Winning Now, Part II

Kurt —  May 9, 2007

As was said in Part I of this series, the challenge the Lakers face is that if they want to be contenders in the next couple of years they have to do it via trade. They can’t do it through the draft (picking 19) nor do they have the cap room to sign a major free agent.

The Lakers have three pieces other teams will be interested in, but really, the bit issue is “The Andrew Bynum Question.” Lakers fans desperately trying to think of a great deal are vastly overrating the desire any NBA team has for Radmanovic, Cook, the barely-able-to-walk McKie (spare me a sign and trade with him, please) — rose-colored glasses wearing fans are seriously overvaluing every available Laker on the roster. Other GMs are not.

There are only three key cogs for talks. (To be fair, GMs may ask for Farmar or Turiaf as part of a deal, but as throw ins, not key pieces.) Let’s look at the three big trade pieces the Lakers have, starting with the big question first:

Andrew Bynum. This is the big test not because of Bynum but because of what it says about Lakers’ management. Bynum was Jim Buss’ pick and the young Buss is trying to establish a reputation for himself within the organization and around the league. Bynum was the sticking point in Jason Kidd talks back in February, the Lakers refused to part with him.

The question now is: Has a second straight first-round playoff loss, this one in ugly fashion after a season that was a step backwards, changed any minds? Or specifically, one mind?

It’s easy to see the Lakers reluctance to part with him — legit back-to-the-basket seven footers with loads of potential are a rare find. He’s not yet 20 and improving, there were flashes this season of a guy who could be a force in the paint. He shot 55.8% this season. And while he struggled the second half of the year, reports are this has not tarnished his trade value (GMs love them some potential).

But there are questions. One is his work ethic, something questioned by Phil Jackson (and some other writers close to the team). He has come a long way in two years and clearly has worked hard to improve his game, but if he is not as passionate to keep improving how good does he really become? Frankly, we can speculate but the only people who could answer this well are Kareem and some assistant coaches. Their input should be given heavy weight.

Then there is this issue raised by’s David Thorpe (in an email to Henry at True Hoop): How many true big men are left in the playoffs? Who is left? Look at it: Dwight Howard, Shaquille O’Neal, Yao Ming all out; remaining is Golden State without a true big, Utah and Phoenix playing fours as the center, the Bulls have a center who is 6-9.

I’m not sold that the league is dramatically changing — if Greg Oden pans out then three years from now every GM will be looking for his clone and writers will be asking, “Where are all the great bigs?” The point is that with the right guys along the front line to fit your system, you don’t need a “classic” center to win.

And, the triangle offense (in its pure form) prizes versatility. I’m saying the Lakers can win without a “true” center, if they have guys who can still defend the paint. And offering up Bynum could bring someone like that.

If some minds within the Lakers brass think Bynum should be traded at all.

Kwame Brown. Don’t overestimate how much teams want him — what they want is his expiring $9.5 million contract. Kwame’s reputation around the league may be better than it was when he came here but it’s not good. He fills in the salary for a trade if one happens. Nothing more.

And, despite what Bill Simmons may suggest, the demand for expiring contracts alone seems to be waning among GMs. The Lakers were far from alone in the last couple years of eating expiring deals because there was not much interest from teams to take on your poor, your tired, your oversized-contract players yearning to be free, just to gain a little cap room. You seem to have to offer more than that now, although some fans are a little slow to see that trend.

Lamar Odom. With everything that happened to him physically and mentally in the past year, I don’t think you could have asked more of Lamar Odom. As was evidenced in the playoffs, he is one of the few Lakers who “brought it” this year.

And, I think with another scorer on board, he would fit just fine in the triangle. But, if you are going after someone off All-Star caliber, then Odom’s name will come up. I’m not completely opposed to moving him — but a number of criteria have to be met:

Moving him removes the Lakers best rebounder (he grabbed 14.5% of the available rebounds while on the court this season, only Bynum had a higher percentage and I hesitate to call the youngster a better all-around guy on the boards than Odom). He is one of the few guys who can be a presence inside on this team. If you are going to move him, you’ve got to get someone who can do more than just replace those skills, you need someone who can do them better and bring more defensive presence inside. There are not many guys who fit that bill.

And since more than just Odom would likely be part of such a deal, you need to solve the PG spot as well to make this a viable option.

Here’s my thinking on Odom — the Lakers are better off keeping him and bringing in front line or back-court help to pair with him and Kobe. If you bring in a “classic” power forward and move Odom to the small forward, the Lakers become long up front and a real match up problem for other teams. Bring in a great PG and Odom will get the ball in better positions to do damage.

Bottom line — if you are getting rid of someone like Odom, who gave so much to the team this past year, you had better get a blockbuster back. One that makes you an instant contender.