Assistant GM Ronnie Lester had just gone wide-eyed at an East Coast workout by Andrew Bynum, a late-blooming butterball of a prep seven-footer.
The Lakers worked Bynum out privately before the pre-draft camp in Chicago. Jim, part of their delegation, caught the excitement with the rest of the staff—a major development since Kupchak would need his help convincing his father to take a unknown high school kid with their No. 10 pick.
Jim sold it to his father. The Lakers picked Bynum, who would become an All-Star starter at 24. Of the other two players they considered at No. 10, one (Sean May) is out of the NBA and the other (Fran Vasquez) never arrived.
By 2011, following the inglorious end to their three-Finals-two-titles run in a second-round sweep by Dallas, Jim was in charge.
The decision to hire Mike Brown was Jim’s, and unpopular. (My feeling was, if they wanted a slow-down, defense-oriented coach from the East, there was a better one available, with enough personality to give him a chance of succeeding the one and only Phil – Jeff Van Gundy).
Nor did Brown work out well, lasting one season plus five games.
Nevertheless, the hire was not outrageous, irresponsible or dumb.
First, Jim made it with the counsel of his basketball people, after Kupchak included Brown’s name among possible candidates.
Two, a lot of sharp people like Brown—including West, by then a Warriors consultant—oh, yeah, now there’s something that shouldn’t have been allowed to happen–who intended to hire Brown themselves before the Lakers jumped in.
Bottom line, if Jim was highly entitled and clueless upon arrival, he has essentially served a 15-year apprenticeship, watching West put together the team that won titles in 2000-2001-2002, and, after the fall of 2004, helping turn it back around, leading to the titles of 2009-2010, working with his father and Kupchak.
There were two things I admired in Jerry Buss:
1) His go-for-it attitude, with excellence the goal, even beyond profits, and;
2) His abiding trust in his professionals.
Jim has been there and done that. He was part of trading his fave, Andrew. He was part of the calm, measured deliberations to keep Dwight Howard at the trade deadline, when so many (hello) called for them to trade him.
Bottom line, if they need to trade Howard after all, they can do it after this season.
And, as Kupchak explained, steadfastly: “It’s hard to get talent in this league and to have a talent like Dwight Howard. He belongs to have his name on the wall and a statue in front of Staples at some point in time.”
We’ll have to wait and see about the banner and the statue, but Dwight has looked a lot more interested the last few games. After a half-season of arguing with teammates and refusing to commit himself in any way, he threw out his first hint he wants to stay, noting he and Kobe “have years to play with each other.”
So, if they don’t look like the Lakers on the floor and won’t for a while, with say, an 80 percent chance they’ll either be out in the first round or miss the playoffs altogether, this won’t be the first season they fell on their face.
As far as the front office goes, wiggy as it has always been, it has been that sharp, and it still looks the same way to me.