Mitch Kupchak says Kobe Bryant was ‘great distraction’ during Lakers’ rebuilding years
Charlotte Hornets president Mitch Kupchak has no regrets about his lengthy tenure as the Los Angeles Lakers general manager, feeling rather blessed to have Kobe Bryant at the end of his career to mask the rebuilding the team was experiencing at the time:
“We were lucky to have Kobe for his last two years,” Kupchak said, according to Bill Oram of The Athletic. “Because he really was a great distraction considering we were going through a rebuild and losing games. It was kind of like we were rebuilding under cover, but it was a rebuild.”
Bryant’s last few seasons weren’t the most pleasant, as he only played six games in 2013-14, which started his descent from superstardom. He averaged only 13.8 points after coming back from an Achilles injury he suffered at the end of the 2012-13 season, while a hollowed-out roster finished with a 27-55 record and 14th in the West.
The next season wasn’t much different, playing only 35 games and laboring to average 22.3 points per game, shooting under 40 percent for the first time in his career.
Kobe’s last season in 2015-16 was every bit of the swan song Lakers fans expected, still clearly hobbled from the many injuries he sustained throughout the years, but still managing to play substantial minutes and closing it in iconic fashion with a 60-point farewell outing in front of a sold out Staples Center.
The Lakers were struggling to find the right talent to put Showtime back on the map, yet having a lifelong Laker like Bryant finish out his career despite the struggles took some of the heat off Kupchak and company, who eventually would see their regime end once owner Jeanie Buss reached out to Magic Johnson.