Last night and early this morning, the rumors began swelling that Mitch was not done with his “tweaking” of the Lakers.
Before Andrew Bynum went down, many fans were pleading with the front office to do not much more than a minor “tweak.”
Then we witnessed the Pau Gasol blockbuster that spawned an avalanche of Western Conference trades in an attempt to match the fire power of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Even after the trade onslaught, our dream line-up includes two seven footers, a six-ten rebounding machine, the best in the game, and one of the most under rated point guard role players in the NBA. In other words, our line-up would still match up favorably against the top tier teams in the west, and perhaps even the Celtics of the east.
However, a huge threat has been looming over our heads for the past five days. Kobe’s finger needs surgery. In fact, it’s so bad that Gary Vitti called the all-star trainers last night via cell phone and told them to keep Kobe safe from any further harm. According to TNT’s Craig Sager, the all-star staff’s opinion was that Kobe’s finger was in dire condition and that “no one should play in such a condition.”
Even though the Lakers Nation is divided on whether to get surgery or not, it’s very clear that Kobe’s finger presents a crucial dilemma. On the one hand, if Kobe does not get surgery, he will risk permanent problems and reoccurrences that impede his play, not only this season but long term. On the other hand, no one can predict the future and it’s pretty clear that we have a chance at the finals this year. The minute you take Kobe out of the line-up, along with another month of Bynum recovery, the slight margin between first and ninth place in the west is simply not enough to insure our arrival in the playoffs as our team heals.
In short, we either go for a title this year, or we’re back in the lottery; a lottery that we cannot even enjoy because we traded our draft pick for Pau Gasol.
Faced with those choices, Kobe’s decision was clear: play through the pain and give himself and our team a chance at winning the O’Brien.
Would last night’s and this morning’s rumors change the dynamic of the dilemma?
First, I want to make it clear that I am biased. I’m still bitter over the first Kwame trade. A part of me feels as though this rumor should not even be a possibility… part of me is still waiting to wake up from what the Wizard announcers called “the greatest trade of all-time.” We should already have Butler on our team.
Now that I’ve said my piece, let’s explore how this trade might make sense for us.
Although Lamar Odom swears up and down that he’s a “natural” small forward, his performance in games has shown us otherwise; at least when it comes to his play in the triangle offense. I’ve heard many fans say that he gives smaller forwards fits when he defends them. I disagree. Yes Lamar has length against these players, but Lamar is not a guy you can put on an all-star perimeter player and expect much defensively. I’m not saying he’s a liability, because he is not, he’s just not a lock down defender.
Conversely, Lamar is a rebounding machine. The reason why the Lakers are one of the top rebounding teams is because of Lamar Odom. His ability to rebound and go coast to coast in the open court is a joy to watch and a wonder to have on the team. Assuming Lamar remains on the Lakers this season, his skills will work wonders when his playing time meshes with those of the quicker up-tempo bench mob.
When Andrew Bynum returns, Phil Jackson will have a tough decision regarding the starting line-up. While Lamar is the obvious choice to start small forward with Gasol and Bynum, it would mean Lamar playing more perimeter on offense and defense. As talented and skilled as Lamar is, his ideal spots on the court are not on the perimeter.
If Mitch Kupchak trades Lamar Odom for Caron Butler, the dynamics of the team change drastically. Caron Butler plays the perimeter very well. He’s a legitimate all-star small forward who many pundits considered as a MVP candidate due to his “surprising” ability to carry the hobbled Wizards in recent play. In short, Caron Butler is a legitimate number one or number two option on offense. He’s a league leader in steals and a top defensive player. Typically Caron will defend the top perimeter player on the opposing team.
People have unfairly wanted Lamar Odom to be a “Scottie Pippen” to Kobe. Caron Butler is precisely that type of player.
Further, because Caron Butler has such tremendous skill and ability, it immediately would give the Lakers some reprieve to the finger dilemma.
Caron Butler, Pau Gasol, and Derek Fisher could probably hold the fort down just enough to keep the Lakers in playoff position should Kobe opt for surgery. A team of Lamar, Gasol, and Fisher simply won’t get it done.
The trade deadline is this Thursday, which would allow for such a surgery to take place in time for a play-off run.
What about the triangle offense?
You’ll remember that after Tomjanovich walked out in mid-season, the Lakers struggled so heavily that Kobe actually requested that the team implement the triangle. Yes, Kobe had criticized the triangle even months prior, but had determined it was a viable solution to the Lakers’ problems. They began running the triangle and Caron’s play excelled tremendously at the end of the season.
If Mitch could trade Lamar Odom and an out of place role player such as Luke Walton, for Caron Butler and pretty much anyone, it would help our team tremendously. While I’d miss Lamar’s rebounding, it’s not as though Caron can’t rebound… he just does not enjoy the abilities of Lamar. Caron’s offensive and defensive presence certainly would outweigh the four rebounds a game that Caron gives up to Lamar.
The fans like Lamar. We do. Let’s admit it. When we have three options out there (Bynum, Gasol, and Bryant), Lamar is a perfect fit. However, Caron Butler is a fan favorite much the way Derek Fisher was (although we had much more affinity for Fish).
I can at least speak for myself, every time I see Caron Butler, I consider him a Laker. Even though he played one season, he was such a trooper; he has never been forgotten among the Lakers Nation.
The Lakers’ front office is facing some long term decisions. Lamar’s salary will be roughly $14.1 million next season, and it’s an expiring contract much the way Kwame’s was this season. With our team facing the luxury tax threshold by extending contracts to Turiaf and Vujacic, Kupchak will either just bite the bullet and re-sign Lamar, or he’ll be traded. If the team is facing this decision in the off season, and they’re also looking at the finger dilemma right now, it certainly would make some sense to attempt this trade.
Lamar has not had a reputation for working hard in the off season to improve and become better. This is why he’s been a perpetual “could be” all-star, but never a true all-star despite the star that he wore on his head for the first half of the season.
Caron Butler, on the other hand, has a reputation for improving every single year. Before being traded to the Wizards, he was actually Kobe’s work out partner. I think it’s safe to say, anyone working out with Kobe in the off season is probably working very hard to improve. In fact, the Wizards love Caron Butler precisely for this reason. We’ve seen the best of Lamar; we have not seen the best of Caron Butler.
Even though Mitch Kupchak has made the Lakers relevant again through his wise non-trades and his shrewd trade for Gasol, I still give the Executive of the Year to Pat Riley. What he accomplished in one trade was more than anyone could imagine.
If Mitch Kupchak pulls off a trade for Caron Butler, then there’s no doubt who the greatest GM in the NBA is.
Personally, I think Caron has been a Laker for life all this time. Watching Butler play for the Wizards reminds me of watching Derek Fisher play for Golden State and the Utah Jazz… he’s wearing another uniform, but the heart remains with us.