Kupchak Q&A on Kobe: Surprised by timing of announcement

Kupchak on Kobe: 'He is what he is, and I'm thankful for it' (1:23)

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak concedes the team he put together this season didn't make it easy for Kobe Bryant on the court, and that a player of Bryant's caliber deserves to keep playing as long as he can at a high level. (1:23)

LOS ANGELES -- On Sunday, Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak talked to reporters about Kobe Bryant's decision to retire at the end of the season. Here is his exchange with the media:

Reaction [to the news]?

Kupchak:I'm not surprised. The surprising part of this is that he made the announcement today. My understanding all along was that this was going to be his last year. Certainly there's been speculation and this puts an end to any speculation that he may come back for another year. But it was my understanding all along.

Right time?

Kupchak: We didn't make it any easier for him with the group we have on the court. And that's not to say that they're not a talented group of players, but they're certainly young and unaccomplished.

Awkward having Kobe and the young players -- that balance?

Kupchak:It is awkward. It's awkward, but there was really no other way to go about it. When you have a player of Kobe's caliber that wants to continue to play, and you think he can play at a high level, you're going to let him play until he no longer wants to play. Yet it's clear that we had to begin the process to rebuild the team. Now we were hopeful that we would get off to a better start this year. We think we added a couple veterans, along with a bunch of young players, and I thought we'd be better than two wins into the season. That's not to say that we'd be on pace to win 50 or 60 games. But I thought we'd be a little bit better. But clearly we're not playing at the kind of level that a player of Kobe's age and experience finds challenging.

[It's] kind of like, there's no light at the end of the tunnel. I'm not surprised that he would make the announcement now. I think the game will be easier for him now. I think he'll be able to enjoy the rest of the season. We haven't had a chance to huddle up to see if we'll use him any differently in terms of minutes. I don't think that's something that's going to be decided today. But since he has made it clear [that] this is the last season for him, I think it will be more enjoyable. I think people will appreciate what he's accomplished, not only in our building, which has always been [filled] with loads of love, but I think more so on the road.

Want him to change his approach and not be so shot-heavy?

Kupchak: I gave up hoping he would change his approach like 15, 18 years ago. He is what he is, and I'm thankful for it.

[When did you] find out the news?

Kupchak: This afternoon. My son is a freshman in college right now. He's going to be 20 and he was born on the night of Kobe's first game. So I did not see Kobe's first game. So that kind of puts it in perspective. Twenty years. I have a son who's a freshman in college, and that's how long he's been playing.

What has he meant to the Lakers?

Kupchak: It is impossible for me to sit here and describe what he's meant. Five championships, 20 years, 17 All-Star Games. MVP trophy. I've watched him get hurt, play hurt. We've watched the last three years with serious injuries [and] having to come back. Most players would not come back. So it's hard to describe in two or three minutes. But he's a winner. And he came into this league with an unprecedented desire to compete and get better and be the best, and he remains that exact same person today, and that's with the good and the bad that come with it. But he remains that exact same person.

Did you think it would be this hard?

Kupchak: When he tore his Achilles, it took me completely by surprise. In fact, I thought it was a sprained ankle. ... Until John Black came to me and he's walking to the locker room, I thought it was a sprained ankle. And he was 35, 34 years old then. So it's not that surprising to think after a serious injury at 35 years old. Your body has a way of compensating or under-compensating -- if you hurt this leg, then you lean more that way and now that leg gets hurt and so forth and so on ... at least this is what [Lakers trainer] Gary Vitti tells me. So it's not that surprising that one injury would lead to another. Inactivity for half a year, then come back -- there's no way to duplicate an NBA game. And he's 36, 37. How surprising can it be?

Watching him over the past 15 games?

Kupchak: Like everybody else, I go back and forth. I talk to Kobe about it and he says it's timing and getting my legs under me and conditioning, getting used to playing with different players. And I buy in. Then I watch the games on TV and I read the paper and I remind myself that he's 37 years old, and maybe it's more than that. So I go back and forth on it.

What's his role for the rest of the season?

Kupchak: Not sure yet. Once again, this is something that was brought to my attention late this afternoon, and I have not discussed it with ownership or our coaches yet. I would hope that he has more fun and appears less frustrated and also gets more appreciation. He'll get it at home, but on the road as well, because people will now have to recognize that this is the last year [of] watching one of the all-time greats.

Is it just common for athletes to have difficult endings?

Kupchak: I played 10 years and I was injured an awful lot. It was really, really hard to play even after 10 years. You've got to deal with nagging injuries or ice packs or treatments and aches or your body, [which] doesn't allow you to do what it once did. It's hard enough to do it after 10 years. It drove me, with a relatively average NBA career, to retire. After 20 years, it's just something that I can't comprehend. It's twice as long as most people play. I just can't imagine. In college, you pay 25-28 games. When he should have been a freshman in college, he played 90 games. When he should've been a sophomore in college, he played over 90 games. So not only has he played 20 years, but he's played a lot of minutes and an awful lot of games. And on top of that, you probably have to add at least two or three more seasons, or at least a season or two, due to playoffs and preseason games.

Was there a point when you realized that you couldn't put the team together like you want to send him out?

Kupchak: I'm not going to say I thought we could win 50 games this year; even 45 would be something on the upper end. If we got to the point where I felt we could win half our games, that would be a good season, and that was our expectation going into the season. This is a process with the roles as they are today and us drafting players who are 19 years old. It's a process. And you really can't hurry the process. We're trying to push it along. You really can't make it happen by snapping your fingers anymore, not that we ever did. I was hoping at least -- and I still am -- that we can reel off some games and make this season pretty competitive, but there were never expectations that this was going to be a season where, hey, we can win 50-55 games, Kobe, and you can play a small part.

What's Kobe's relationship with other players?

Kupchak: He is a mentor and he'll push. He leads by example. He always has. He may change, but he's never been the guy to put his arm around a player and slowly walk to the locker room. He's always been the guy that's barking a little bit more than putting his arm around [a player], kind of pushing behind, little bit more demonstrative. Everybody leads in their own way. But I know for a fact that every player in our locker room looks up to this guy and respects [him]. And who could not after 19 seasons of what he's accomplished?