Kupchak feels good about Lakers
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak knows he'll have his coach back, thinks he'll have his captain back and was confident Friday that negotiating both of their contracts will not be a problem.
Speaking at the Lakers' practice facility a day after Phil Jackson released a statement announcing, "Count me in" for the 2010-11 season and two days after making his first call to Derek Fisher after the free agent signing period opened, Kupchak appeared relaxed.
It's not how you would expect an NBA executive to act in the midst of perhaps the most high-stakes free-agent extravaganza in league history.
"Oh, it's compelling. It really is," Kupchak said about all the hustle and bustle of the other teams around the league. "It's very nice. We've been in the middle several times and it's great to be on the outside looking in."
Kupchak said he spoke to Jackson's agent, Todd Musburger, on Friday and "I don't anticipate any problems, quite frankly I wouldn't be surprised if [a deal is] done within a week or sooner."
As far as Fisher is concerned, Kupchak said, "I've been in contact with his representative and we plan to meet shortly -- maybe over the weekend, maybe early next week.
"I don't believe it's something that's as dynamic as some of the free agents that are out there today, where they're looking to make moves and make changes and maybe don't have the faith in their organization. With Derek, we'll sit down and I don't think he wants to go anywhere and I don't think we want him to go anywhere, so there's a hope that you sit down and you work something out and I believe that will happen."
Kupchak's faith was tested shortly after he spoke to reporters who were on hand for a meet and greet with the two newest Lakers, second-round picks Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter when source close to Fisher told ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne that the 14-year veteran was starting to weigh offers from Miami and Cleveland. The source also said Los Angeles had yet to make a formal offer to Fisher and the initial $2.5 million, one-year deal that had been intimated was a far cry from the salary Fisher expected after making $5 million last year while being a vital cog in the team's second straight championship run.
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Negotiations could only get stickier after news broke later in the day the Lakers have agreed to terms with free-agent point guard Steve Blake on a deal that would pay the seven-year veteran $16 million over a guaranteed four-year contract.
Blake, a 6-foot-3, 173-pound with career averages of 7.5 points, 4.3 assists with a 39.3 percent shooting mark on 3-pointers, gives the team a shooter it has lacked since Vladimir Radmanovic was traded last year and some insurance should Jordan Farmar (probable) or Shannon Brown (possible) leave for another team.
But Fisher expects to return as the starter and by the Lakers agreeing to pay Blake, who would be Fisher's backup, $4 million a year, the team likely set the minimum bar that Fisher would accept for next season.
By signing Blake, the Lakers also leave just $1.8 million available of their mid-level exception to sign another free agent to something other than a league-minimum deal.
That means that the reported interest in players like Mike Miller in Washington, and Anthony Morrow and Raja Bell in Golden State, will become a moot point, unless one of those players agrees to a heavy paycut for the chance to win a ring or the Lakers can work out some sort of sign-and-trade involving one or more of the seven players they already have signed for next season.
If you believe Kupchak, a sign-and-trade is unlikely to involve Andrew Bynum or Lamar Odom, two names that have been thrown around in trade scenarios, because the GM said Friday he doesn't expect any "major changes to the team."
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When asked to clarify, Kupchak said, "I think our core group would be considered a major component."
Assessing the rest of the rumor mill surrounding the Lakers' free-agency plans, ESPN NBA analyst Jalen Rose tweeted that the team was interested in Boston's Tony Allen; league sources said there haven't been any talks between L.A. and Tracy McGrady; and former Lakers first-round draft pick Javaris Crittenton is not on the team's summer-league roster, even though he was considered, according to team spokesman John Black, meaning it's unlikely Crittenton will fill the other back-up guard slot that will be open if the Lakers can't re-sign Brown.
Predicting Phil's future
Kupchak said he was given a sign in the six days between when Jackson left Los Angeles for his summer home in Montana and when he called the team with his intention to return late Wednesday night, that led him to believe Jackson would be back.
"I always felt as if he was engaged," Kupchak said. "Because you can tell if someone really is not going to come back, then they're really not engaged in the future decisions for an organization."
The GM said he spoke to Jackson on the phone several times once the 64-year-old coach arrived in Montana and Jackson was very interested in any information Kupchak could provide regarding Brian Shaw interviewing with Cleveland for the head coaching job.
"Normally he takes more time to make the decision, but I think he recognized with free agency and some of our assistant coaches up for other jobs, people needed to know what his future was," Kupchak said. "So, he took some early time to get medical evaluations that might normally take another week or two and he was comfortable."
Despite Jackson suggesting that 2010-11 will be his last season and Shaw back in the fold as an assistant for another year (even though all the assistants are awaiting new contracts, just like Jackson), Kupchak said the Lakers will not officially name Shaw as the next head coach waiting in the wings.
"That's not something that we have interest in doing," Kupchak said. "We still have to go through the process. It's not like you can pick a coach today for a team next year. You don't know what happens during the course of a season, you don't know who's going to be available. Anything could take place in the next 12 months. A year from now, we'll sit down and certainly we'll have more of a list than we had this year because I always felt that [Jackson] would come back this year."
If Jackson had stepped down this season, Shaw and newly-named Cleveland coach Byron Scott were considered the top candidates to coach the Lakers next year.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.