Mitch Kupchak, Former Fan Villain, Now Represents Hope for Future

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers-Press ConferenceThe Fat Lady’s only tuning up, or wait! There’s still hope for the Lakers!

It’s not about wishing the Lakers will be OK because if they’re not, life won’t be worth living.

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Personally, my life works fine whether they win or lose. It’s a good thing because, glorious as their times have been in the 23 seasons I’ve been around, they only five titles, meaning they went home bummed in 18.

Nor can I tell you probability is on their side.

At the moment, they don’t even know who they are—and won’t until Dwight Howard announces his decision.

Dwight isn’t officially a free agent until July 1. Unless he drops the manchild-of-mystery persona he has maintained since arrival, refusing to as much as hint he hoped to stay, he’ll take every day, hour and minute before announcing his decision….

All the insiders I know think Dwight will stay for the fifth season—at $30 million—only the Lakers can offer.

If that’s the case, the question will be, as Shaquille O’Neal posed it, excoriating him on the TNT studio show, if you know you’re going to stay, why not say so instead of his penchant to “play with people’s heads.”

On the other hand, I’m not sure what Dwight knows day to day.

The Lakers never asked if he liked the idea of coming here before trading for him. It took him until the All-Star break to begin to look comfortable, after beaucoup signs of strained relationships with Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and everyone else he upbraided on the floor.

My guess is Howard doesn’t like his choices—but will reconcile himself to the one with the extra $30 mill.

Not that keeping him will turn the Lakers around–as we just saw—he can help turn things around the other way, too—but will at least let the Lakers know what they’re working with.

The real hope that I see for the Lakers is, they’re still the Lakers.

GM Mitch Kupchak made that clear in Tuesday’s press session in an impressive show of ease and purpose, complete with light touches like replying to a question about amnesty by asking, “can I refer this one to Mark Cuban? He’s our amnesty expert.”

Mitch didn’t used to joke with the press, or inspire confidence.

In the spring of 2004, the last time the Lakers had their tushies in a crack like this, having just finished 34-48 after trading Shaquille O’Neal, he was asked to attend a “town hall” meeting of season-ticket holders, one of whom got up and asked him to his face to resign.

In general, little comes out of exit interviews and post-mortems by team officials.

With the crossroads the Lakers now approach, this isn’t “in general.”

Before Bryant and Kupchak spoke Tuesday, it had never occurred to me there was an option other than trading Pau Gasol for an athlete(s) who could shoot, trying to give D’Antoni a team that could run his uptempo offense—which was why Jerry Buss nixed Phil Jackson and hired D’Antoni in the first place.

(Yes, that’s Jerry, not Jim, even if he still takes the heat in the local papers. Sources close to Jackson, D’Antoni and Laker management agree this was the paterfamilias’ decision.)

Turns out there’s another way which the Lakers are considering.

Next Page: Getting The Band Back Together – For One More Rodeo

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