The value of doing nothing before the trade deadline
Plenty of concerns surrounded the Lakers as the trade deadline approached. Worries over the team's complacency and health remained ongoing issues. And fans clamored for the team to add speed, particularly to their backcourt.
The Lakers did nothing, a perhaps boring twist during a time when trade speculation and the excitement surrounding the possibility of adding a new player to the roster runs rampant. But very few fans had worries about the roster on June 17, 2010, when the Lakers secured their 16th title and put themselves in position for a second three-peat. Plenty of variables went into that repeat effort, including Ron Artest's unpredictable heroics, Kobe Bryant making up for a poor shooting night with grit and hustle, Pau Gasol's aggressiveness, Andrew Bynum's willingness to grind through a knee injury, Derek Fisher's clutch play and Sasha Vujacic's Game 7-clinching free throws. But there was one more: the same team that entered 2009 training camp was the same team that clutched the Larry O'Brien trophy.
So as the trade deadline approaches on Thursday, it's necessary to ask if the Lakers should repeat that same formula. There's certainly varying opinions, with both General Manager Mitch Kupchak and Coach Phil Jackson saying they don't expect the team should make a trade, while Lakers Hall of Famer Magic Johnson tweeted before the Lakers' 104-80 victory Wednesday that the "Lakers need to make a small trade before the deadline to make a run for the playoffs." And there's fans clamoring from both sides. Some insist the Lakers need to upgrade their roster, look for that blockbuster deal that will put them over the top while finding someone, of course, who'd like to absorb Luke Walton's contract. And then there are others who believe the Lakers have the necessary pieces for a three-peat, but they just need better consistency from their current players.
Even with Kupchak's contention that it's unlikely the Lakers will make a trade, he gave himself enough wiggle room by saying his job as a general manager is to make and receive phone calls. So it's not entirely clear if the Lakers' roster will stay intact. But it should.
Sure there are plenty of issues plaguing the Lakers. There's Artest's career lows in points, shooting percentage and minutes, as well as inconsistent defensive performances. The Lakers' bench, outside of Lamar Odom, has been far from reliable. And, of course, there's the scrutiny over Fisher that pops up every regular season, only to quell once the playoffs begin. But to replace those parts now would do more harm than if these three variables continued to plague the team during the postseason.
Jackson rarely likes for teams to add players in the middle of the season, knowing there's an inevitable transition period that takes place just when teams are supposed to appear in postseason form. Fans may point to the Lakers' blockbuster trade in February of 2008, when they acquired Gasol from Memphis for Kwame Brown, Aaron McKie, Javaris Crittenton, two first-round picks and the rights to Marc Gasol, who the Lakers drafted with a second-round pick in 2007. But those kind of deals rarely happen and it came under difference circumstances. Then, the Lakers were looking for that one piece to make them a championship-caliber team. Now, the Lakers are trying to keep their main lineup intact, while remaining open to making various tweaks.
That doesn't mean the Lakers roster is perfect. It would've been better for the Lakers to secure DJ Mbenga this offseason than sign Theo Ratliff. Jordan Farmar leaving the Lakers for New Jersey was mutually accepted because of his want for a larger role, Steve Blake offered a different problem by deferring too much. And even though the Lakers' post presence in Bynum and Gasol serves as a distinguishable advantage against most teams, they and the team have both been equally inconsistent in making sure they fully use that strength.
But there's frankly few options, especially with the Lakers having a $91-million payroll. Those wanting a spark to the team can look forward to Matt Barnes' expected return in mid-March, a presence that's provided the type of energy and effort the team needs to avoid stagnant play. Other than that, the Lakers have the necessary parts to make it work. Their nucleus has already given them two consecutive titles. And even if the results haven't always proved to be pretty, there's no reason that same personnel can't produce a third.
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Photo: Mitch Kupchak, in his ninth year as Lakers general manager, assembled most of the pieces of the 2009 and 2010 NBA titlists, and weathered a few storms along the way. Credit: Richard Hartog / Los Angeles Times