Following legend Jerry West as the front-office leader of the Lakers hasn't been a slam dunk for Mitch Kupchak, but he is scoring key points

It's difficult to follow in the footsteps of a legend. But Mitch Kupchak seems to be handling the pressure. In August, Kupchak officially took over responsibility for basketball operations of the Los Angeles Lakers when Jerry West retired after 40 years with the organization as all-star player, coach, general manager and finally vice president. Kupchak, who played for the Lakers during their Showtime glory years of the 1980s, was groomed by West to be his successor. After entering the NBA in 1976 with the Washington Bullets, he came to the Lakers as a free agent in 1981, but severely injured his knee 26 games into the season. After spending the rest of that season and all of the next in rehabilitation, Kupchak returned to the team and played a vital role off the bench as the Lakers won the 1985 championship. But he suffered another knee injury and retired in 1986. He quickly moved to the front office, helping West while completing his MBA at UCLA, a degree he began working on while in rehab. He was promoted to general manager in 1995 when West became executive vice president for basketball operations. While his title hasn't changed, his responsibilities have grown dramatically since West stepped down.

Question: What's it like replacing Jerry West?

Answer: I don't look at it that way. People ask that question all the time, and that's probably how I'll be judged. Jerry and I worked side by side for over 14 years, and the last five or six years I felt we were almost interchangeable, as far as being able to make a decision. At the end of the day though, when there were the big decisions, I'd walk into Jerry's office, and he'd ask my opinion and then I'd look at him. And he would make the decisions. (Now), although I get support from our owner and our coach and (assistant GM) Kurt Rambis, they're looking at me saying, "OK, Mitch, this is how I feel, this is what I think, what are you going to do?" So that's the difference. It's no longer me looking at Jerry.

Q: Do you feel more pressure now than you did four months ago?


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