After a second consecutive season of not advancing past the conference semi-finals, Lakers’ fans are looking for roster changes. In fact, they’re expecting them. Going into next season with a roster that’s only slightly tweaked is a plan that doesn’t have a lot of support. None of that may matter, however, if you listen to Jim Buss. He says the Lakers may not make a major move this summer. The L.A. Times has the scoop from their latest sit down with Jerry’s son:
What are the chances of the Lakers starting the season with Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol all in Lakers uniforms? “Very good,” says Buss. So you don’t agree with those who say the Lakers must turn Gasol into two or three players via a trade? “No,” he says. “I think changes are going to be made moving Pau lower to the basket. We can improve that way with a change in coaching strategy rather than a change in personnel.” No moves? “We will try to sign Sessions when the rules allow beginning in July,” he says. “And improve the bench.” No major free-agent signings, no blockbuster trades? “No,” he says.
If you’re surprised at this, you shouldn’t be. The Lakers have some hard choices to make this summer and one of their options is to work around the edges of this roster to try and bring in better supporting talent. That approach is a gamble, but is it any bigger than the risk of trading a core player for another piece (or multiple pieces) that may or may not work out? I don’t have the answer to that but I can see convincing arguments on both sides that make sense.
That said, while fans are sure to jump up and down about these statements I suggest looking a bit deeper and remembering back a year.
After last season’s defeat at the hands of the Mavs, Jim Buss said almost the exact same thing he’s saying now. He said that he liked the talent on this team, that he thought they could compete for a championship with this core of players, and that expecting a major change (even in the face of high profile critiques – cough…Magic Johnson….cough) shouldn’t be expected. Then, right on the eve of training camp, the Lakers traded Lamar Odom (the reigning 6th man) and Pau Gasol (all-star & all-NBA performer) for Chris Paul. Basically, what Jim said in public meant little to what was going on behind the scenes.
This is important to remember right now. When Jim or Mitch come out and say that they like their team, those statements work to accomplish two things. First is to show confidence in the players that are currently on the roster; to show a belief in their talents to help the team win. The second, and just as important, thing they accomplish – or at least try to – is to reinforce the value of those players on the market.
The last thing Jim was going to say was “Yes, we’re looking to make trades. Yes, I think trading Gasol would be the way we’re going to proceed”. The reason, of course, is that once those words are uttered, leverage is lost. There’s no way the Lakers would get proper value in that scenario. So, what we have is Jim saying what needs to be said in public. What’s going on behind the scenes could be (and probably is based off other whispers) entirely different. This is the way the Lakers operate – especially since the Shaq trade where the chief complaint was that they didn’t receive enough talent back for the game’s best Center.
In the meantime, we all must sit back and wait. And while I think we should take Jim at his word on a lot of what he’s saying – the team will try to re-sign Sessions, they will try to get a higher draft pick, coaching adjustments can lead to a better utilized Gasol (something I agree with) – we must also understand that not everything that’s said should be taken at face value. Some of what’s said will be smokescreen with ulterior motives attached.
Wether this means a major trade is made or not remains to be seen. But I don’t think we’re getting the answer to that right now, before the draft and free agency has even started.