EL SEGUNDO (AP) — Mitch Kupchak feels he got stuck in a quagmire created by the NBA when the Los Angeles Lakers’ disallowed trade for Chris Paul forced the general manager to ship out Lamar Odom in another hasty deal.
Although Kupchak believes the Lakers can emerge from this messy start to training camp with few worries, he isn’t done looking at dramatic ways to upgrade his team in Odom’s absence.
“We are pursuing big deals right now, yes,” Kupchak said Monday in the Lakers’ war room. “That has not changed. More than one big deal, but there could be more than one big deal that involves players other than the two you’re thinking of.”
Kupchak realizes many Lakers fans are questioning everything from his planning skills to his sanity after he traded the versatile Odom to the rival Dallas Mavericks for not much in return on Sunday. The veteran executive insists his decision was made to escape a rapidly deteriorating situation with Odom, saying the Sixth Man of the Year demanded a trade after learning the Lakers attempted to ship him to New Orleans in a three-team deal for Paul.
“Lamar is probably more sensitive and emotional than most people, in particular our players, and that’s a plus more than it’s a minus,” Kupchak said of Odom, who won two championships with the Lakers. “But in this case, he couldn’t get over the fact that something like that took place. We were hoping that things would change in a day or two, but his representative called me on Saturday and said it’s not going to change, and requested that (Odom) be traded. We worked together to find a spot that would give us the most flexibility going forward.”
Although Kupchak has been working upwards of 17 hours per day since the lockout ended, he believes he made the best available moves in unprecedented circumstances during the Lakers’ frenetic four days since they attempted to acquire Paul last Thursday, only to have the NBA squash the deal. Kupchak is still stunned and angry about Commissioner David Stern’s decision.
“Completely unexpected,” Kupchak said. “I’m not sure it’s ever happened before. I’m not sure if it will ever happen again. It’s unique circumstances with the organization being run by the NBA, so I was completely surprised, and we did the best we can to express our displeasure.”
But when Odom learned he was a part of the deal that also would have moved Pau Gasol to Houston, the Kardashian-marrying reality-television star demanded to leave Hollywood — and after surveying the market and weighing patience against the possibility of deterioration, Kupchak moved Odom to Dallas for a first-round pick and a trade exception.
Kupchak hesitated to help the rival Mavericks, but wanted a trade that wouldn’t require the Lakers to take on a player or a lengthy contract. He also shot down fans’ suspicions that Odom’s departure was a straight salary dump designed to remove about $18 million in expenses the already overstuffed payroll of the Lakers, who had a $91 million payroll and paid $21 million in luxury tax last season.
“Although it’s not a team that we would have normally picked … we’ve done trades like that,” Kupchak said. “We’re not afraid of doing trades within our division. We look after our team first, and then if you meet that team down the road, hopefully you’re going to win that game.”
Kupchak realizes his opinion isn’t universally accepted. Kobe Bryant still is dismayed by the deal, and he believes Kupchak acted too hastily.
“If (Odom) had stayed, if they hadn’t traded him, he would have got over it,” Bryant said. “No question about it. … It definitely seemed like an emotional decision. Lamar is an emotional person, and it means a lot to him to be here. He thought he’d be here forever, and it hurt him. That’s something that he wanted. He wanted to go somewhere else. He’s secure in that decision, and I support him in that decision.”
Kupchak disagrees, saying Odom and his agent specifically shot down that notion. Although Bryant disagrees with Kupchak’s moves, he remains on strong terms with the general manager, noting he had been proven wrong when he questioned Kupchak’s vision while demanding a trade in May 2007.
“And then Mitch traded Kwame (Brown) for Pau, so he’s earned the license to do whatever he wants,” Bryant said. “He knows what he’s doing. He’s built a championship team. He’s done it before.”
Kupchak reiterated he’s still pursuing major trades with several teams, but doesn’t see anything immediately available. Orlando center Dwight Howard’s agent was given permission to speak to the Lakers and two other teams after Howard requested a trade, but the All-Star appears to be waffling on his desire.
If Howard isn’t available, Kupchak is content to add only supplementary players to his current core, notably looking for big-man depth to replace Odom.
“We think we have three of the best players in the NBA — Andrew (Bynum), Pau and Kobe,” Kupchak said. “We expect to have them all season, yes.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.