They are linked by the ownership of championship rings earned while playing for Washington teams. Mitch Kupchak was the sixth man on the Bullets 1978 title team and Darrell Green starred at cornerback on the Redskins 1987 and 1991 Super Bowl champion teams. But it’s possible they’ve never even met. Kupchak left town for a free agent deal with the Lakers in 1981 and Green didn’t arrive until two years later when he was the last pick of the first round of the draft.
Is it possible though, that Kupchak stole Green’s move with comments he made about Kobe Bryant this past week? The move?
Speaking on Sirius XM Radio this week, Kupchak, the longtime Lakers GM said about Kobe, “He has indicated to me that this is it. He’s on the last year of a deal. There have been no discussions about anything going forward and I don’t think there will be.”
You could say Kupchak was just answering a question honestly, but why didn’t he just stop with, “He’s in the last year of a deal.”? Could it be that Kupchak wants to make sure this is Kobe’s last year and doesn’t want to leave any opening for him to squeeze out another expensive contract?
Remember a year ago, the Lakers gave Kobe a two-year extension worth $48 million coming off a season that ended after six games because of a knee injury. This past season, Kobe injured his shoulder and was done after 35 games. He turns 37 in August and has 19 NBA seasons worth of a wear and tear on his body. Yes he’s a legend and had delivered five championships, but you can’t keep shelling out salary cap crushing contracts to an old player who can’t stay healthy.
By closing the door on the possibility of a contract extension for Kobe, perhaps Kupchak has, as Barney Fife would say, “Nipped it in the bud.” And here’s where the Darrell Green comparison comes in.
In 2001, as Green was entering his 19th year in the NFL, Marty Schottenheimer arrived with a John Wayne-swagger. He was the new head coach and from his first day on the job, let everybody know who was boss. Never mind the Hall of Fame-bound Green had already achieved living legend status, Marty was in charge and he wasn’t going to let anybody stand in his way – no matter who he was.
It started in training camp with Schottenheimer chewing out his 41-year-old, highly decorated star during a practice that was open to the media. Later asked about Green’s ability at such an advanced age, Schottenheimer said, “As you become older and your skills diminish – and I’m just speaking in general terms – then you better be really good fundamentally. If you try to rely on your skills alone, for a period of time you may be successful. But, ultimately it will get you.”
Asked about that comment, Green said, “My technique and Marty’s technique are two different things.”
Later, Schottenheimer was seen teaching Green the proper technique to field a punt, which was kind like showing Picasso how to properly hold a paintbrush. It had become clear that Schottenheimer was trying to pressure Green into retiring before he might have had to cut him.
That’s when Green pulled his shrewd move. About a week before final cuts were due, he called a news conference and announced his retirement – effective at the END of the season. Green was saying to Schottenheimer, “You wouldn’t dare cut me now.”
He actually said, “I’m not being run out of the league. I could play 20 years. I could play 22 years. But you know what? My time is now.”
Well it wasn’t quite his time. In what Schottenheimer says is the best coaching job of his career, he turned an 0-5 start into 5-5 and playoff contention before winding up with a solid 8-8 finish. And as things got better with the team, his relationship with Green improved greatly. And late in the season, the ageless wonder announced he would return for a 20th season. Only Jason Hanson, who spent 21 years with the Detroit Lions played longer with one team – and he was kicker. And it turned out Green lasted longer than Marty. A week after the 2001 season ended, Schottenheimer was fired when he refused to give back some of the power owner Dan Snyder had given him.
While Kupchak’s strategy may be to end and Green’s strategy was to extend, each used the power of the media to make his move. And each made his strike a season in advance.
Will this work for Kupchak? So far all we’ve heard from Kobe on the matter is a tweet:
My thoughts on next season being my last season are the same as the last time the media asked me last season. #nadanews.
The contract says Kobe won’t be in a Laker uniform for the start of the 2016-17 season, but a lot can happen between now and then. Just ask Darrell Green.