “But I kind of want to be my own player.”

As the Lak­ers left the train­ing fa­cil­ity one last time, the book fi­nally closed on the fran­chise’s worst six-month run ever. Per­haps Scott said it best. “There’s go­ing to be parts of this sea­son that’s al­ways go­ing to leave a bad taste in your mouth,” he said.

‘We’d like to have some­thing in our pocket for the way the year went. This would be a good draft to par­tic­i­pate in.’ — MITCH KUPCHAK, above, on Lak­ers re­tain­ing their lot­tery pick

Mark Boster Los An­ge­les Times

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