It's not every day you call for a general manager to be named Executive of the Year at the start of the year, particularly a big market one. However, assuming David Stern does not "Chris Paul" the deal, Kupchak will have pulled off his latest heist, surely earning himself his first win of the least interesting trophy in the NBA.
It was just last year when the Kupchak's offseason plan to turn the Lakers' aging core into superstars Chris Paul and Dwight Howard came apart at the seams. The Chris Paul deal was famously vetoed by David Stern, and Mitch only ended up with Odom's hurt feelings. Worse yet, the asking price for Dwight Howard proved to be too much, as the Magic had asked for a large package surrounding Andrew Bynum.
That was a sad offseason for Lakers fans. Odom was sent to Dallas for money and a first-round pick and the hopes and dreams of Lakers fans were not filled by generational talents. Instead, Kupchak filled his team with short-term deals: Troy Murphy, Jason Kapono, Josh McRoberts, amongst others. It was not as if the Lakers were going to be a last place team, with Bynum, Gasol and Bryant still on the team. Still, considering the rest of the Lakers roster looked like a third-place YMCA interleague team, the Lakers were not likely to be championship contenders. And they were not.
Still, what was Kupchak's plan B? Surely he did not expect his second-round exit team to compete for a championship with even less depth than the year before. Of course Kupchak did not. His plan was bold but it had a chance to work. He bet that after a full season, Dwight Howard's worth would be comparable to Andrew Bynum and that he would be able to swing a deal for Howard, offering just Bynum.
At the start of this offseason, the Lakers looked like they were going to go in to the next season with essentially the same team. But then things started to fall in to place. First, Nash was moved to the Lakers for the Odom trade exception and three first-rounders. Now Kupchak finally gets his man in Dwight Howard.
The upside to the deal is obvious. Dwight Howard, bad back and all, is still a better health bet than Andrew Bynum and his twice-repaired knee. Despite the fact that Howard played for the Magic it is actually Bynum that has mastered the trick known as the disappearing act. Dwight brings more defense, rebounding, and consistency-all traits that the Lakers desperately need.
Even the worst parts of the trade will benefit the Los Angeles Lakers. Earl Clark is an anagram for expiring contract and Chris Duhon only has two more years left on his deal. Also, the Lakers actually need a backup point guard to play behind Steve Nash.
It is truly amazing that Kupchak is still an underrated general manager. Yes, he has the benefit of the Lakers' legacy and ample checkbook, but he has done wonders with even the worst situations. He famously traded a seven-foot bag of potatoes, Aaron McKie (aka an expiring contract), a second round pick and an alleged murderer for one of the most talented seven-footers to ever play in the NBA. He stole Ariza from the Magic for Maurice Evans and Brian Cook's bad contract. He even turned Vladamir Radmonovic into Shannon Brown, an important bench player on their championship teams. Bottom line: Kupchak knows how to deal.
To summarize his brilliance, this offseason Kupchak has turned three first-round draft picks and Andrew Bynum in to two future Hall-of-Famers, an expiring contract, and a backup point guard. Does this mean the Lakers are the favorites to win the West? It's hard to say. Steve Nash and Dwight Howard can't guard Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Still, it gives the Lakers a fighting chance at contention.
And it should secure Kupchak his first Exectuive of the Year award. Not that it's the trophy he wants anyways.