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Lakers Moments: Mitch Kupchak handles business

April 13, 2011 |  4:40 pm

K220nnncTaking calls, giving orders: Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak talks on the phone during practice at TD Banknorth Garden on June 21, 2008.

Mitch Kupchak’s time with the Lakers — as a player and as an executive — has been marked by comebacks.

Acquired by the Lakers from Washington before the 1981-82 season, Kupchak excelled as the starting power forward, averaging 14.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. But in a game against the San Diego Clippers, Kupchak planted his left leg while trying to avoid a charge against Joe Bryant (Kobe’s father). His leg buckled, causing a fracture to his knee and damage to cartilage and a ligament.

But after two surgeries and sitting out nearly two full seasons, he returned during the 1983-84 season. The next season, he was a valuable reserve who helped the Lakers defeat the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals for the first time. “Well, Boston’s big,” Kupchak said on national television after the clinching victory. “I might not be as quick as I once was or run the court as well, but I’m still 6-foot-10 and 240 [pounds].”

Kupchak played through the 1985-86 season, then became an assistant to Jerry West, the Lakers’ general manager. When West stepped down after the Lakers’ championship in 2000, Kupchak was promoted.

The Lakers won titles in Kupchak’s first two seasons as general manager before losing in the second round in 2003. Turmoil followed as Phil Jackson was not retained as coach, Shaquille O’Neal demanded a trade and Bryant considered signing with the Clippers. Yet when Kupchak got the Memphis Grizzlies to take underachieving Kwame Brown as part of the Pau Gasol deal, the Lakers were back on their way to the top.

And in 2010-11, as the Lakers try to win a third consecutive title, Kupchak may have built his deepest team, thanks to the off-season signings of Matt Barnes and Steve Blake.

Read more about Mitch Kupchak and his contributions to the L.A. team in All Things Lakers, the Los Angeles' Times interactive database of all things purple and gold.

— Hans Tesselaar

Photo credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times