Kupchak's the man to watch in LA now - NBC Sports

Kupchak's the man to watch in LA now
Yes, the Lakers GM doesn't share the Buss DNA - but consider him an adopted child
AP
In the Buss family portrait, general manager Mitch Kupchak is the one you never see. From now on, he'll be more visible than ever.
February 18, 2013, 5:02 pm

Yes, I know technically he doesn't share their DNA. But consider him an adopted child.

Kupchak, arguably the best power forward in the game at the time, came to the Lakers in a trade with the then-Washington Bullets on August 5, 1981, and has been with the team in some capacity ever since. He tore up his knee in December, 1981, followed a long and daunting rehabilitation, returned to the court for the 1983-84 season, retired in 1986, and then embarked on a career in management.

When you talk about family, Kupchak was as much of a son to Jerry Buss as Jim was, albeit without the blood. When other Laker legends left the organization to go elsewhere - specifically Jerry West and Magic Johnson - Kupchak remained. Throughout the championship years and the dog seasons, Kupchak was always there, helping to keep the franchise on a positive track.

Now Kupchak's influence will be more critical than ever.

Jim Buss gets the final say on basketball decisions now, just as Jeanie does on the business side. But everybody in and around the organization knows Kupchak's judgment is impeccable. With tough decisions coming up regarding the future of the team - most notably involving Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant - Jim and Jeanie will be looking to Kupchak for guidance.

Many Laker observers complain about the fact that they don't know enough about Jim Buss, and because of that, they question his stewardship of the franchise. But really, when it comes to a low-key personality wielding a high level of power, Kupchak is the man to watch moving forward.

In the Buss family portrait, Kupchak is the one you never see. From now on, he'll be more visible than ever.

Howard will never leave LA
Dwight Howard will remain a Laker, and finish his career as a Laker.

It's fashionable in basketball circles these days to either predict that Howard will be traded, or that he'll move on to another city after this ghastly season. But it doesn't make sense on any level.

First off, Howard has all the cards. He can decide where he wants to go. And he has to make that decision based not on this year, or even next year, but for the long term. Los Angeles is the entertainment capital of the world. The Lakers throughout history have proved to be committed to winning. For those reasons alone, there is no better place for Dwight Howard to be.

Also, if he bails out, he will have jilted both Orlando and Los Angeles. That's the kind of stain on a reputation that lasts for many, many unpleasant years. He won't do that. He won't put himself through more assaults on his character. He'll stick it out in L.A. and make every attempt to turn the Lakers into a championship team.

Then there is the Kobe Bryant factor. Can he and Kobe develop a productive working relationship? The answer is probably, because they've done it in spurts this year, just not steadily enough. But even if he and Kobe don't get along, so what? Kobe will retire in a year or two anyway. He's talking like he's almost done. That means the Lakers will become Dwight Howard's team. Again, he has to think long term. Why would he walk away from a situation like that?

And consider too that there are no guarantees in life. Does he still want to go to Brooklyn and join Deron Williams? Does he think the New York media will go easy on him if the Nets fail to win a title? For Howard, playing in Los Angeles is like lying on a beach in Tahiti compared to playing in New York City. Does he really want to go to Dallas? Atlanta? Between the Mavs and Hawks, they have one NBA championship in their histories, and they show no evidence that another one is on the horizon.

Howard can make more money if he stays with the Lakers than if he signs elsewhere as a free agent. A lot more. He also would be a more attractive celebrity in the eyes of both Hollywood and Madison Avenue if he remained a Laker.

Naturally, Howard is concerned about the current state of the Lakers. And he should be. But if he steps back and analyzes it objectively, he'll notice that Mike Brown was fired early, that Howard himself is recovering from back surgery, that Steve Nash missed the first two months or so of the season, Steve Blake missed the first three months or so, Pau Gasol battled injuries, and head coach Mike D'Antoni is struggling to adapt his coaching beliefs to the current personnel. This season has been the Titanic in a perfect storm.

So where is the logic that suggests Howard will be traded, other than in the impetuous, knee-jerk fantasyland that is the NBA's periphery?

Stupid off-field play-call by Tebow
As we know, decision-making is of paramount importance when it comes to quarterbacking. As we also know, it extends beyond the field. Numerous times over the years the choices made by quarterbacks outside of football have been scrutinized, creating basic questions about their ability to make sound judgments and to lead. Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick and Vince Young are just a few names that spring to mind.

He is scheduled to speak at the First Baptist Church in Dallas on April 28. The church's pastor, Rev. Robert Jeffress, is widely known for saying hateful things about gays, Muslims, Mormons, Jews and Catholics.

Tebow knows this. He can't not know it (excuse the double negative, but it's necessary here). He signed on knowing what this man is all about. And he has yet to pull his name. He continues to be associated with the teachings of this person.

That shows extremely poor judgment.

It's sort of a moot point anyway, because Tebow can't play quarterback in the NFL. So maybe he reasons, "What the hell? I'm not going to be playing anyway, so this can't hurt my career."

Yet anytime a star athlete associates himself with a negative influence, it tends to stick with him for years. That will happen with Tebow unless he does the right thing and declines this offer to speak.

Religion can have a beautiful effect on some people. This is the opposite of that. This is easily the worst decision Tim Tebow has ever made, on or off the field.

A rarity in sports: Helton mans up
Note to Todd Helton: You're forgiven.

That's not to excuse drinking and driving. It's a serious offense, and your recent DUI should be treated with the same weight as anyone else's, regardless of your status as a star first baseman for the Colorado Rockies. As in any other drinking and driving case, the bottom line is this: You could have killed somebody.

But you owned up to your mistake immediately and asked for forgiveness. Do you know how freaking rare that is these days in professional sports?

In a world in which athletes lie big, and lie often, in order to further their own gains, hearing somebody who actually admits to a "monumental mistake" is incredibly refreshing.

Here is a portion of Helton's mea culpa: "Part of making a mistake, making a monumental mistake like I made, is recognizing the mistake and doing all you can to make sure it doesn't happen again. I'm doing everything I can to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Now granted, we'll have to wait and see if it doesn't happen again. If he gets behind the wheel again after drinking, then he'll be yet another con man in a stratosphere rife with them.

But I'm so tired of hearing deceit, you'll excuse me if I savor honesty.

A game of pepper

  • It's funny that of all the favorite Michael Jordan moments recalled over the weekend, almost nobody mentioned any from his Hall of Fame speech. I'm sure he'll belittle some people for that.
  • Unnecessary Announcement of the Year: "Pistorius' agent cancels future races after murder charge."
  • President Obama and Tiger Woods played a round of golf together Sunday in Florida. No word on how well the President played, although at one point he reportedly needed a drone to find his ball.
  • As much as youngsters like to emulate professional athletes, notice you don't see too many copying James Harden's look.
  • Roger Goodell reportedly earned over $29 million in 2011. Somehow I don't think Goodell is going to be one of those NFL guys who finds himself broke two years after he retires.
  • It seemed like I turned on the NBA All-Star Game and the Grammys broke out.

Michael Ventre is a regular contributor to NBCSports.com. Follow him on Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/MichaelVentre44

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