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The Los Angeles Lakers might not be accomplishing much in the win column these days, but their front office and coaching staff has maintained from the beginning of that season that doing so wouldn’t take priority over developing what is hopefully the team’s next championship core. In an interview with David Aldridge of NBA.com, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak stuck to that mindset, saying that he was “excited” about the team’s future even as they’ve struggled following a promising start to the season.
We didn’t adjust that well to (the grind of the NBA schedule). And we went through a period where it was kind of tough to win a game. And we lost our mojo, so to speak. And it’s been difficult to get it back. That’s kind of where we are today, based on wins and losses. Putting that aside, we’re incredibly excited about our future. I think we’ve got six or seven young players that I think all have a great future in front of them. And we have a mix of older veterans that I think are going to help our young guys mature and make progress. We’re very excited about the future, and the development of the young players on this team.
He also went into detail about a few of Los Angeles’s prized youngsters, including rookie Brandon Ingram:
He’s making steady improvements. Despite the length of the season, and the fact that a lot of rookies struggle at 45 or 50 games, he doesn’t seem to have run out of gas. He’s been really consistent and he’s getting confidence day by day. He’s still only 19, so he’s got a long way to go. But he seems eager to work. Nothing seems to rattle him. He’s playing like he fits in.
As well as sophomore guard D’Angelo Russell:
I think the challenge people are going to have with him is trying to pigeonhole him. Is he a ballhandling point guard or is he a shooting guard or is he a combo guard? I’m not sure any of those things by themselves define who he is. I think he’s just a basketball player. I don’t know if he’s going to be a prototype point guard. I don’t know if Steph Curry is. I’m not trying to compare the two; I’m just trying to make an example of the game today is a little different than the game 20 years ago. A lot of the pieces are interchangeable. But D’Angelo’s gifts are his ability to see the floor. He’s a great 3-point shooter. He’s got size, he’s got length.
Both Russell and Ingram still have a long way to go before being considered superstars, but they’ve both flashed their incredible potential over the course of this season. Ingram has been deployed as both a forward and a point guard, which has been an interesting storyline this season as the similarly-built Giannis Antetokounpo has emerged as an All-Star for the Milwaukee Bucks in a similar role. Russell, for his part, is still finding his shooting stroke, but he’s still averaging a decent 14.3 points and 4.4 assists per game in his first full season as a starter. Top frontcourt players Julius Randle and more recently Ivica Zubac have also shown signs of becoming quality starters this season, though consistency remains an issue for both.
Kupchak also expressed admiration for how first-year head coach Luke Walton has endured a tough season:
I just stay focused on keeping him positive, which I don’t have to do, because that’s his nature. Just remember the big picture. Of course I worry about it, because he doesn’t show it. Maybe when he goes home, he puts his head in his hands for a couple of minutes. But when he’s around the players, it’s nothing but energy and positive vibes.
He’s also confident in Lakers fans’ support of the team during this stretch:
I think our fans can see what’s going on. Clearly, we’d like to have a couple more Ws. But I think they get it. They see the six or seven young guys. They see the future. They see the plan unfolding in front of their eyes. We’ve got cap flexibility this summer and going forward. So I like where we are. I’d like to win a couple more games, but I think our future’s very bright.
The interview ended with this interesting exchange between Kupchak and Aldridge. Is Mitch #TeamTank???
Aldridge: I’m sure that while you may want a couple more wins, you’ll accept whatever outcome occurs.
Kupchak: I know what you’re saying. It is a good Draft
Despite facing questions about his job security with the Buss sibling’s self-imposed deadline fast approaching, Kupchak seems confident in the team’s direction. The veteran executive has already built back-to-back championship teams with the Lakers, and Aldridge wrote that he is still respected around the NBA. Whether he’ll remain around the franchise long enough to see his rebuild through remains to be seen, but for now, In Mitch We Trust.