The Los Angeles Lakers' glory days were over. The calls for general manager Mitch Kupchak's head reached a highly agitated state and his drafting off the genius of the legendary Jerry West and Jerry Buss finally came to an end, and along with it, the myth of the Lakers' manifest destiny.
Then came Pau Gasol and two more championships.
This story has played out many times over the last few decades, and in every instance, the death of the Lakers has been greatly exaggerated. What Kupchak has accomplished over the past 10 years in the face of a collective bargaining agreement that was essentially drafted to be a nuclear missile aimed at Laker dominance is nothing short of remarkable.
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Even after another successful draft, the media continues to insist that the franchise has been "mishandled" since Buss' death and the calls for the removal of Kupchak and head of basketball operations Jim Buss have been continuous.
However, the facts belie a mishandling of the team. In fact, there's ample evidence that Kupchak has done a remarkable job considering the array of forces conspiring against the Lakers. Let's review how the decisions made during the "dark years" might expedite a post-Kobe Bryant Lakers rebound.
As a trader, Kupchak rivals the most successful managing directors at Goldman Sachs. In a five-year span, he acquired Gasol for a second-round pick and Javaris Crittenton; traded a broken-down malcontent in Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard (admittedly another malcontent with better numbers); and traded a 31-year-old Gasol for a 26-year-old Chris Paul, before the league nixed the trade in what can only be described as an overextension of then-commissioner David Stern's powers.
Still not convinced? Kupchak is also among the best drafters of talent in the league. Think that San Antonio, Oklahoma or Golden State has had better luck drafting? Kupchak drafted Marc Gasol and Jordan Clarkson in the second round! Because people simply expect players to come to L.A. and play for the Lakers, Kupchak doesn't get enought credit for how he's managed to keep the team competitive through the draft.
Even Kupchak's misfires could be argued as smart decisions contextualized for the time in which those moves were made.
Take one of the most vilified decisions: the trade for Steve Nash. In hindsight the trade looks like a mistake, but you have to factor that Nash had just averaged 13 points and 11 assists while shooting over 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3. They had just traded for Dwight Howard and had a healthy Kobe Bryant coming off a season in which he averaged 28 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Then there's the matter of Bryant's contract, a two-year, $48.5 million cap-killing extension signed in 2013 that wasn't as bad as some believe. Set aside that it wasn't a realistic scenario to let a franchise legend play his final seasons in a strange jersey. Who exactly were the Lakers going to sign with that money anyway? LaMarcus Aldridge or Carmelo Anthony? That would have left the Lakers in the awkward middle -- too good to get the high draft picks necessary for an on-the-fly rebuild but not good enough to make the playoffs.
Then there were the coaching hires after Phil Jackson.
Mike Brown. Mike D'Antoni. Byron Scott.
Well, no one's perfect.
So what can we expect during these post-Kobe years?
Kupchak has ably taken advantage of the Lakers' short-term misfortunes to put together one of the most exciting young nucleuses in the NBA. D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance Jr. form the best young core outside the Great Lakes region.
The Lakers need two significant additions to their roster. Obviously, Kevin Durant would be the free-agent prize. But if you're Hassan Whiteside, DeMar DeRozan, Mike Conley, Al Horford, Nicolas Batum, Bismack Biyombo or Harrison Barnes, how do you pass on playing with those young guns? If the Lakers sign two or possibly three of those names to play with their young core, that is a playoff team in the West today, and you have a team that is poised to challenge for the title for years to come.
If there is someone who is a better fit to run this team, I would love to have them step in. But all the candidates that have been thrown around -- Sam Presti, Masa Ujiri -- seem like pale imitations. How many titles have they won? Or how about Phil Jackson? He is the greatest living coach. But as a GM? He drafted a nice but overhyped player in Kristaps Porzingis and signed an albatross in Anthony. Which roster would you rather have?
I have no loyalty to Mitch Kupchak. He has never given me free tickets and he has never babysat my kids. I only have loyalty to the Lakers. If you think someone not named Jerry West could have done better job, it is you who is living in a dreamland.
Ami Horowitz is a political satirist, filmmaker and lifelong Laker fan.