Lakers have recent history of making trades during extended trips
By this point, Lakers guard Derek Fisher has grown accustomed to the routine. Any time the Lakers take an extended trip, the concerns go beyond solidifying travel arrangements and how many wins the team compiled. It has also lately involved the Lakers trading someone on their roster.
That's why when the Lakers returned in late December, Fisher focused more on the Lakers shipping off Sasha Vujacic for Joe Smith than the team's 6-1 mark during the trip. Fisher, too, noticed that this isn't anything new for the Lakers, what with the Lakers trading Vladimir Radmanovic for Adam Morrison and Shannon Brown a day before a six-day trip ended in the 2008-09 season, and the Lakers' blockbuster trade involving Pau Gasol on Feb. 1, 2008, came in the middle of a six-game trip.
Can the Lakers ever go on an extended trip without making a deal?
"I don't know," Fisher said with a laugh in late-December, though the Lakers made no moves during the Lakers' seven-game trip last season. "It seems to have been a little bit of a curse in the last couple of years. The trip we have right before All-Star break I'm sure will be a little bit nerve-racking for everyone."
It sure is. The Lakers (36-16) enter Thursday's game at Boston (38-13) with much more on their minds than just whether they've improved enough to rectify their 109-96 loss Jan. 31 to the Celtics. Although the Lakers have maintained they don't plan to trade Lakers center Andrew Bynum, he's been at the center of discussion since ESPN.com reported the Lakers and Nuggets were in preliminary talks about dealing Bynum for Carmelo Anthony. That attention has also been cast on Ron Artest, particularly with an ESPN.com report that said he hoped the Lakers traded him, an assertion both Artest and his agent, David Bauman, disputed. And Mitch Kupchak's acknowledgement that he'd be open to making a trade certainly has kept everyone awaiting their fate. But it's certainly nothing the Lakers haven't seen already.
1. The Lakers trade Kwame Brown for Pau Gasol?!
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant remembered shouting "yes" to himself in excitement. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson acknowledged he'd never believe such a trade could happen. Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich argued the NBA should set up a panel to prevent such trades from happening. And ESPN NBA analyst Stephen A. Smith argued the Lakers should instantly make plans for a championship parade.
The Lakers acquired Gasol from Memphis in February 2008 for Kwame Brown, Aaron McKie, Javaris Crittenton, two first-round picks and the rights to Marc Gasol, whom the Lakers drafted with a second-round pick in 2007. Since that time, the Lakers have gone to three consecutive NBA Finals and have won back-to-back championships. Although the logic behind Memphis' trade was thoroughly questioned, through time it showed that it helped free up cap space to bring in Zach Randolph and that Marc Gasol eventually evolved into a legitimate center. Still, the Lakers are enjoying the benefits Pau Gasol has brought since his arrival.
One thing to keep in mind that this trade perfectly captures Kupchak's sentiment that they don't publicly talk about negotiations. The Times' Mike Bresnahan reported last year that because the Lakers weren't offering enough player salaries to satisfy NBA rules aimed at limiting salary dumping, Kupchak asked former Lakers guard McKie, a part-time assistant with the Philadelphia 76ers at the time, whether he'd accept $750,000 to sign him for one day and then trade him to Memphis. McKie eventually agreed, but it featured plenty of anxiety.
"There was one stumbling block -- the numbers didn't work and you had to get Aaron McKie on board," Kupchak said. "It didn't look like we were going to be able to do that. We ended up working late into the night. My feeling was if we didn't get it done that night, it would probably hit the papers because the rumors would get out. When things hit the wire and it's now a public issue, it's kind of like all bets are off. I felt like if it's not going to happen that night, then it's going to fall apart."
Fortunately for the Lakers, the stars aligned. The Lakers received more size. Bryant appeared happier. And the Lakers began collecting championships.
2. The Lakers get rid of a space cadet and bring in a dunker
The Lakers traded Radmanovic to Charlotte for Morrison and Shannon Brown, a move that was at first strictly financial. Radmanovic made about $6 million, was going to make $6.5 million the following season and had a player option for the 2010-11 season worth nearly $7 million. Meanwhile, Brown had an expiring contract worth just under $800,000, and Morrison made $4.15 million and $5.25 the next season.
The move also revealed Radmanovic's wrongful contention that role players can't flourish under Jackson. It really just depends how players adapt. The Lakers let Morrison go after last season because lacking athleticism, proving unreliable on defense and becoming a streaky shooter can only take you so far in the NBA. Meanwhile, Brown has become a staple off the Lakers' bench because of his amazing athleticism, thunderous dunks and unyielding want to become more of a complete player.
3. Lakers trade in an old machine
The questions initially caught Vujacic off guard. He had just exited the locker room at the Wizards' Verizon Center where the Lakers just completed a mid-December road game, and for the first time, he found out it was possible he might get traded to the New Jersey Nets. A day later, the Lakers finalized a trade that sent Vujacic to New Jersey in exchange for Joe Smith, while the Nets sent Terrence Williams to Houston. The Lakers' main motivation in acquiring Smith again involved team finances.
Vujacic is making $5.5 million in the last season of a three-year, $15-million contract he signed in 2008 with the Lakers, while Smith's salary is $1.4 million this season. But there's no doubt both players are happy the trade happened. After receiving little playing time, Vujacic said he "could finally breathe again" with an increased role at New Jersey. Though this meant traveling to his 12th team, Smith remained giddy over the chance at winning an NBA championship. His playing time has remained limited, but his enthusiasm still remains infectious. He greets the starters once they enter the game as they check in before sitting back down on the bench to cheer on the defending champs.
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