On Pau Gasol & Trade Rumors

Darius Soriano —  June 21, 2011

It seems that even the seriousness of the ongoing CBA negotiations can’t stop a good trade rumor from taking root in everyone’s mind. In case you haven’t heard, there have been reports that the Lakers and Timberwolves have talked about a trade. The terms of said discussion aren’t entirely clear, but the rumors say that they involve Pau Gasol, Kevin Love, the number 2 pick in this upcoming draft, the Mall of America, and some of those lakes left behind when the team moved to L.A. from Minneapolis.

In all seriousness, Eric Pincus reported that while a deal was unlikely, there were actual discussions about an exchange of Gasol for some of the Timerwolves’ assets. There was then speculation of what assets the deal would include and everything from the #2 pick to Kevin Love to several medium sized contracts for role players (and a combination of all) were floated as options. If you’d like a nice summary of the evolution of the reports, Dexter Fishmore covered it well here.

However, today Ken Berger of CBS Sports has stated that any Gasol/Love swap is not going to happen.  So, nothing to see here, right?

Yes and no.

The fact that rumors are swirling around the Lakers right now is nothing new. Los Angeles is a major market and the Lakers are a marquee franchise with attractive trade pieces that can be used to bring in other teams’ players. Be it a juicy rumor or a legitimate discussion about swapping players, the Lakers are one of the few teams that’s viewed as a viable partner across the league in a deal with any team.

Plus, the fact that the Lakers’ season flamed out so dramitcally only adds to the intrigue of them wanting (needing?) to make a deal. And with that intrigue comes more speculation that a major move is on the horizon even though the key players from the front office (namely GM Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss) consistently speak about the Lakers being happy with their core players.

With the team’s poor showing in the playoffs at the crux of the argument that the Lakers need to make a deal, it’s no wonder that Pau Gasol has surfaced as the main candidate to be traded. After all, Pau was the Laker that played so poorly this post-season and thus he should be the player to fetch new pieces to keep the Lakers in contention.

I have a problem with this perspective.

First, though, a disclaimer: I have no issues with the Lakers making a good trade; a trade that improves the roster for both short and long term contention. There are ways to make that happen and without getting into specifics now, I do believe there are viable options out there to be explored. Actively looking at options to improve the team is one of the first priorities for any front office and the Lakers brass would be doing the organization a disservice if they stubbornly stuck to their guns and didn’t explore what deals could be made.

That said, the overwhelming willingness to dump Gasol in a trade is perplexing to me. While he wore down this season, he’s still the one player the Lakers have that rotates comfortably between PF and C. He’s the one big man that shows skill both on the wing and in the post. Early in the year he was the Lakers best player and he again was an All-NBA performer (2nd team) and an all-star. He’s the best option of a PF in the entire league to play on this specific Laker team.

There is a counter to this argument, though, and Reed made it well in an email exchange:

I think that the decision to trade Pau would have nothing to do with on the court problems. There’s no question he fits in perfectly next to Kobe and the rest of our core given his versatility, length, skill, etc. But there’s also no question that something off the court went seriously wrong with him and the team in general last season. Was that 400 games in 4 seasons, or something deeper? We don’t know, but I imagine that Kupchak and Buss do. But we can’t blindly assume that the team was just tired and everything will be better after a long summer. There really might be deeper conflicts in play — I trust Kupchak to figure that out. If, of course, he is still running the show in light of Jim’s emergence.

Zephid adds another point about a potential deal of Gasol:

While I believe this team has found a great chemistry between Pau and Kobe, I do think that removing Pau from the equation will free up the paint for both Kobe and Bynum to operate more effectively.  We saw in the beginning of 09-’10 that Kobe and Bynum both played great in the post when Gasol sat out the first couple weeks.  They had room to maneuver as well as better post touches.  But when Gasol returned, Kobe was forced to return to the perimeter, even though at this point he is at most an average three point shooter, and Bynum touches decreased drastically. While losing Gasol, his ability to create baskets as well as opportunities for others will surely hurt, I think our offense could probably be better with improved spacing, more shots for Bynum, and more efficient shots from Kobe.

Everything said above is valid and worth thinking long and hard about. However, I’m still of the mind that the Lakers hold on to Gasol. Skilled seven foot big men with smarts that have come up big in the biggest moments don’t just grow on trees. If you trade a player like that, you do so for someone that’s clearly better, not for depth or somone who’s not as good but “younger” or “cheaper”. Those variables should be part of the equation, but not the determining factor.

The Lakers are in an interesting position in that they’re clearly still a contender but suffer from how their playoff losses stained their credibility to still win as is. The front office has to walk a fine line in attempting to strike a balance between change for change’s sake and change to actually improve the roster. How this is accomplished is out of our control, but I caution against any “grass is always greener” mindsets that start to creep in. Especially as the rumors ramp up coming into this Thursday’s draft.

Darius Soriano

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