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Darius Soriano —  February 8, 2011

The last two plus weeks before the trade deadline are always the most active when it comes to proposed deals, leaks, and misdirection. Teams are consistently working the phones trying to improve their teams’ prospects for the current and future seasons while simultaneously working the media to try and gain leverage in accomplishing these goals.

Today, we’ve seen the perfect example of this with the latest report that the Lakers are “in discussions” with the Nuggets involving a trade for Carmelo Anthony. Chris Broussard (who has a good reputation in being on top of such matters – he was one of the first reporting LeBron to Miami) has the scoop:

The Lakers and the Denver Nuggets have had preliminary discussions about a blockbuster trade that would send Carmelo Anthony to Los Angeles, according to league sources. The Lakers’ package would be built around Andrew Bynum.

When you dig deeper into the column though, you get a better sense of how close this deal actually is (or in this case, isn’t):

It is believed that the Lakers have not yet made an offer for Anthony but that the two clubs have merely had discussions. (emphasis mine)

And more:

The Lakers’ front office is not in full agreement on dealing Bynum…Jim Buss, son of owner Jerry, was in charge of the franchise when Bynum was drafted with the 10th pick in 2005 and has consistently resisted any attempts to move him, including a deal for free-agent-to-be Chris Bosh last season.

So, really, this seems like some smoke but not a lot of fire. In reality, I see this leak more as a way for Denver to gain leverage in any deal that they do ultimately strike in sending Anthony away. Denver knows that once the Nets dropped out of the ‘Melo sweepstakes, they not only lost their best offer but they also lost the deal that they could leverage all other deals against. The most recent offer from the Knicks (in a reported three team deal involving the Timberwolves) reflects that as the Nuggets would have received marginal talent back, fewer draft picks and young players, and only a big salary savings to show for losing their franchise player. 

When viewed from this perspective, it makes perfect sense that the Nuggets would try to engage other teams into talks, discuss more desirable pieces (in this case Bynum, and then use those talks as leverage to other teams as evidence that the offers that come in need to be better than the one they’re discussing. This isn’t to say that “talks” aren’t happening or havne’t occured. Mitch Kupchak said that he’d be more than willing to engage teams in trade talks just  a week ago. 

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However, why these talks are out there is a different subject than whether or not the deal is a good one. Forget the extra pieces that would likely be involved so the Nuggets are happy with the final outcome (it’s been widely reported they want to dump bad contracts – see Harrington, Al – in a Melo trade) and just  deal with a straight up swap of Melo for Bynum.

Does this make the Lakers a better team? That’s a complex question that needs to be looked at from both the short and long term.

At Land O’ Lakers, Brian Kamenetzky touches on both angles, but has this to say about the short term prospect of swapping the two:

Doing so in the middle of the season, even for a more established star like Anthony, makes a three-peat for the Lakers less likely. Short the highly improbable scenario of swapping Bynum for another high-end 7-footer, removing him from the equation and integrating (likely) another A-list wing or backcourt scorer, Anthony or otherwise — reworking how the Lakers operate on both ends of the floor — fundamentally changes LA to the point it would be tough to jell in time to go all the way.

If the goal of any trade is to win this year, a blockbuster deal involving Bynum isn’t the best route. It’s more the emergency-chute option, and despite legitimate concerns about the Lakers, they’re not at that point. They haven’t even jumped out of the plane, yet. The Lakers remain elite as constructed and prominent in any credible championship conversation, and I firmly believe this core deserves a chance to keep the streak alive.

Brian does, however, go on to say that he’d likely pull the trigger (go read the entire piece for his reasoning – it’s well thought out). In an email exchange I had with Reed, he also said that he’d do the deal:

I understand the fit issues, but in the end I’d do it. The key question to me is — what gives you the better opportunity to win titles over the next 5 years. I think healthy Bynum is a better fit this season, next to Kobe and Pau, but we’ve never seen healthy Drew in the playoffs. And, I think we need to start thinking a little about what happens when Kobe slows down, which he is already doing (he isn’t closing in the final minutes against great teams like in the past). Melo + Pau is a really nice combination. So, I like Melo over Drew over the next 5 years.

Personally, I see both sides of this (and Reed’s point about long term planning is a key one) but continue to lean towards keeping Bynum. For one, the Lakers’ size is one of their biggest strengths and any deal that diminishes that without bringing in a quality big to supplement Pau/Odom is not worth it to me. And while I don’t want to get too picky, it would need to be a big man that is skilled enough to play in the Triangle, is defensive minded, and is less a health risk than Bynum. Guys like that don’t exactly grow on trees. And if we’re only talking Bynum/Melo in this trade, who steps into the back up Center role for the Lakers? Ratliff is injured, Joe Smith barely plays in blowouts, and Caracter hasn’t yet earned the trust of the coaches.

Second, I think pairing Kobe with another high usage wing is somewhat problematic. Both can be prone to inefficient shooting nights and both do a fair amount of work out of the triple threat where they are prone to holding the ball, waiting for a potential double team, and then attacking with their own shot if the second defender doesn’t come. I envision there being some harsh growing pains as those two learn to play off each other while still involving Gasol at the level he’d need to be for the offense to still run smoothly.

Third, there is the issue of team composition. Right now, the Lakers have a trio of bigs to rotate between PF/C, four wings to alternate between SG and SF (with a healthy Barnes), and two point guards. If Melo comes in that dynamic shifts. There’s the issue of who picks up minutes at back up Center that I already mentioned, but how do the SF minutes get divided. I know that Melo (or Barnes/Artest) could play PF in spot minutes to relieve Odom, but all of those guys are natural SF’s and none of them are viable options at SG. That means you’re really not getting a lot of minutes for 2 of the top 8 players on the team (Artest and Barnes).

In the end, I don’t see a deal like this happening, but I do see the value in exploring it. I’m not on board. But reasonable arguments do exist that would be for it. What are your thoughts?

Darius Soriano

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