EDITOR’S NOTE: THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE IS SATIRE AND ALL EVENTS DEPICTED ARE FICTITIOUS (as far as we know)
February 15, 2016
The Los Angeles Lakers are well on their way to the worst season in franchise history. The trade deadline is looming, and with what seems to be a front office in major disarray, general manager Mitch Kupchak is charged with attempting to make moves to better the team. In a surprise turn of events, Lakers owner and president Jeanie Buss has called Mitch into her office to discuss the direction of the team.
“You wanted to see me, Jeanie?” Mitch Kupchak says as he steps into the office of the Lakers president.
“Mitch! It’s so good to see you, yes of course. Oh, what is it, February now? When was the last time we talked, October?” Jeanie Buss stands up from her plush office chair and reaches across her desk to shake hands with the Lakers general manager.
“Yeah, I guess it has been a while,” Mitch says. Jeanie’s handshake is unexpectedly firm. “So, what did you need from me? You know the trade deadline is coming in the next few days and I really shouldn’t be away from my phone for very long.”
“Ah, this won’t take up that much time,” Jeanie says, taking a seat and motioning for Mitch to do the same. “As you know, Mitch, I am the President of the Lakers organization. As such, I don’t really like to get involved in that basketball nonsense…I really prefer the business aspect of it, y’know?”
“Yeah, that’s what you keep telling us,” Mitch says, taking the seat offered to him. Her office has always freaked him out a bit. Especially the one wall that is mostly void of decoration, save for a single sign mounted directly in the center that loudly proclaims, “LAKERS!” It screams at him. Mitch doesn’t like that.
“Okay, great, so the reason I called you in here today is that I want to talk about basketball! How cool is that, right? The owner of the Lakers wants to talk basketball.”
“Uhhuh…” Mitch is growing more suspicious by the minute. Jeanie doesn’t talk basketball, ever.
“Okay, I know it’s not exactly my area of expertise…But I just want to say thank you for the wonderful job you have done in assembling Kobe’s farewell team,” Jeanie says, her eyes beaming like a proud parent. “I wish we could have given him a better send off, but under the circumstances, I really don’t think this season could be going any better. Kobe’s getting standing ovations at every arena and he’s even playing like the old Mamba! It’s just really fantastic.”
“I mean…The love that he’s been getting is cool and all, but do you even watch the games, Jeanie?” Mitch shifts uneasily in his chair. “This team is playing some putrid basketball…Come on, we’ve only won 11 games and it’s mid-February…”
“Now, Mitch, you of all people should know that every game Kobe plays this season is a victory in my eyes! Shoot, by my count that puts our record at 45-10! I know, I know…It doesn’t really work that way, but this season is all about Kobe, win or loss, it doesn’t matter.”
“Do you really think Kobe enjoys going out there and losing all these games?” Mitch pounds his fist on the desk and stands up, getting a bit heated. He pauses to collect himself before continuing. “You know what, nevermind; don’t answer that. You wanted to talk basketball, let’s do it. D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson…Those guys are the future of this franchise. We need to focus on improving their play, both individually and collectively. They need to see more time on the court together. Byron especially needs to start giving Russell more opportunities. We made an investment in this young man, and I truly believe he can lead the next great era of Lakers basketball, but he won’t ever get to that with Byron allowing Kobe to hijack games and sitting Russell down the stretch.”
“I understand his philosophy of he who finishes must have started, but I’m pretty sure he also said earlier this season that he likes to roll with the hot hand. I don’t know what the hell to believe from this guy anymore, Jeanie, and I know it’s too late in the season to make sense of firing him, but he can NOT be the coach that this franchise needs going forward. Not if we’re going to build around youth.”
“Wow, Mitch, I didn’t realize you felt so passionately about all that…” Jeanie seems taken aback.
“It’s part of my job.”
“Okay, I get that. But look, Mitch.” Jeanie stands up to look him directly in the eye. “You can’t be dragging the name of a Laker family member through the mud like that. Byron Scott has given so much to this franchise. He deserves an opportunity to coach at least one more year, with this being Kobe’s goodbye and all. See how he does without that distraction. Now…About my brother Jim…”
“Oh, no, I don’t want to be a part of this.” Mitch turns to leave, but Jeanie reaches out and grabs his shoulder, turning him around.
“You know that timeline is almost up…Do you think there’s a chance that the team can be contending for the conference title next year?”
“The team as it’s currently constructed? Not a chance in hell. We are hoping to make some moves in free agency this offseason, but I’d be surprised if anyone who signs with us will put us into that conversation. I think it’s more important at this point to just hold on to hope that we keep our first round pick this year and draft a couple good pieces to help us going forward to make our team better from the ground up instead of trying to hit that home run.”
“Perfect,” Jeanie says softly, almost to herself.
“Hm? Oh, you know what? I think I know what I did wrong in last year’s free agency meetings…Adam Levine was clearly the wrong man for the job.” Jeanie starts thumbing through some files on her desk.
“And Tobey Maguire the year before that,” Mitch says, recalling the Carmelo Anthony meeting with a shudder.
“Yeah, don’t remind me. He was OBVIOUSLY the better Spider-Man, though. No, I have something much better planned for Kevin Durant’s meeting this summer. Now where did I put that folder…?”
“Jeanie, really, you don’t have to. I can handle it. I’m sure Kevin just wants to talk basketball, and you said it yourself, that’s not your-“
“Shhhhh. Two words, Mitch. Jack. Nicholson,” Jeanie pulls out a picture of Jack Torrance, Nicholson’s character from The Shining. The picture has been doctored to depict Jack wearing a Lakers jersey bearing Durant’s number. “How can Kevin say no to Jack?”
“HEEEEEERRRRREEEEEEEEE’S KEEEEVVVVINNNNN!!!!!” Jeanie shrieks, waving the picture in Mitch’s face.
“Are we done here?” Mitch says, backing away from his boss.
“Oh, sure. I know you have important calls to make. Just remember: Byron knows what he’s doing. He’ll lead this team back to relevance next year, or my name’s not Jeanie “Phil’s Future Wife” Buss! And Jim won’t have a job…” Jeanie trails off with the last bit.
“Oh, hey, when is the wedding?”
“We haven’t set a date yet. We can’t even talk to each other because of that damn CBA.”
“Right. See ya later, Jeanie.”
Mitch walks back to his office to find seventeen missed calls on his desktop phone. Looking through the call history, he is disappointed to see that they are all from Jim Buss. Heaving a large sigh, Mitch picks up the phone and dials Jim.
“Mitch, brother! How’s it hangin’, man?” the voice of Jeanie’s brother drawls through the receiver.
“I’ve been better, Jimbo. These down years are starting to get to me.”
“You and me both, brotherman. Look, I know you need to be making calls and taking calls and all that, whatever it is that you do, but we need to have a chat. Could you swing by my office?”
Mitch sinks down in his chair and sighs again. “Yeah. Yeah, sure, I’ll be right there.”
Mitch hangs up the phone and sits there for a minute. He thinks about making a call, any call at all, but he’s not in a dealing mood. He stands up and walks down the hall to Jim’s office.
“Hey, Mitch!” Jim turns around and greets the general manager. He looks as though he has been pacing. “How’s it hanging, bud?”
“I’m fine, Jim,” Mitch says, exasperated. “You just asked me that on the phone. What do you need?”
“Look. Mitch. Mitchell. Mitcharooni. You gotta help me out, man. This timeline thing is really coming back to bite me…One more year and my time is up!”
Mitch rolls his eyes, but Jim doesn’t notice and continues talking.
“I know we drafted D’Lo to be our next Kobe, but I’m just not seeing that fire from him, y’know? Byron always says he’s too playful. I mean, sure, he doesn’t know what it means to be a Laker yet, but he should be further along than what I’ve been seeing these past few weeks, right?”
“Well, actually Jim, I don’t think D’Angelo is the issue here.”
“Oh, really? Is it Julius then?”
“Well then, why don’t you tell me what you think we need to do to save my job?” Jim sits down behind his desk. Mitch remains standing.
“Well…Byron hasn’t exactly been showing good coaching acumen in his time here. Kobe’s farewell tour, while it’s nice, isn’t doing the kids any favors. Byron lets Kobe chuck as many shots as he wants, but when the kids finally start to feel a sliver of confidence, he benches them because they’re getting cocky.”
Jim’s eyes are getting wide, as though all of this is some shocking revelation to him.
“Jim, there are twenty-seven games left in the season. Byron isn’t going anywhere this year. However, there are a few interesting coaches on the market that I think we should consider this summer. They might not vault us into contention for the conference, but they’ll surely get us much closer than what we’re seeing now.”
Jim nods for a few moments before bursting into laughter.
“Oh, man, you’re pulling my leg, right? A better coach than Byron Scott? Ha! What do you wanna do, bring back my sister’s fiancé? No chance, brother!”
“No, Jim, that’s not even close to what I’m going for. Do you even pay attention?”
“Okay then, lay it on me,” Jim implores, clapping his hands together. “Name one coach on the market who you think could come in and coach these guys to more than eleven wins. And don’t you dare say Phil Jackson!”
“Tom Thibodeau. David Blatt. Scott Brooks. Luke Walton. Ettore Messina. Just to name a few.”
“Ha! Right, okay, those are big names, sure. But do any of those guys know what it means to be a Laker?”
“Uh, yeah,” Mitch says, scratching his head in bewilderment. “Luke Walton does. He was on our team for the last two title runs. Do you not remember?”
“…Oh. Bill’s kid. That guy. I guess he does know. But he’s never been a head coach, Mitch, we can’t take a chance on a guy like that.”
“What are you so scared of? I’d wager my entire salary that he could come in next season and win more than whatever Byron’s total is at the end of this year.”
Jim stares into Mitch’s eyes for an entire tension packed minute.
“Ah, I know you’re just playing with me, Mitch.” Jim stands up and makes his way around the desk.
Mitch throws his hands up in disgust, but Jim grabs them and pulls him in for a bro-hug.
“Look, man,” Jim says, repeatedly pounding a fist into Mitch’s back, “We have to keep Byron for the rest of his contract, okay? If anybody is going to lead us back to the promised land and save my behind, it’s gonna be that guy. I know you believe in him. I know you, Mitch. Don’t try to fool me.”
Mitch, fed up that no one is taking him seriously, manages to pull away from Jim’s arms.
“Fine, Jim. We’ll do it that way. Can I go back to my office now? I need to make some phone calls.”
“Phone calls?” Jim looks legitimately shocked. “Who are you calling in the middle of February?”
“The trade deadline is this week, Jim. I’m exploring options. Trying to see if there’s any deal out there that can put us in a better position to…save your job.”
“Oh, right. Hey, why don’tcha call Jerry West about that Steve Curry guy? I think he might be just what we need on our team.”
“Okay, Jim. I’ll do that.”
Mitch walks back to his office numbly. These meetings with his bosses have given him an ear splitting headache. He sits down at his desk and bangs his head on his keyboard repeatedly. The phone rings.
“Kupchak,” Mitch says, picking up the receiver without glancing at the caller ID.
“Mitch, you okay?” It’s Jim. “Just heard some loud noises from down your way, worried you might have hurt yourself, pal.”
“Yeah, Jim. I’m fine. I called the Warriors about Curry and they just laughed at me. I was pretty upset.”
“Ah, shucks. Hey, we’ll get em this summer though, right? Big Kevin Durant, I’m all ready for that meeting! I’ve been reading up on basketball so we can focus more on that. Hey, did you hear who Jeanie’s planning on bringing this year?”
“Yeah, she told me, Jim. I’ve got another call coming through. Could be Golden State with a counteroffer.”
“Oh, better take it!”
Mitch hangs up the phone. He sits there, staring at his computer for a few minutes before the gears in his brain start churning away. Something that he heard Jeanie say in their meeting suddenly seems to make sense.
Jeanie is trying to sabotage Jim by keeping Byron as the head coach next year. Jim is too delusional to realize it and somehow thinks that Byron is his best shot at turning the team around. Mitch is caught in between them and being pulled in both directions.
“You know what?” Mitch says to himself. “I’m not gonna put up with this for much longer. I run this team, not them. Next year, we’re going to give our young guys the coach that they deserve. I’m over this Buss family drama.”
“What’s that, Mitch?” a voice says from his doorway.
Mitch, startled, turns around to see John Black, the Lakers head of public relations, standing in front of him.
“Oh, hey John,” Mitch starts. “I uhh…I was just…”
John steps into Mitch’s office and closes the door softly behind him.
“Mitch,” John says. “I heard what you said. And I agree, one hundred percent.”
“We can’t go public with this though. We can’t afford to even let Jim or Jeanie know of it. I support you wholeheartedly, Mitch. I know that you’re the man in the front office who does more than anyone else for this organization. But this stays between the two of us. You’re talking about undermining two of the most powerful people in the NBA. You have my word that I’ll keep silent. I need yours.”
“Absolutely, John. So, what do you think about Luke Walton?”
It’s now February 18, 2016. The deadline has come and gone and the Lakers failed to reach any trade agreements. Mitch isn’t too disappointed, but he still has to have a short session with the media to explain himself. He fields questions about the upcoming draft lottery, the draft itself, and of course, Kobe Bryant. Finally, the inevitable question is asked: will Byron Scott be retained next season?
John Black shoots Mitch an inconspicuous warning glance, but Mitch is no stranger to the game.
“Byron is under contract. Until that changes, or if that changes, we will let you know.”
Mitch takes a few more questions before calling a close to the session. He walks back to his office with John at his side. Once they’re out of earshot, John says, “That went well.”
Mitch, without breaking his stride, slips on a pair of sunglasses and says, “I think they got the message.”
In recent weeks, many fans have become so upset with the horrendous season that the Lakers are having that they have begun to not only clamor for the firing of coach Byron Scott, but also for the firing of Mitch Kupchak. The two names at the top of the organization are not safe from the mobs of angry fans, either. The blame should fall on the Buss siblings as much as it should fall on Mitch and Byron.
I think I have made it obvious that I am not a Byron supporter. While I certainly don’t think that Mitch should be absolved of any blame for the product that we see on the court today, I don’t think it is necessary to call for him to lose his job. In my eyes, there are two glaring issues with the Lakers organization. Those issues are, indeed, the coaching staff and the front office. In this case, I am talking about Jim and Jeanie, not Mitch.
Judging from Jeanie’s recent comments, she intends to hold her brother to his self-appointed timeline. This would require the team to make it to the Western Conference Finals next year, or Jim will step down. Or be forced to step down.
Jim doesn’t really say much to the public, but for some reason, I have a feeling that he won’t go quietly into the shadows. He probably regrets ever creating this timeline in the first place. Let’s be realistic: in all likelihood, the Lakers won’t even be a playoff team next year, let alone make it past the second round. How often does an NBA team finish last in its conference and go on to contend for a championship the following season? It doesn’t happen all that often.
Building a successful team takes time. Stabiility is certainly a part of it as well, and the coaching carousel of the last few years hasn’t helped, but the players haven’t been constant either. Until now. The Lakers have finally been able to build a young core of players, thanks in large part to Kupchak’s success in the draft. For that reason, Mitch’s job should not be a matter of debate. He should be given the green light to build this team for the long run, not try to force success in the short term just to fulfill some stupid timeline that Jeanie Buss keeps trumpeting. The Lakers organization, as well as its fans, needs to exercise some patience.
Yes, Byron Scott needs to be given a one-way ticket out of Staples Center. That is the first step. Once this season is over and the Lakers have accomplished that one massive success, there will be more than a few decent coaching options to choose from. After that, it’s up to Mitch to keep the front office from swinging for the fences in free agency. It shouldn’t be an issue this year; the team will have more than enough cap room to chase multiple players. But the priority should really be on building a solid team full of solid players, not putting all their eggs in one basket and losing out on everything else like the last few years.
I really love the young guys that the Lakers have assembled on this team. They just need to add some more pieces along with a coach who will actually accentuate their strengths instead of forcing them to run a system that clearly doesn’t work. Once the right coach is in place, hopefully the young team will grow together. I look forward to seeing what the future has in store for these young Lakers. For now, I’ll just watch D’Angelo Russell highlights and pretend that he’s playing for Luke Walton, not Byron Scott.