Should the Lakers trade Pau Gasol to Minnesota?
With Kobe Bryant and a large contingent of the Lakers' fan base questioning Mitch Kupchak's front-office skills, this deal suddenly validated his presence. With the public clamoring for change, this deal finally settled the uneasiness. And with the Lakers looking to return to the championship level, this deal gave them that missing piece.
The Lakers on Feb. 1, 2008, acquired Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies in a deal that produced varying reactions. Bryant said he remembered shouting "yes" to himself in excitement. Then-Lakers Coach Phil Jackson acknowledged skepticism that such a trade could happen because the deal involved the Lakers giving up Kwame Brown, Aaron McKie, Javaris Crittenton, two first-round picks and the rights to Marc Gasol, whom the Lakers had drafted with a second-round pick in 2007. And San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich argued that the NBA should set up a panel to prevent such trades from happening.
The perceived magnitude of the trade became reality as the Lakers appeared in three consecutive NBA Finals and won back-to-back titles. Even before the Lakers won the 2010 championship, the front office clearly envisioned Gasol as part of the team's long-term future, extending his contract through the 2013-2014 season. But after Gasol was a key factor in Dallas' four-game sweep of the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals, his playing future became less clear-cut.
Lakers fans appear split on the issue. Should team officials consider his overall body of work with the Lakers over his performance the 2011 playoffs? Should they view his remaining three-year, $54-million contract as a luxury or a tradable asset? Should they view Gasol's experience and talent as evidence they can still squeeze out a few more championships, or move to secure someone for their long-term future?
Because of their tight-lipped nature regarding deals, it's not entirely clear where Lakers officials stand on the matter, but they've offered a few clues. Both Lakers owner Jerry Buss and Kupchak have said they want to keep the "core" lineup and add "tweaks" to the roster. Buss has added that the team always has to be ready to look at any deal that's too good to pass up, but Kupchak recently told Lakers.com's Mike Trudell that Lakers are not outwardly looking for a trade, particularly involving front-line players.
Still, all of that hasn't stopped a conversation from brewing: ESPN.com's Chad Ford recently reported that the Minnesota Timberwolves privately hope they can find a team to take their No. 2 draft pick in return for what he calls an "impact veteran," referencing Gasol, Monta Ellis, or JaVale McGee. It's clear that the idea reflects the Timberwolves' thinking and not any other team's. As ESPN.com's Bill Simmons recently tweeted, "Funny NBA drama right now: #2 pick is being frantically shopped, but everyone is scared to negotiate with T-Wolves cuz they leak EVERYTHING."
Nevertheless, the report is sparking some debate about what the Lakers' philosophy regarding shipping Gasol might entail.
Hoopsworld's Eric Pincus did a terrific job outlining the salary-cap implications of a deal with Minnesota. There's no need to repeat what he's already explained in great detail, but the article did provide three interesting scenarios.
1. Gasol for Kevin Love and Minnesota's No. 2 pick. Even though Gasol remains one of the best front-line players in the game, the Lakers should make this deal. Love's presence would still give the Lakers a good size combination with Andrew Bynum, and the team would be making a longer-term investment on a younger player. The Timberwolves expect the draft pick to select Arizona power forward Derrick Williams, but the Lakers could use it to address their point-guard needs, possibly with Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker or Jimmer Fredette. Kyrie Irving would also be a good pickup, but the Cavaliers are expected to select him with their No. 1 pick.
2. Gasol for Love and role players. I'm hesitant on this simply because it goes against Jerry West's old adage that a team shouldn't change its roster if it can at least get another championship out of the current one. Jonny Flynn would improve the team's speed but wouldn't solve the outside-shooting problems. Michael Beasley would provide some offensive punch, but the Lakers aren't really lacking for that. And there's no reason Darko Milicic should see much time on the floor.
So in debating the merits of this potential deal, it comes down to how Gasol and Love size up against each other. Love has the advantage on the boards and three-point shooting, while Gasol is superior in pretty much every other category, including mid-range jumpers, post moves and passing. Besides, part of Love's value with Minnesota (53 consecutive double doubles and his status as the league's top rebounder) would be offset by the fact that the Lakers are better than the T-Wolves and that Bynum could assume some of the rebounding duties. No doubt Love will continue to develop, but in the interest of the Lakers having the best chance to secure a title, it's better to stay with Gasol.
3. Gasol for the No. 2 pick and role players. The Lakers would make this move if they had David Kahn in charge. But they don't. It's a silly proposition, and there's really no use debating it. The Lakers would lose one of their distinct advantages in exchange for role players who would add little value and a rookie who wouldn't have the same impact as Gasol would. Williams would be a solid pickup, but rookies should only be expected to be franchise players for basement-dwelling franchises, and the Lakers aren't one of them.
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Top photo: Pau Gasol works in the post against the double-team defense of Oklahoma City's Kendrick Perkins and James Harden. Credit: Mike Nelson / EPA
Bottom photo: Lakers power forward Pau Gasol goes for the steal against Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki during Game 4 in Dallas on Sunday afternoon. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / May 8, 2011.