By Gabriel Lee
The Los Angeles Lakers were ousted from the playoffs exactly a week and three days ago at the hands of the Oklahoma City
Thunder, and the Pau Gasol trade rumors have already began to emerge.
A couple days ago Sam Smith of NBA.com reported that the Laker forward wouldn’t mind playing for the Chicago Bulls. Predictably, Gasol scoffed at the reports when asked about it by Mark Medina of the L.A. Times.
The Gasol to the Chicago rumor isn’t the first trade rumor Laker fans have heard this off-season, and it certainly won’t be the last.
The problem with almost every trade rumor surrounding Gasol as the centerpiece is this: the Lakers simply can’t get equal trade value for him anymore.
Let’s take the trade to Chicago that Gasol reportedly desires for example. In order for the trade to make sense position wise and for the contracts to match, the Lakers would receive the Bulls’ Carlos Boozer along with a couple spare parts in return for Gasol.
While Boozer is a name most NBA fans are familiar with, acquiring him is not an upgrade to Gasol in any way, shape or form; especially not on the defensive end.
Tim Kawakami, a Mercury News sports columnist, recently compiled his annual no-defense team and Boozer is on it. Kawakami cited that the Bulls give up 8.6 more points per 100 possessions when Boozer was playing compared to when he watches from the sidelines.
So the Lakers would be giving up a two-time NBA champion, who’s an excellent scorer and passer and can hold his own defensively for a player renowned to require a point guard to create his offense for him, and is one of the worst defenders on the NBA’s best defensive team? Head scratches all around.
Other potential packages the Lakers could receive in return for Gasol (as suggested by Sam Smith) are as follows:
a.) Brandon Jennings, Drew Gooden and Luc Mbah a Moute from Milwaukee.
b.) Kyle Lowry, Luis Scola and Sam Dalembert from Houston.
c.) Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson from Cleveland.
The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, isn’t it? None of those moves make the Lakers better; and more importantly they don’t address the Lakers urgent needs if they are to get back onto the same level as the Thunder and the Spurs.
Looking back, Game 5 against the Thunder highlighted all of the Lakers’ weaknesses. When push came to shove, the offense relied too heavily on Kobe Bryant’s individual brilliance (42 points on 54 percent shooting). When they were called upon, the bench scored a grand total of five points. They couldn’t contain an explosive point guard despite upgrading from Derek Fisher to Ramon Sessions at the trade deadline. And, most glaringly, the Laker bigs couldn’t co-exist (go ahead and name me the last time Andrew Bynum and Gasol both had good games).
The Lakers would certainly need a heist similar to how they initially acquired Gasol in the first place in order to make a trade worthwhile.
Thus, it’s only logical to look to move Andrew Bynum, the other seven footer. As good as Bynum was this year, it was off-set by his repeated immaturity. Lest we forget this was only Bynum’s second year (2006-07 being the other one) when he was injury-free. Bynum’s stock is sky-high and the time to move him may be now.
Gasol’s frustration of being reduced to the third option for the first time in his NBA career was evident. Statistically, he averaged a career low in points, but it appeared while he accepted the role of operating out of the high post, he wasn’t comfortable with it. Gasol sacrificed his own production in order to allow Bynum to blossom akin to how Amar’e was never the same destructive force in New York once Carmelo was acquired. When two people want the ball in the same spots on the floor, things tend not to work out so well.
The way the Lakers are currently constructed it’s nearly impossible to get better without taking a risk on trading one of the big men because Kobe Bryant’s salary accounts for nearly 50 percent of the salary cap; and with the harsher luxury tax looming over Mitch Kupchak’s shoulders, the Lakers are in a bind. The very nature of Bryant’s contract implies the Lakers must build around him until his contract runs out.
We’ve seen how far the ceiling the core of Bryant, Gasol and Bynum can lead the Lakers to for two consecutive years now: the second round.
If now is not the time for change, then I’m afraid the Kobe Bryant era in Los Angeles will end in more wasted years of his life.
But to be blunt, any move the Lakers could make involving Gasol would just be making a move for the sake of making a move instead of re-opening the Lakers’ title window with Bryant in tow. Despite Gasol’s lackluster play in the last two years in the playoffs, you at least know what you’re going to get from him on a night-to-night basis. The same can’t be said about Bynum.
Moving either big man is risky business. But as I’ve just explained, shipping Gasol out of Tinseltown is a Catch-22.
Your move, Mitch Kupchak.