While Pau Gasol was the headliner Wednesday afternoon in El Segundo, signing a three year extension that'll keep him in purple and gold through the 2013-14 season, any time Mitch Kupchak enters a room of reporters it's a given other subjects will come up. Things like, oh, the two biggest potential free agents they have- Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson.
If I might be candid for a moment, I still believe there's as good a chance another NBA team will sign me to a max deal as there is one would manage to lure Kobe away from the Lakers, but until he puts pen to paper for at least some fans there will be jitters. Kupchak was customarily vague regarding the negotiations- the man would be an outstanding spy- but when pressed a little on the question of whether or not they'd feel comfortable extending Pau if they weren't confident Kobe was returning, he was pretty clear regarding the anticipated endgame with 24: "I've always felt that Kobe began his career in Los Angeles, and he should and will end his career in Los Angeles."
That's not the wind, that's LA sighing together.
Kupchak was then asked about Jackson's future, since he is without a contract beyond this year and has (in my mind) been screwing with people a little of late. Again, he tried to restore a little order. "To me, it boils down to how does he feel at the end of the season? If he feels healthy and if he sees growth and a future with this team, he'll come back. Cutting a deal is really the easy part, I believe," he said. "I think it's really his health and looking at this team, what they've achieved, how the season ended, and what he feels he can do the following year. That's how I think he'll base his decision." Since a) the man looks positively spry these days and b) the team is, well, awesome, that tends to clarify issues. I think Phil not only returns next year, but perhaps for a couple beyond next season if current trends hold.
There's no question Kupchak believes the organization is making an important statement in signing Gasol now, rather than waiting. But I also wanted to know how building in some cost certainty helps the team going forward. His response was a strong one:
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"I think that's a big part of it (having known costs to help build a roster). Knowing that you've kept the core of your team together. You can't predict what the economy (has) in store for anybody, but being able to know that the core of our team is together, I think that's important. Probably most important to our fan base and our media partners to know that they have something to bank on going forward, versus uncertainty of what may happen this summer or next summer in terms of our team. So I think that's incredibly important. We're trying to send a message- which is not an innacurate message- which is that we want to keep this team together for as long as possible, so we can continue to pursue what Los Angeles wants us to pursue, which is championships."
I've written about how the Lakers live in a completely different universe from most NBA teams when it comes to finances. But it's not just because they bring in heaps of money, which they do, but also because they make smart business decisions, like locking up Gasol before any free agent concerns creep up. It costs a lot to work with the Lakers, for "media partners," as Kupchak calls them, for advertisers, for fans. Those investing in the team, in whatever form, do so with the expectation the Lakers will be good enough to justify costs. Every time the Lakers tie up a loose end from a personnel standpoint, it helps solidify the business model that lets them pay all of these guys, and Jackson, too.
Smart cookies, these Lakers.