By Eric Pincus
The Los Angeles Lakers have struggled so far this year, sitting at 11-8 after a tumultuous offseason.
For a moment, the team believed it had traded for Chris Paul. When the deal was scuttled by NBA commissioner David Stern, the Lakers traded Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks for a first-round pick and a sizable trade exception worth $8.9 million.
Los Angeles remained comparatively weak at point guard (an understatement, at best).
With a 37-year-old Derek Fisher, an injured Steve Blake (ribs) and a couple of rookies in Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock, the Lakers’ offense has stalled.
While the team has eyes for Dwight Howard and possibly Deron Williams, could the Houston Rockets provide a possible solution?
As part of the original Paul trade, the Rockets were sending Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to the New Orleans Hornets, with Odom going to New Orleans as well.
Would Houston, as suggested recently by ESPN’s Chris Broussard, be willing to get back into the Pau Gasol business?
The Lakers have no real need for Martin who, while certainly a prolific scorer, plays the same position as Kobe Bryant and has another year on his contract at $12.4 million.
Dragic is certainly a nice player but L.A. was expecting to get a Paul-caliber player back for Gasol. That ship has certainly sailed but as Broussard postulated, Kyle Lowry, possibly packaged with Scola, might appeal to the Lakers.
Lowry, who is almost 26 years old, is having a career year, averaging 16.5 points, 8.7 assists and 6.9 rebounds. He’s a strong defender and is hitting 39.7 percent from three-point range.
Scola isn’t on the same level as Gasol, but he’s a capable scorer in the post and has a strong face-up jumper from the top of the key. Scola is already nearing 32 years old.
In theory, it would give the Lakers a starting point guard and power forward in exchange for their All-Star four. Gasol will turn 32 years old after the season. Both Pau and Luis have two more guaranteed years on their deals, but Pau makes about $10 million more per season. Scola does have a fourth year, but it’s a team option at $11 million.
Lowry has a very favorable contract at $17.7 million over three years, including this season. Lowry’s final year is only guaranteed for $1 million.
In salary alone, the Lakers would save about $3.7 million per season (assuming the team opted against keeping Scola a fourth year), a growing concern with the eventual onset of the supertax new to the collective bargaining agreement.
Los Angeles has 15 players on their roster so to take on a two-for-one, they’d have to send out one more player. Certainly both teams, if serious about a deal, might want to consider other pieces. Broussard suggested rookie point guard Darius Morris to Houston.
The Rockets would gain an All-Star big in Gasol to pair with Samuel Dalembert in the front court. They also have Dragic, who can step into the starting role, backed up by seldom-used lottery pick Jonny Flynn (originally of the Minnesota Timberwolves).
Houston has been a good team this year (10- but not a great team. The Lakers are hoping to remain among the elite but have committed to the transition from the triangle offense to a new era under head coach Mike Brown.
Running a traditional offense with the point guards they have to work with is proving to be difficult.
According to reports, the Rockets refused to include Lowry in the original trade, which may have been the deal-breaker that led to Paul becoming a Los Angeles Clipper.
Would they reconsider now?
The Lakers may choose instead to wait out the Dwight Howard and Deron Williams situations but a midseason deal with the Rockets would still leave Andrew Bynum to offer the Magic should they finally decide to move him. L.A. would also retain their Odom trade exception available to help round out the roster.
In the meantime, pursuing Lowry and Scola now would make for a better Lakers’ squad, even if it meant giving up Gasol.
Bill Ingram on the Rockets/Lakers
On the surface, it’s hard to see why the Houston Rockets would make such a trade. Gasol and Scola, as Eric mentioned, are the same age, and they are almost a wash statistically. Both average just under 16 points per game, and while Pau averaged roughly four more rebounds per contest, he also plays basically six more minutes per game. The emergence of Patrick Patterson has meant that Scola doesn’t have to log the heavy minutes for Houston to stay competitive.
As for Lowry, the Rockets absolutely love him, and what’s not to love? The kid got his big shot when Aaron Brooks went down with a severe ankle sprain last season, and he played so well that the Rockets elected to trade Brooks and make Lowry the full-time starter. This season he has been a triple-double waiting to happen, and, is far and away the team’s best perimeter defender.
Of course, during free agency the Rockets looked more like the Houston Astros, taking big swings only to whiff every time. Their approach to the business side of the game, which lacks a certain personal approach, has many agents steering their clients clear of Houston, and they were on the losing end of the aforementioned three-team deal involving Chris Paul, as well.
The Rockets are desperately seeking an All-Star front court player to anchor the team and give them a legitimate shot at making the playoffs, and by all indications they believe Pau Gasol could be that player. Admittedly, he was more like Plan D during free agency after the team missed out on their true targets in Marc Gasol, Nene and Tyson Chandler.
Does Pau Gasol really fit the need for Houston? We’re talking about a player who struggled in the role of franchise cornerstone in Memphis and never knew postseason success until he found his way to Kobe Bryant’s team. Frankly, it’s hard to see Gasol as a huge upgrade over Scola, and that’s before you figure in the larger salary and giving up someone like Kyle Lowry in the deal.
As we’ve seen, however, the Rockets aren’t afraid to make a bad trade. That’s how they wound up sitting out the playoffs last season, having traded their best (healthy) player to Memphis for the hopeless Hasheem Thabeet. The Grizzlies credited Shane Battier for giving them the edge they needed to claim the final Western Conference playoff spot, edging out Houston, and shocking the San Antonio Spurs in the first round.
The Rockets have said that Lowry is untouchable; however, they also said that about Kevin Martin before they attempted to deal him to the New Orleans Hornets. If they feel like the only way they can get an All-Star front court player is to trade for Pau Gasol, they might decide Lowry isn’t all that untouchable, after all.
Lowry would certainly give the Lakers a much-needed boost, both on the offensive end and in the locker room. And Scola would never need Kobe to get in his face to tell him to play hard, like Gasol does from time to time. There’s no question that the Lakers would be better with Scola and Lowry than they are now. Meanwhile, the Rockets would learn what Memphis already knows, which is that Pau Gasol is no Yao Ming.
He might not even be Luis Scola.
The Houston Rockets still have a longing for Gasol, but the Lakers would want a player the Rockets are most reluctant to part with: point guard Kyle Lowry. The Lakers could probably pry a combination of Kevin Martin and Luis Scola for Gasol, league sources said, but it’s doubtful they’ll move Gasol without solving their point guard problem. Lowry has developed into one of the league’s finest point guards, but Rockets general manager Daryl Morey isn’t trading him. Yahoo! Sports
Rockets Still Interested In Pau Gasol
The Rockets still are interested in acquiring Pau Gasol and they would likely be willing to trade Kevin Martin and Luis Scola, according to sources.
But the Lakers are unlikely to move Gasol without acquiring a point guard back in return and Houston isn't interested in trading Kyle Lowry.
Edited by Drazard, February 11, 2012 - 04:50 PM.