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Mitch Kupchak says Lakers are 'pursuing big deals right now'

Lakers GM isn't specific, saying there are no guarantees for anyone except Kobe Bryant, who has a no-trade clause. That said, he says he 'expects' to have Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol all season.

December 12, 2011|By Mike Bresnahan
  • Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak has already traded fan favorite Lamar Odom and attempted to trade Pau Gasol this month. He says he's not done making deals.
Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak has already traded fan favorite Lamar… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

These have been crazy days for Mitch Kupchak. Long hours at work, dinner in a box, start over again the next morning.

What's next?

The Lakers' general manager was aware of the low approval rating accompanied with trading popular forward Lamar Odom and a 2012 second-round pick to Dallas for a 2012 first-round pick and a traded-player exception worth $8.9 million.

Wouldn't Odom have been a useful piece in a trade offer for Orlando center Dwight Howard or other big-name players?

"There was no big deal available to us when we made this decision," Kupchak said Monday.

He then insisted the Lakers weren't done looking for ways to improve and were "pursuing big deals right now," without naming specifics. There are no guarantees, though. There never can be when trades are the topics.

The rest of the Lakers' foundation might be here for a while, Kupchak said.

"We think we have three of the best players in the NBA — Andrew [Bynum], Pau [Gasol] and Kobe [Bryant]. We expect to have them all season," he said.

There's obviously wiggle room with the word "expect." Expecting to have them and definitely having them are two different things, as Kupchak alluded to later.

Kupchak said he agreed unanimously with Lakers owner Jerry Buss and team executive Jim Buss to deal Odom.

"Lamar was sent to Dallas because he requested to be traded," said Kupchak, referencing Odom's frustration with being involved in the vetoed Chris Paul trade. "In this case, he couldn't get over the fact that something like that could take place. I was hoping that things would change in a day or two, but his representative called me on Saturday and said that's not going to change."

The Lakers moved surprisingly quickly. Kobe Bryant made a trade demand in May 2007. He's still here.

"I wouldn't lump Kobe and Lamar into the same category when talking about those same two situations," Kupchak said. "Yeah, we could have said, 'Lamar, we're not going to trade you,' and waited to see what was going to happen in the next week or two, but we chose not to do that."

Bryant didn't hide his displeasure with the Odom trade, especially because the versatile forward was sent to the same team that obliterated the Lakers in last season's Western Conference semifinals.

Kupchak countered that the Lakers made trades in the past with teams in the same conference, if not the same division. It was a while ago, but he pointed to a 1997 deal with Phoenix involving Robert Horry.

"We're not afraid of doing a trade with somebody in your division," Kupchak said. "We look after our team first and then if you meet that [other] team down the road, hopefully you're going to win that game."

Odom was due $8.9 million this season and $8.2 million next season, a total bill of $34.2 million including a dollar-for-dollar luxury tax.

Kupchak did not specifically say Odom was dealt to decrease the Lakers' bills but acknowledged a tougher climate for teams with high player payrolls. The new collective-bargaining agreement starts to penalize luxury-taxed teams more heavily in the 2013-14 season.

The Lakers had an NBA-high payroll of $91 million last season and paid an additional $21 million in luxury taxes. Their taxes would more than double in 2013-14 if their payroll remained the same. After trading Odom, the Lakers have a payroll of about $83 million.

"Understanding the landscape and the collective-bargaining agreement as I do, I would be very surprised if in three years the extra punitive tax doesn't materially affect what teams do," Kupchak said. "You're seeing it now. Have you seen the guys that are being waived and being 'amnestied'?

"Everything we do is not solely connected to the player and his talent. There always are other considerations. Other considerations are financial considerations in the next two years. You can look around the teams that were in the Finals and see who they signed back and didn't sign back. You can start seeing effects right now."

The Mavericks did not re-sign center Tyson Chandler and small forward Caron Butler, but you could almost hear their excitement 1,300 miles away after the Odom trade.

"I mean, really, to get Lamar Odom for a trade exception, and I don't even know what that is, so we turned nothing into a great player," Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki told reporters.

Meanwhile, Orlando seemed to be stealing a page from the Lakers' past: Try to appease a disgruntled star by adding talent around him.

"I'm an optimist," Orlando Chief Executive Alex Martins told reporters. "I am confident that we can work with Dwight and convince him to stay here long-term."

The Lakers tried to acquire Paul from New Orleans last week, but the NBA's highly publicized veto was "completely unexpected," Kupchak said.

"I'm not sure it's ever happened before. We did the best we can to express our displeasure and to date there's been no change."

In the blocked three-team trade, Odom was ticketed for New Orleans and Gasol for Houston.

The failed Paul trade is in the past. Kupchak is looking into the future.

"If we can figure out a way to improve this team then we will do it," he said. "And there's no guarantee that anybody would be here with the exception of Kobe because he has a no-trade clause. He doesn't go anywhere unless he wants to go."

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

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