Archives For June 2007

Let Us Shed A Tear Together

Kurt —  June 30, 2007

So long, Brian Grant’s contract. Godspeed.

Now Things Get Serious

Kurt —  June 29, 2007

It was a nice draft for the Lakers.

That’s basically how I’ve felt about most of the personnel moves of the team in the past couple of years — they were nice. Nothing wrong with them, but they certainly weren’t not thrilling or aggressive.

However, come Sunday, the time for something thrilling is upon us.

Back to the draft, Jarvis Crittenton is a quality pick up — yes we have Farmar but is having two young point guards with potential a problem? Let them push each other, let them fight for playing time and may the best player win. (And, by the way, Lakers staff said they are not in the running for the Greek PG.) Crittenton was the best guy left on the board when the Lakers drafted, he was the best choice. And the fact he played the triangle offense in high school gives him a leg up.

Marc Gasol provides potential depth if Kwame and/or Bynum gets traded. Sun Yue is a gamble, but that’s what should be done with second round picks — take a flier and see if it pans out down the line.

While Thursday night may not have been thrilling for Lakers fans, there were a lot of good things that happened (as Reed pointed out in a must-read comment). First and foremost, Kevin Garnett did not get traded. Minnesota did not get the picks and expiring contracts they sought, and now have to rethink their plans. Indiana is in the same boat, still having Jermaine O’Neal and decreasing options.

The Lakers are still in the mix if either of them get moved, and that’s why I say that come July 1 — when free agency opens and sign-and-trade deals can happen — it is the time for something thrilling. Not that the Lakers should overpay, but if a superstar is to be moved the Lakers are in as good a position as any to still be in the mix.

Fans wanted something to happen fast, ideally before the draft. But the Lakers as buyers better understood the market than the sellers. They were right to be patient, let the sellers see that the market is not quite what they thought. Both Minnesota and Indiana are under some pressure to make deals, and while things previously stalled the Lakers need to make sure they stay in the mix as the sellers re-evaluate their options.

What is not an option — based on the comments of Kupchak and Jackson — is trading Kobe. Trading Kobe because he demands it would leave the Lakers with the same problems other sellers face — a market not paying what you’d want in return. The Internet (and the comments of this blog at times) have been awash in Kobe trade scenarios, with most Laker fans thinking they could get a fair deal for Kobe. But right now that is not the case. Trading Kobe this summer, unless a spectacular deal comes out of nowhere, sets this franchise back a decade.

Patience is a hard thing for fans, but the Lakers are in a good position to be aggressive now. They are in a pretty good position in the market to make a move. It is the time to be aggressive — smart, but aggressive. That would be thrilling.

Draft Night 2007

Kurt —  June 28, 2007

UPDATE: The Lakers first pick is Jarvis Crittenton, a 6-4 PG out of Georgia Tech. The upside is he can defend and is long, very athletic and the pick gives the Lakers two young PGs to develop. There are questions about his decision-making and if he can shoot consistently, and one blogger I really trust has big concerns.

That said, I like the pick. He was likely the best player left on the board at one of two need positions, and there was nobody at the other positions that was a guy you had to get. You only take a big if there is one worth taking, and nobody left on the board impressed.

This selection does raise the question about the effort to get Theodoros Papaloukas (scan down this post for more). Would the Lakers use all three at PG, with the elder Papaloukas mentoring the two youngsters? Is there enough playing time for all of them?

UPDATE 2: Sun Yue is the guy the Lakers take with the 40th pick. Some quick research shows him as a point/forward who played in the ABA last year. As I said below, second round picks will have a hard time making this team, maybe he hangs on and gets to spend a year in the D-League.

UPDATE 3: The Lakers got Gasol!!! Oh, not that Gasol. Instead the Lakers took Marc Gasol from Spain with the 48th pick. He’s the brother of Pau and is a 7-0 center. The book on him is he is smart and fundamentally sound, but not very athletic. May be good guy at the end of the bench, if he can make the team. Thoughts from those of you who have seen him in Europe?


It’s going to be an exciting draft, but probably not in the way Laker fans had hoped for. Heading into the draft, here’s what I think we know:

1) There will be big trades tonight, but almost certainly not involving the Lakers.

2) The Blazers will take Oden, the Sonics Durant, and then who knows.

3) The Lakers have made an offer to Theodoros Papaloukas, a 30-year-old PG playing for CSKA Moscow. He is listed at 6-7 and is considered a top PG in Europe. Rather than me speculating, I’ll ask our very knowledgeable European readers to chime in on this. It is allegedly a multi-year deal, where he and Farmar would share PG duties.

4) If the Lakers use both their second-round picks, don’t count on them making the team. Right now the Lakers have 10 guys under contract for next year, a resigned Luke Walton means 11. The guy drafted in the first round becomes 12. Someone picked up with the mid-level exception is 13. Chris Mihm could be 14. And we haven’t even gotten into trades yet. The Lakers only plan to carry 14 players next year, leaving maybe one, maybe no roster spots for any second rounders. (The reason for carrying just 14, not the max 15, is to have room to pick up a Chris Webber type who is let go. Last season the Lakers would have had to buy out Aaron McKie to do that.)

5) The Lakers say they don’t want another young guard to bring along. That implies they are leaning toward drafting a big. Of course, that not what the draft guides think they will do:

Draft Express
: Rudy Fernández, SG, Spain

Chad Ford ( Rudy Fernández, SG, Spain

Chris Ekstrand (Sports Illustrated): Gabe Pruitt, PG, USC Rudy Fernández, SG, Spain

Plissken at the Buzzer (that would be Chopperdave from the comments, if you didn’t know): Marco Belinelli, SG, Italy

That is a sampling; there are more mocks than I could possibly link to. I’d be happy with Rudy Fernandez, personally. But if the Lakers are going to go big, if that is the goal, then maybe BC’s Sean Williams is the call. I think the Bill Simmons/Chad Ford mock yesterday said it well about him — this guy is going to be a star or a bust. There is no middle ground, whoever picks him could be called brilliant in a couple years or could be mocked for wasting the pick on a guy already out of the league. But for the Lakers, maybe that’s the kind of risk they need to take.

So, everyone, let’s talk draft. The Lakers as an organization have a lot of big decisions to make in the coming weeks, but for one night we can dream about a young player who goes on to become one of our fan favorites.

“You can’t pass up a great player at the big position for a great player at a another position…history bears this out.”

-Bill Fitch

On the eve of the 2007 draft the Portland Trailblazers are caught, once again.

Select the anchor in the middle, the man who has the back to the basket game that so many teams have as their number one need?

Or select the dynamic wing player. The man who may be that combination of creativity, athleticism, and desire to win that only comes along a handful of times per generation?

Well, the Trailblazers have been there before.

Filip Bondy’s Tip-Off: How the 1984 NBA Draft Changed Basketball Forever, chronicles the last time the fans in Rip City anxiously awaited and then desperately tried to forget what it was like to have a top 2 pick.

Bondy’s work goes in depth to show the machinations and thoughts that go along with the difficult process of evaluating talent and extrapolating what it will look like in the future.

The book is a treasure trove of anecdotal wealth. With multiple stories and story lines, one can gain a more dramatic view of the events of that draft and how they are still repercussing throughout the league and the fate of its individual franchises.

The novel describes the series of events and the main players of the ’84 draft who became difference makers and follows them from college, through the draft process, into their early NBA impact, and finally to where and if they fit into the pantheon of legends.

Hakeem Olajuwon, picked first by Houston, Charles Barkley, picked 5th by the 76ers, John Stockton, picked 16th by the Jazz and, of course, Michael Jordan, somehow drafted third.

In contrast we also follow the paths of the lesser lights, Sam Perkins, a solid pro, drafted 4th by Dallas and the outright blunder of the Sam Bowie pick, drafted second by Portland ahead of Jordan. The subtitle of this book could easily have been The Ballad of Sam Bowie.

The profile of Barkley is driven by his quotable quotes and shows how intelligent and unique of personality he is and was. It puts readers back in touch with the college “Porky Pig on a Trampoline” Barkley and the pro “I’m not a role model” Barkley. His verbal exasperation at being drafted by the Sixers allows for a laugh out loud moment, one of a bundle that the book provides.

The career arc of Sleepy Sam Perkins illuminates the unpredictability and human element of the outcome of this yearly crap shoot. Bondy shows that there are dissenting evaluations about the career and success of Perkins as a draft pick still unsettled in the present day.

Was he a great pick ‘chemistry-wise’? He had a long career littered with playoff trips. Or was he an under aggressive and undersized player who never found his niche until his teams and coaches recognized his weaknesses and emphasized his strengths?

Stockton turns out to be an unlikely star in the novel, just as he was in the NBA. Frank Layden was the man doing the drafting in Utah in 1984 and hearing Stockton’s story told through his sarcastic sense of humor makes it that much more enjoyable. Bondy gives us insight into the always stoic Stockton, fleshing out the man who would be passed on by 15 teams only to later become one of the game’s greatest.

But the title of the novel and its bold hypothesis seem ambitious for the books content. It floats through your head as you turn the pages and there never seems to be that moment, “Oh, that’s how the 1984 draft changed the NBA forever.” It left me thinking that we could say that about a lot of NBA drafts, but it is more appropriate for 1984 because of the anomaly and innovator that Michael Jordan would come to be. As the 1984 draft unfolds you can’t help thinking about Barkley, Stockton, and Olajuwon. While he was playing, Jordan single-handedly kept the rings off the hands of this draft class.

He changed the NBA forever through his impact on the marketing of NBA players, his career beginning the oft-criticized era of players being marketed ahead of teams, and through his ground breaking ability to make money as salesman off the court. It was previously thought that an African-American athlete couldn’t be a pitchman for big brands, and Jordan definitely put all that on its ear.

The question becomes what was changed inside the game? After Jordan didn’t every GM’s dream return to being about drafting the next great big man? Are GM’s any less covetous of the next back to the basket center that will forever change the way the opposition defends their team?

1984 changed the NBA “forever” in that it was the impetus for the draft lottery after teams suspiciously lost games down the stretch. But did the lottery really change that or are we still watching players sit with suspicious injuries while they giggle on the bench in street clothes?

If anything Tip-Off does a wonderful job of chronicling the continuing nuances and pitfalls of the draft. Bondy has painstakingly researched and interviewed the players in this drama to create a book that is almost encyclopedic in knowledge. His straight-forward newspaper style will not put him among the more romantic sports novelists, but this book deserves its place.

If Tip-Off were to be paralleled with an ’84 draftee, it would be the other pick Portland made in the draft, the pick that a Portland fan may point to when being ridden about the Sam Bowie debacle, Jerome Kersey. Kersey, drafted 46th, would play 11 years with the Blazers, score 12,000 points and get 6,000 rebounds over his career. He was a solid workman-like pro that would be an important cog in the contending Blazers of the early 90’s.

This might be a difficult read for Portland fans who suffered through the ‘84 draft and the subsequent thrashings by the man they could have drafted, but to say that they are once again between a rock and a hard place is laughable. What team or fan wouldn’t want their Oden or Durant dilemma?

For this draft and any other, the cliche of “time will tell” rules.

“Always pick the best athlete…to choose by position or need [is] utter folly.”

-Scott Thompson aka Gatinho

The Draft and The Police

Kurt —  June 25, 2007

I did two things of note this weekend — went and saw The Police at Dodger Stadium, on Sunday watched NBA TV reshowing some NBA draft coverage from the 1980s. So, what follows are some draft and Lakers thoughts, with a Police theme. Because I can.

Walking on the moon. The dream part of the “classic” drafts was watching the 1982 draft, which by the way had originally been broadcast on USA Network. That was the draft the Lakers took James Worthy with the first overall pick, part of a fleecing of Cleveland that allowed the Lakers to add Worthy to Magic, Kareem and a squad that already had a ring.

Right after the pick, which was turned in by Chick Hearn, a much younger Jerry Buss (wearing a leather jacket that only could be brought out in public in the 80s without incurring massive public ridicule) spoke to an interviewer. When asked how Worthy would fit in, Buss said how much run Worthy would get as a rookie really would depend on how healthy Mitch Kupchak was. That made me laugh. Not to knock Mitch, who was a quality role player for a championship caliber team (the kind of guy I wish the current Lakers had more of on the roster) but he was never any James Worthy.

Bring On The Night. My guess, and it is just that, is that any deal the Lakers make will come after July 1 when a sign and trade can balance out the salaries one way or anther.

So, bring on Draft Night (and remember we are doing a draft comment thread here that night). I am putting a cigar and some rum in my alter to Jobu that Acie Law, Nick Young or Rodney Stuckey fall to 19. Not optimistic about any of that, but a little a cigar and rum seems a worthy sacrifice to make that happen.

I’m also falling off the Sean Williams bandwagon, the more I read the more I see this guy as talented but a head case that may not be worth the risk. Are we better off with a Rudy Fernandez? A Thaddeus Young? If you are sure you have a re-energized Kobe and Phil and some other veterans with strong personalities in the clubhouse, maybe I’m more willing to take a risk. But if the clubhouse is a potential mess come the season, do you need another headache on top of it?

Murder by numbers.
What I do if we draft Josh McRoberts.

De do do do, De da da da. Media members are still not done with the rehashed-but-easy columns on Kobe, but I think Laker fans mostly have moved beyond the simplistic “Kobe good/Kobe bad” or “Kobe goes/Kobe stays” that gets played out. Hard and fast, black and white pronouncements are the way of columnists and sports talk radio guys, but the real world exists in shades of gray.

Secret Journey. We read rumors and guesses all the time. But here’s part of the challenge of being a fan — and playing GM from our computers — this time of year: We only know a fraction of what is really going on.

Already, as the draft nears, the hard line in Indiana has apparently crumbled in the effort to move Jermaine O’Neal (they no longer demand the Odom/Bynum/19th pick stance). I know there is more taking place on the Garnett front than is public. Not that any of this means a deal is imminent.

Here’s one thing to remember — what we hear of trade negotiations is the tip of the iceberg as to what is really going on. Is Kobe calling up and working KG (or JO) to come to LA after the Kobe/Mitch summit? (I hope so, without him pitching in the Lakers couldn’t land Pargo.) What about Buss? What about a three-way deal if Minnesota wants youth and not Odom? I’d bet a lot those things are going on, and it has a big impact on what will come down (if anything), but we really are just guessing what is below the water based on what we see above it.

UPDATE: As reported in the Times this afternoon, high level talks about a Garnett trade are taking place between the Lakers, Minnesota, and potentially others. After the experience of the Kobe “media frenzy day,” I’m not going to chase and post every twist in the story in the main post. There will be updates from myself and others in the comments. However, I think it fits in with the message of this the post — the talks are happening at a lot of levels, not just ownership, and have been for at least a week, and we know little of what is actually happening. (Thanks to kwame a. for pointing out the link.)

When the world is running down, you make the best of what’s still around. This made me laugh. (Hat tip to Henry.)

Man in a suitcase.
Since this site has developed such a loyal and regular readership, let me update you on some personal stuff for a second. Nothing bad — my family and I are in the process of moving, back to the LBC. But, as you all know, moving sucks. Moving with two kids really, really sucks. So, if as happened this weekend, posts go a few days without an update I’m sorry. I’ll be on top of any news that comes down as fast as I can, but just be warned as my time is overbooked for the next couple weeks.

KG and other Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  June 21, 2007

Do you think the guys at are happy today?

• There appears to be at least a little fire with the smoke of a Kevin Garnett to Boston rumor. Nobody is covering this like the always-good Jeff at Celtics Blog.

Mitch Kupchak needs to be calling McHale, at least putting offers in the mix, and this is one move where I think throwing Odom in the deal seems wise (and maybe Bynum if needed). But I think the Lakers (with Kobe in the fold) have a better chance to sign KG if he opts out at the end of the season than if he gets traded. In a trade he is more likely to end up in the East. (I know some commenters on this site have questioned the conventional wisdom of “don’t trade a superstar within your conference,” and it’s worth questioning, but there is no doubt that the mindset exists.)

If I’m McHale, trading KG means a total rebuild (not a retooling ala the Lakers with Kobe — see, reading Free Darko is paying off) and in that case the idea of Jefferson (a real stud), the #5 pick and a little more is very tempting — very possibly more so than the better-but-older players the Lakers can offer.

We’ll be watching this.

• Trade watchers, how about this deal?

• One week to go to the draft, and draft night we will having a chat thread going here so we can all mock the Atlanta picks together.

• There was some support on this blog for drafting Javaris Crittenton, the 6-5 point guard out of Georgia Tech. Well, Kevin at Clipperblog has seen a lot of him and says “he’s not my guy.” And yes, he knows the Clips need a PG.

• One of the more interesting draft things I read recently was Chad Ford on the “tier system.” (This story used to be free, but they may have moved it behind the Insider wall.) The system works like this: Teams break down all 60 players on their draft board into groups of four or so, based on roughly equal talent. For example, the top tier in this draft has two guys, Oden and Durant. Ford said there is consensus that the second tier is Corey Brewer, Mike Conley, Jeff Green, Al Horford, Yi Jianlian, Brandan Wright. Within that tier you rank the players based on needs of your team — a team needing a PG may have Conley at the top of their tier, those needing a big may have Horford third.

The point is that on draft night, if there is a player left from a tier or two above where you think the draft should be at you take said player regardless of position. However, if everyone rated in higher tiers is gone and you are picking within your tier, you take the player based on position.

This system makes good sense to me — if your scouting is solid it can keep a team from over-reaching based solely on potential.

• By the way, the SB Nation and friends mock draft continues over at Indy Cornrows, with the first round almost complete. The Second Round will take place, likely at Bullets Forever. As a reminder, I took Stuckey in the first round (friend of the site Nate made the same pick at Fanhouse, I can only hope he falls to 19 in the real draft). I still have the 40th pick and have to see who is on the board then. I have traded the 48th pick in the draft to the New Jersey Nets for Hassan Adams, the logic being he is a decent defender on the NBA level and very athletic, something a little more solid than the risk of drafting at 48.

Sensationalism Sells

Kurt —  June 19, 2007

The Kobe situation feels like it went tabloid this week — first the rehashing as new the two-week-old rantings of Kobe’s Web site, then this subversively shot video that reportedly says what the Web site said but with a few F-bombs thrown in.

There’s no new news here — but how individual reporters and news organizations are handling this situation can tell you a lot about them.

First lets talk about AP making the mistake of taking Kobe’s 18-day-old post last Sunday, seeing an updated date on it and running it as “new.” I think that was an honest mistake — the date listed the post as new on, and AP reporters are not the kings of sensationalism. However the fact they didn’t know it was old is a sign of just how closely they pay attention to the details.

What I found interesting is what happened next — a number of sites that should have known it was dated ran it big. ESPN ran it on Sportscenter, with a graphic and a reading of what he said. Just as they had done not even three weeks earlier.

A lot of other national media and a blogs also ran this as new. Some like the sensational, some like to stir the Kobe pot because it’s good for hits/ratings/papers sold. Sensationalized Kobe draws eyeballs, it gets readers and viewers. If they are willing to go with the sensational here, what about trade rumors? Playing up the Buss family squabbles? Anything that titillates?

Notice that the beat writers here in LA new better — every paper debunked it as old news instantly. For all the grief they get, the beat writers covering the Lakers are a good, professional group.


Then there is the Kobe video — is there anything that doesn’t feel sleazy about this? That starts with the guys who see Kobe and surreptitiously video him, then start figuring out the best way to make a profit off it. (No way I’m linking to them, by the way.)

Media outlets that choose to play this up are going the “US Weekly with Parris Hilton” route. So be it, that’s their right. But we don’t have to buy the publication. (By the way, not talking about Eric Pincus verifying it story.)

What I’m saying about all this is simply this — times like this can teach you a lot about the people giving you their news and their motivations and goals. And knowing that helps you better filter the news they provide. Just something to think about.

Kobe or Not To Kobe…..

Kurt —  June 17, 2007

In the wake of all the Lakers news of the last few days, commenter Reed sent in a very good breakdown of the Lakers options now including suggestions if the option is to trade Kobe. I think the underlying premise is the key — the Lakers have to chose a direction and go that way, and do it fast. Also, if trading Kobe, the key is the big picture. Here are Reed’s thoughts:

The plot thickens. After weeks of silence, Kobe reaffirms his trade demand to Dr. Buss. As noted everywhere, the Lakers are at a critical crossroads this off-season. They are not built to immediately contend, with extensive youth and pieces that don’t quite fit. But, they also have the league’s preeminent superstar. Kobe has issued an ultimatum to bring in contending pieces or move him. The Lakers and Pacers are at an impasse. Other desired stars do not appear available or are too costly – Garnett, Kidd, Gasol, etc. Where does that leave us? With Kobe’s demand looking increasingly firm and no impact trade in sight, the Lakers need to more seriously consider their options before heading into the draft and free agency. As I see it, the Lakers have four options this summer.

Option 1: Build a Contender Around Kobe Now

This surely remains options one, two and three with Lakers management. The Lakers need three things to become legitimate contenders: 1) Defense, particularly in the paint and at point guard; 2) Two all-star level players around Kobe (Odom would count as one), and; 3) Veteran role players who can defend and make open shots (think Rick Fox, Robert Horry, Derek Fisher, Brian Shaw). It is possible for them to accomplish this. They do have significant assets (Odom, Bynum, #19 pick, Kwame’s contract, Farmar, Walton). However, in moving their assets for the right pieces, they would have to take on enormous risk, trade away their young players, and tie up their cap indefinitely. Every attainable veteran star carries substantial risk in one form or another (O’Neal, Artest, Kidd, Randolph, Camby, Gasol, etc.) It is an extremely high-risk, high-reward path. We need to understand that it could all blow up, leaving us with nothing if the team doesn’t win and Kobe opts out. As other teams appear very hesitant to trade with the Lakers without bleeding them dry, this option appears less and less likely.

One possible silver lining in the recent Kobe-Buss meeting. As Kurt noted, Kobe’s public rantings stripped the team of its negotiating leverage. If teams feel that the Lakers have no other options to trading for a star, they will demand overpayment. Now, it is possible these teams recognize there is a growing alternative — trading Kobe. Indiana is desperate to move O’Neal’s contract. If they cannot find a better offer elsewhere, they may now feel more pressure to take one of Odom or Bynum. The Lakers should quietly use this card in negotiation — make it clear that they want to bring in veteran talent, but also disclose that if the price it too high they will trade their unhappy lightning rod.

Option 2: Trade Kobe

Putting emotion (and the front office’s likely resistance to moving Kobe) aside and looking at the long-term effects of realistic Kobe trades, what are the Lakers options?

First, possible trade partners. Rich Bucher of ESPN reports Kobe has an approved list of three teams: Chicago, New York, and Phoenix. Phoenix can be dismissed out of hand as the Lakers would never deal to a divisional rival. New York does not have anything close to an appealing package of good young players and expiring contracts. That leaves Chicago. They are the only eastern team that can offer the Lakers any type of value and give Kobe a big market, competitive team.

Second, it is axiomatic that in trading a superstar you simply cannot get full value in return. Indeed, it is difficult to get 50 cents on the dollar. The Shaq trade taught us that. Fortunately, it also taught us a few other things. Kupchak made one critical error in the Shaq trade. He focused too heavily on the aggregate talent he received in return and overlooked the bigger picture of the trade’s fiscal consequences. That trade was a disaster not because they “only” got Odom and Butler, but because they completely sacrificed the team’s cap situation for three seasons by taking on Brian Grant’s three-year, $45 million contract. Yes, it was necessary and difficult to make salaries match, but it was not necessary to take on an ugly three-year contract for a player with no value. I would have much rather seen the Lakers take back less talent in that trade — perhaps only one good player — but receive multiple expiring contracts. That would have given the Lakers more flexibility to build around Kobe and use their recruiting advantage in free agency. Remember, NBA players want to play in L.A.

Third, trading Kobe would be easier than trading Shaq. He is younger, has more value, and his contract is smaller (making it easier to match salaries).

Three approaches to trading Kobe:

Path A: Seek a superstar in return. Chad Ford suggested the Lakers could push for either Arenas or Pierce in a three way Kobe trade with Chicago, perhaps netting the Lakers a lottery pick as well. This is the 80 cents on the dollar route: Replace Kobe with a “star,” even if not quite as good, and continue as before. Going this direction makes much more marketing than basketball sense. Dr. Buss knows that it is Kobe’s star value that keeps fans and sponsors committed to the team — even in losing times. If Buss feels that the team would be deserted without a seat-filler, then he may demand a high profile personality in any deal. This approach overlooks the Lakers fundamental flaw: veteran stars help create wins in the present, but the Lakers are a young team that needs time to develop. Adding Pierce, who is older and less skilled than Kobe, would just transform the Lakers into the 2006 Celtics. While Arenas is a little younger, it is extremely unlikely the Wizards would trade him and he is focused on more immediate success. So, adding a big star for Kobe would really just make the Lakers a less potent version of their recent teams. They would be running in place.

Path B: Acquire as much young talent as possible and watch them develop with Bynum, Farmar, Walton, and the Lakers other young players.

Path C: Acquire one good young player, draft picks, and position for big salary cap room. Develop Bynum and the young players for one year and then make a big splash in free agency.

These last two paths make more basketball sense as they would add pieces that are at the same developmental stage as the Lakers’ core. Two Chicago trades exemplify possible players and the future consequences of each path. As Chicago is the most likely trade partner in any Kobe deal, I will examine these trades in more depth.

I will assume three things in any Chicago trade: 1) The Bulls would be willing to take Radmanovic to get Kobe; 2) The Bulls would not trade both Deng and Hinrich in the deal; 3) PJ Brown would agree to a sign and trade and buyout to make the salaries match. For the trade to occur before July 1, Ben Wallace would have to be in the deal to make salaries work. While there is a rumor the Lakers desire Wallace, I will assume Mitch understands that taking on Wallace’s monster contract would be a disaster. Therefore any trade would have to occur after July 1 and include PJ Brown in a sign and trade. As this is after the draft, if the Bulls #9 pick is involved, the Lakers would not be able to choose the player.

Two realistic trades that work (i.e. trades that the Bulls would actually make):

Path B Trade: Kobe and Radmanovic for Hinrich, Gordon, Brown, and the player picked ninth in the draft or Tyrus Thomas.

The Bulls are the favorites in the East with Kobe, Deng, Ben Wallace, and other nice young players.

The Lakers have a core of Hinrich, Gordon, Walton, Odom, Bynum, Farmar, the number nine pick or Thomas, and the nineteenth pick. If they trade Cook before next summer, do not use the midlevel this summer, and renounce all other free agents, the Lakers will only have $38.1 million in salaries committed for 2008-2009. The salary cap projects to be around $57-$62 million. They would thus have $20-$24 million to resign Gordon and fill two other roster spots (leaving about $8-$12 million for a big free agent, depending on Gordon’s salary and draft signings).

Path C Trade: Kobe and Radmanovic for Deng, Thomas, Brown, Duhon, and the player picked ninth in the draft. If Thomas and the number nine is too much, Seflosha could be substituted for one of them. The key is Deng and expiring contracts.

Again, the Bulls rule the East with Kobe, Hinrich, Gordon, Wallace, and nice young players.

The Lakers do not receive as much pure talent back in this deal, but they receive a better player (Deng) and set themselves up for a big time salary cap run. If they move Cook, do not use the midlevel, and renounce all non-core free agents, the team would have only $31.41 million in committed salaries for 2008-2009, leaving $26-$31 million in cap room. If they resigned Deng for $11-$12 million, they’d have somewhere between $15-$20 million leftover in cap room to use on three roster spots. So, they have a core of Deng, Odom, Bynum, Thomas, Walton, Farmar, Turiaf, the number nine and 19 picks, and cap room for a max-level free agent.

The key to any Kobe deal is the Lakers getting both talent and positioning the team to quickly get under the salary cap. That is the only way to get full value for Kobe. Moving Radmanovic’s contract is critical. If he is not included in the Bulls deal, the Lakers may need to offer a draft pick with him to a team giving an expiring deal.

Why seek all this cap room? Because the free agent class of 2008 is going to be very Laker-friendly. Possible free agents: Garnett, Arenas, Brand, Baron Davis, Artest, Jermaine O’Neal, Maggette, and Kidd. Several of these players have strong L.A. ties. The Lakers could sign one to a max contract and offer to make them the face of a franchise loaded with young talent. Add Garnett, Arenas or Brand to a core of Odom, Deng, Bynum, the draft picks, and the other young players, and you have a very bright future for a long, long time.

If it came to trading Kobe, I’d push for Path C. Take less talent, but set the team up for max cap room the following summer. Don’t repeat the mistakes of the Shaq trade. Yes, Deng, Thomas, Duhon, and a draft pick is 50 cents on the dollar for Kobe. But, look at the bigger picture. Deng, draft picks, and a max free agent not only replaces most of Kobe’s value, it allows the team to put together pieces that fit and develop on the same timeline. With an assortment of valuable young assets, Odom’s expiring contract, and big cap room, the Lakers would be incredibly well positioned next summer to trade, consolidate talent, sign free agents, etc.

Option 3: Overpay to Keep Kobe Happy

If the Lakers cannot bring in two stars (or one and keep Odom), but absolutely refuse to trade Kobe, they are in a no-win situation. If they stand pat, Kobe will likely demand out. If teams demand the house for a star (i.e. Odom and Bynum for O’Neal), the Lakers are left without enough to break into the top tier of the West — meaning they have traded away their assets for nothing. The one possible good outcome here is if overpaying for O’Neal placates Kobe and then someone like Garnett comes to the rescue for the midlevel next summer. While this would be wonderful, it is extremely unlikely and not the type of path a GM can reasonably take.

Option 4: Maintain the Status Quo, Develop Bynum

If there is no golden trade to be made, the Lakers may feel their best option is to keep the team intact, bring in an NBA-ready player in the draft, sign a point guard with the midlevel, resign Walton, hope Bynum develops quickly, and use Kwame’s contract at the trade deadline. If the 26-13 first-half team is the real Lakers, this option makes sense. If the under .300 second half team is reality, this option would be a disaster. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. In any case, Kobe will not endure another off-season of tweaking so the question is moot.

Final Thoughts

In order of preference, I rank the options: (1), (2), (4), (3). Kobe is a special talent and he provides the team its best opportunity to win a championship. He is simply that good. But, the team should not abandon all caution in trying to build around him. They should draw a firm line in the sand when negotiating for O’Neal and other stars this summer. They should flood teams with offers for O’Neal, Gasol, Garnett, Artest, Bibby, Camby, etc., but refuse to overpay.

I hope the Lakers can find a way to contend with Kobe — I am an unapologetic Kobe apologist — but I equally hope they don’t panic and ruin the future of the team. If they cannot reasonably build a contender around Kobe now, they should quickly seek to rebuild by moving Kobe to the Bulls. Do not handcuff the future of the franchise by overpaying for players that cannot take us to the next level. Instead, take Deng and draft picks, be disciplined financially for one year, let Bynum and the other young players develop, and then make a big free agent splash next summer.

Unfortunately, the Lakers may need to commit to a path quickly. What they do in the draft and free agency hinges on whether they are trying to build around Kobe or retool. If Kobe is staying, they need to use their midlevel to bring in a point guard or other needed help. However, if Kobe is traded, signing a role player to a four- or five-year midlevel contract would be disastrous to any effort to get under the cap. Whether they keep their draft pick and the type of player they select also turns on their future plans. The draft and free agent signing period are weeks away, so the team needs to quickly evaluate its options.