LOS ANGELES – Mitch Kupchak talked in-depth about Kobe Bryant's early vacation, Steve Nash's poor health, Pau Gasol's free agency and the Los Angeles Lakers' high draft pick on Friday. But one subject the Lakers general manager provided little clarity into is the future of coach Mike D'Antoni.
Kupchak said he and Lakers president Jim Buss will meet with D'Antoni in the "near future," but didn't give a specific timeline for either the meeting or a decision on D'Antoni's future. Kupchak said D'Antoni is under contract for two more seasons, but wasn't definitive in answering whether D'Antoni would be the coach next season. Kupchak and D'Antoni had exit interviews with players on Thursday and Friday, but did not discuss D'Antoni's future.
"Mike is under contract for two more years," Kupchak said. "If anything changes, we will let you know."
The Lakers finished with a franchise-worst 27-55 record in a season in which they also had an NBA-high 319 player games missed because of injury. The Lakers' starting backcourt didn't suit up much: Kobe Bryant played in only six games while Steve Nash was on the floor for 15. D'Antoni replaced Mike Brown as coach early last season and guided the Lakers to a 40-32 record and a quick first-round playoff exit.
D'Antoni said he expected to keep his job because he's still under contract.
"No one's happy about the way the season went," D'Antoni told reporters before Kupchak spoke. "Every coach should be under scrutiny; they're under it even if it goes well. That's part of the job."
D'Antoni said it wasn't his place to say whether the Lakers' injuries should be taken in consideration in his job review. Kupchak, who sat nearby as D'Antoni spoke, has weighed the impact of the injuries on the Lakers' season.
"Under the circumstances, I'm not sure anybody could've done a better job than he did," Kupchak said.
Dwight Howard, who left the Lakers for the Houston Rockets last offseason, wasn't fond of D'Antoni's offense. Gasol admitted to not always seeing eye-to-eye with D'Antoni. The Lakers' fan base has been skeptical, as well.
"They're right to feel the way they feel, because we didn't have a good year," D'Antoni said of Lakers fans. "Opinion is shaped by the record."
Kupchak and D'Antoni were unaware Bryant had decided to skip the final game of the regular season at San Antonio on Wednesday to take a trip to Europe. Kupchak said the European trip would also include Bryant getting another knee treatment in Germany. Kupchak wasn't bothered by Bryant's early exit and expects him to be ready to play at the start of training camp.
"All things considered, to me, it's not that big of a deal," Kupchak said.
The Lakers have the sixth-best odds to win the top pick in this year's draft lottery on May 20. Kupchak said he believes there are several players who can become franchise changers in this year's draft class. He is also open-minded about trading the pick.
"It looks like we are going to have a good pick," Kupchak said. "Hopefully, on May 20 it becomes a much better pick. There is always the chance it becomes a less-attractive pick. That's the nature of the lottery. But we do have a good pick. It's going to be exciting.
"We haven't had a pick this high since I've been here, and that's quite some time. I think James Worthy is the last pick we had anywhere near this pick."
The only Lakers players under contract for next season are Bryant, Nash and center Robert Sacre. Kupchak said it is a "priority" to re-sign Gasol. Gasol said a day earlier he's excited to explore his free-agency options, but he will consider the Lakers and loves playing with Bryant.
"We're going to do our best to stay on top of it," Kupchak said. "I think Pau has a great relationship with the organization and he loves the city. But he will be pursued, he will have options, and we will have to see what the marketplace dictates."
Kupchak is waiting to learn who will be free agents this summer, but also understands the Lakers could have more financial flexibility with projected better free-agent options in 2015 and '16. Bryant tweeted next season will be "epic" for the Lakers. Kupchak understands Bryant's desire to win now, but Kupchak also wants to "be wise about his [personnel] choices."
"There is a degree of patience here," Kupchak said. "It's not like we worked four years to create financial flexibility and now on July 8 we got to spend it all and use it all. We have to make sure that we use it wisely.
"If we can use it wisely right away, we will. If we use part of it and wait a year to use part of it, we'll do that."
Kupchak said he will be active in signing a point guard in case Nash is still limited by injuries next season. On Thursday, Nash said the Lakers "can't rely on me," but he plans to return for the final season of his contract, which will pay him $9.7 million. Kupchak said he also likes Lakers point guard Kendall Marshall, who the team has a team option to keep.
"Nobody has worked harder or has been more frustrated than [Nash] did," Kupchak said. "Having said that, I think he does want to play next year. Certainly from an organizational point of view it's hard to say under the point guard position we can bank on this guy. So we can't do that. We're going to have to make sure his position is covered."
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