- Associated Press - Friday, February 18, 2011

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Mitch Kupchak wanted a little advice from his predecessor as the Los Angeles Lakers‘ general manager after his two-time NBA champions lost to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers.

“That handbook you left me on how to be a great general manager doesn’t include a chapter on what to do after a game like last night,” Kupchak said to Jerry West.

West was as silent as a statue Thursday night, leaving Kupchak to figure out the confounding champs on his own during the All-Star break.

After attending the unveiling of West’s statue outside Staples Center on Thursday night, Kupchak said he’s unlikely to make a trade before the Feb. 24 deadline, even while their fans are abuzz with rumors claiming the Lakers have shown interest in acquiring disgruntled Denver superstar Carmelo Anthony, or getting rid of struggling forward Ron Artest.

“I think it’s unlikely,” Kupchak said. “But there’s eight days to go. All of the general managers are here in Los Angeles this weekend, and there will be a lot of yapping. There will be a lot of guys moving off to the side, and there will be a lot of phone calls. … I stand by what I said, that it’s unlikely, but I don’t think any general manager can stand here and say there will be absolutely no changes in eight days, in particular at this time of year.”

The Lakers headed into the break with three straight road losses, including Wednesday’s lifeless effort against the NBA’s worst team in Cleveland.

Yet Los Angeles (38-19), which won the first four games of its lengthy trip, still has the league’s sixth-best record at the break and a nine-game lead in the Pacific Division.

Although Kupchak says the loss to Cleveland is the Lakers‘ rock-bottom worst moment of the season “to date,” he’s determined not to make a panic move.

“There’s a tendency to overreact, and I get it,” Kupchak said. “This team is not that different than the team we had last year, and in some ways, it’s been improved. We have guys that didn’t forget overnight how to practice and play.”

The Lakers returned home for the break after back-to-back losses to Charlotte and Cleveland during a season that already included home losses to Sacramento, Milwaukee and Memphis. They’ve also struggled against the NBA’s best teams despite beating the Boston Celtics earlier in the road trip.

The Lakers‘ overstuffed $91 million payroll limits their flexibility in deals, although owner Jerry Buss hasn’t objected to paying a hefty luxury tax as long as his team is a title contender.

“Dr. Buss wants to win now,” Kupchak said. “I don’t think that’s a question. It’s my job to look to the future a little bit, but we have a coach that wants to win now, too. I don’t think that’s going to change.”

Coach Phil Jackson repeatedly has said he’ll retire after the season. Although the Lakers‘ core is mostly still in its prime, Los Angeles has eight regulars who are at least 30 years old.

The Lakers reportedly kicked the tires earlier this month on a potential trade for Anthony, the NBA’s sixth-leading scorer, although other reports claimed the rumor was nonsense. Another report claimed the Lakers have attempted to trade Artest, whose statistical averages and defensive performances are both near the lowest points of the wild-card forward’s career.

After Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol represent the Lakers in Sunday’s All-Star game at Staples Center, the Lakers return at home against Atlanta on Tuesday night. Kupchak hopes they won’t shake off the embarrassment of losing in Cleveland during their long weekend off.

“A lot of times, maybe it’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Kupchak said. “We have five days to think about it, and maybe that turns out to be a rallying point. … Let’s see where it leads. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can climb up.”

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