It has been a busy offseason to say the least for the Los Angeles Lakers. From firing one coach and hiring another to the draft and free agency, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has had plenty on his plate.
Despite the busy schedule, Kupchak has found some time to watch some of the young Lakers in action. He has been in Las Vegas where several of the team’s players have participated in Summer League and the Team USA camp.
Kupchak spoke to Lakers.com about what he has seen from his young Lakers and what to expect from them moving forward.
On the opportunity that D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and rookie Brandon Ingram have had in being on the Select Team, Kupchak had the following to say:
“Well it’s a great experience. For young players, it’s an honor to be selected. They get to play against each other, and then three of the days, they get to play against the Olympic team, which is obviously a step up in talent. Very competitive, yesterday was and today’s practice was good.”
Kupchak spoke more specifically about the opportunity to learn under one of the greatest coaches in NBA history in Gregg Popovich, who has had great things to say about the young Lakers:
“It’s kind of mixed results in what you can expect in four days. It’s not like they’re preparing for the Olympics. What they’re doing is being exposed to a great coach and his system. […] I’m not sure if it’s going to lead to an experience that’s equal to four to six weeks under Coach Popovich, but whenever you can spend any time with a coach like that, it’s to be appreciated.”
The general manager then spoke about the team’s second overall pick Brandon Ingram, who has recently received plenty of praise from members of Team USA:
“We’re excited to have a player of his ability. […] His skill level is pretty obvious to us. He’s at a position that’s going to fill a need for us. He’s a young player that’s going to need time to develop but we’re happy to have him.”
Kupchak then evaluated the significant improvements made by D’Angelo Russell as evidenced by his showings in both Summer League and Team USA Camp:
“I think this summer was night and day compared to last summer. I think Brandon’s summer next summer will be night and day to this year. That’s just the progress of a young player. If they all continue to work, Julius and Brandon and D’Angelo, then I would expect a year from now that they’re all going to be better than they are today.”
Finally, Kupchak talked about the surprisingly great play from rookie second rounder Ivica Zubac and whether he expected him to play as well as he did in Summer League:
“No, I didn’t. When we saw him play in Europe, we were impressed with his individual skills. We really didn’t get a chance to see him play in a game other than film. […] He missed the first two days of practice back in Los Angeles for Summer League. So really, he only had one practice under his belt and our expectations were really low. But once again, he’s a young player that is going to need time to develop as well but I think he’s a little bit ahead of where we thought.”
Everything said by Kupchak during this interview hinges on the common theme of the future. While clearly pleased with the performance of the young players to date, the GM has been cautious in getting too excited about their development. Kupchak keeps preaching that these players will need time to develop the right way, which should be music to fans’ ears considering all of the talk about self-imposed deadlines and needing to trade young players for win-now pieces.
The Lakers have set themselves up well to take a step forward this season but have a long way to go before their rebuild can be considered a success. Fortunately, it does not appear like they are in any hurry to reach that point.