In a recent Mark Stein chat, when asked about a possible JO/Kobe pairing, he responded that “history says that the Lakers always get saved by a mega trade like this.” Stein’s statement is definitely without precedent as the history he speaks of reinforces.
There are those who will say that a trade for Garnett or JO or any other big-name star is not possible with the ‘trash’ the Lakers have to roster. Without arguing their evaluation of the trade value of the Lakers players (we’ll save that for another day), Lakers History tells us that there have been a number of occurences where the Lakers have sent out less than stellar players in trades that netted not just All-Star players or Franchise players, but Hall of Famers.
I will present the acquisitions of five of the biggest names in Lakerdom and let you be the judge.
Let’s start with the most recent. In 1996, the Lakers traded Center Vlade Divac for the rights to a player coming out of high school that the then Charlotte Hornets took with the 13th pick. While this was not a ‘mega trade’ at the time, when Laker fans look back at this trade, it is one of the biggest reasons for the ThreePeat Dynasty Laker fans experienced at the turn of the millenium. Exhibit #1: The Lakers trading for the rights of Kobe Bryant.
Going back to the early 1980′s, in 1982 the Lakers acquired the rights to the Cavaliers #1 pick and Butch Lee for the Lakers #1 and Don Ford. The Cavaliers #1 pick resulted in the #1 overall pick of the 1982 draft and subsequently into the affectionately named “Big Game” James Worthy.
Going back a couple of years to the late 1970s, and a contract dispute with Gail Goodrich whose end result was the Lakers acquiring picks in compensation from the Jazz.
A messy salary dispute led Goodrich to play out his option in 1976 and sign as a free agent with the New Orleans Jazz, leaving a team with which he had spent nine years. In a complex and controversial deal, Cooke allowed him to sign with the Jazz in return for two future first-round draft choices and a second-round pick. The trade, although criticized at the time, paid off for the Lakers a few years later, when they used one of the picks from the Jazz to select Magic Johnson No. 1 overall in the 1979 NBA Draft.
Now, the three instances previously noted involved the Lakers making what ended up being ‘mega trades’ but included draft picks that led to the Lakers acquiring 3 of the best players to ever put on the Purple & Gold. Now, let’s talk about two instances where the Lakers acquired two established superstars of the league while sending out less talent.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (aka Lou Alcindor) enjoyed immense success in Milwaukee when paired with Oscar Robertson. After his conversion to Islam though, a new situation arose:
Despite his phenomenal success in Milwaukee, Abdul-Jabbar was unhappy due in part to the lack of people who shared his religious and cultural beliefs and wanted out. He requested that he be traded to either New York or Los Angeles, and Bucks General Manager Wayne Embry complied, sending Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers in 1975 for Junior Bridgeman, Dave Meyers, Elmore Smith, and Brian Winters.
Obviously, a situation of a ‘perfect storm’, but the Lakers benefit from a situation with an All-Star on another team, make a play for the player and paved the way for them to become the dominant franchise of the 1980′s as one piece of the Showtime Dynasty was acquired.
But, this was not the first time the Lakers had acquired a Star Center unhappy with the situation on his team. There are debating reports as to what the exact problem was, but the end result was a disgruntled Wilt Chamberlain en route to Los Angeles in exchange for Darrall Imhoff, Archie Clark and Jerry Chambers, where the Lakers would win the championship in 1972 after a 69-win season.
That’s five instances of five of the greatest players in not just Laker history, but NBA history being acquired by the Lakers in trades that, when looked back at, hardly seem fair.
A line-up of
PG Magic Johnson
SG Kobe Bryant
SF James Worthy
C Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
C Wilt Chamberlain
Acquired for: Vlade Divac, Gail Goodrich, Junior Bridgeman, Dave Meyers, Elmore Smith, Brian Winters, Darral Imhoff, Archie Clark, Jerry Chambers, and a late No. 1 pick in the 1982 NBA Draft.
Hardly seems fair does it?
What these instances show us is that the NBA trade market is not always talent driven, but rather business driven. The players being traded are still people, as are the executives trading them. Chamberlain and Abdul-Jabbar were traded for less than equal value because of extenuating circumstances. The rights to Magic, Kobe, and Big Game were all traded to the Lakers by other General Managers who would probably not have done so knowing what we know now.
Fast Forward to the present day. Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O’neal are on losing teams, both with player options to get out of their contracts after this upcoming season leaving their respective teams with zero compensation. This would seem to reduce their trade value while opening the doors to potential suitors such as the Lakers. Add to O’neal’s case that, like Kareem, there have been reports of his desire to play in New York or Los Angeles, and we can see why a combination of Lakers trade pieces currently–which are still attractive and include Lamar Odom (versatile 3/4), Kwame Brown (expiring contract) and Andrew Bynum (young center with potential)–are conceivably enough to get a deal done for an impact big, even if the talent swap is equal. As long as the salaries are within 25% of each other, that’s what might matter most.
Even the youngest of Laker fans know this is true. It was proved to them by another O’neal.
*information from Hoopedia.com, NBA.com, and individual wikipedia articles were referenced and quoted in the making of this entry.