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Saturday, February 02, 2008

It is a Very Good Time to be a Lakers Fan

Lakers' fans have not had it this good since Shaq was in his prime and in shape--2002, in other words. The Lakers have the best player in the league on their roster, he is still in his prime and if he is not as good as Michael Jordan was he certainly is every bit as driven to succeed; they also have a promising young center who, although currently injured, should be able to return at some point fully healthy and continue to improve. The coup de grace is that the Lakers have just now added a third piece to the puzzle to complement Kobe Bryant's all around brilliance and Andrew Bynum's dynamic inside game: Pau Gasol, a multi-talented former All-Star whose game should blossom while playing under the tutelage of Coach Phil Jackson. Even better, the Lakers did not have to give up Bynum, Lamar Odom or any other key components of the current team's nucleus; they traded Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie (who is retired but whose contract is still owned by the Lakers), the draft rights to Marc Gasol (Pau's brother) and first round draft picks in 2008 and 2010. The Lakers have already issued a statement that explains the details of the deal and it is well worth reading. Of course, fans are less interested in financial matters/salary cap rules and more concerned with something much more basic: how will the addition of Gasol affect the Lakers? Obviously, if you are a Memphis fan, then you are wondering if the Grizzlies got enough value for dealing away the team's best player.

Let's take the Memphis perspective first, because there is less than can be said about it right now. Obviously, the Grizzlies have hit the reset button and are rebuilding from the ground up. To do that in the NBA, you need draft picks, salary cap room and young players. This deal provides all of those things to the Grizzlies. That does not mean that it will work, though; there are too many uncertainties: to name just a few, (1) has Brown peaked or can he still improve, (2) how good will Crittenton become, (3) how good will Marc Gasol be when he comes to the NBA, (4) who will Memphis choose with the newly acquired draft picks? All that can be said at the moment is that this is the right kind of move for Memphis to make, because there was no future for the team the way it was composed prior to this deal. In an odd way, there is a slight similarity between what Memphis is doing now and what the Lakers did with Shaq several years ago; the Grizzlies are getting rid of their best player and taking a short term step backwards with the hope of being better off long term, while the Lakers are shedding some youth in order to make a championship run now. Two obvious differences are that Gasol is not nearly as good now as Shaq was in 2004 and the talent that the Lakers acquired as a result of the Shaq trade (which, after several deals, has crystallized, essentially, as Bynum, Odom and Gasol) should give the Lakers a multiple year window in which to try to win titles, while the Heat narrowly escaped with one championship before the bottom fell out.

The Lakers have struck gold from their perspective because, as I mentioned above, they added an All-Star level player without having to give up assets that have much current value. That means that the team that they put on the floor now is instantly upgraded. No one can say for sure how much the team has been upgraded but I will go out on a limb and say that the difference will prove to be very significant. No one really seems willing to acknowledge just how bad the Lakers were by the end of last season; their roster was depleted by injuries (even the players who returned were out of shape and therefore not close to being 100% effective), Bynum had shown little sign of becoming a significant contributor, their starting point guard belonged in the NBDL and had a horrible attitude--and Bryant carried that team to the playoffs with the biggest post-All Star Break scoring barrage in four decades, culminating in a five game stretch during which he scored 65, 50, 60, 50 and 43 points for an average of 53.6 ppg! He averaged 6.8 rpg in those games, all of which the Lakers won, and shot 91-173 (.526) from the field. What does all of that mean? Simple--Bryant proved that he is unguardable even when he takes the court with players who the opposition can safely disregard. No one player can literally win a game by himself but Bryant is the one player in the league who comes closest to being able to do that because of his ability to impact a game as a scorer, passer, rebounder and defender (LeBron James is the only other player who even comes close to Bryant in this regard; any thoughts of putting Dwyane Wade in this group vanished when he presided over a 15 game losing streak). How much more deadly will Bryant be now that the opposing team has to deal with Gasol (and eventually Bynum as well)? Another important factor to consider is that part of why Michael Jordan was a great closer is that Phil Jackson could strategically rest him while Scottie Pippen and four reserves held down the fort (Jackson even did this in a big Finals comeback victory over Portland). The Lakers can run their offense through Gasol in the post while Bryant gets a little rest at the end of the third quarter.

Gasol can score both on the block and as a faceup player and he is a long player who blocks shots. He has a somewhat deserved reputation for being a little soft but Jackson coached a similar player in Toni Kukoc and got the most out of him--and despite whatever softness Gasol may have he is bigger and stronger than Kukoc and has averaged 8.6 rpg during his career, so he is not afraid to go into the paint. David Robinson was called soft by some (I think that the charge was bogus but that is a story for another day) but he won two rings as the second star to Tim Duncan. Gasol's passing skills will fit in perfectly in the Triangle Offense. In Memphis he was forced to be the top guy but, perhaps like Odom, he may be more temperamentally suited to being the second guy (and Odom may be best suited to be the third or perhaps even the fourth guy, someone who is not expected to put up big numbers every single night).

Keep in mind that if the Lakers had not traded Shaq then they would have lost Kobe because owner Jerry Buss would not have gone into luxury tax territory by paying max dollars for max years to both players. That means that this year's Lakers would likely have had Shaq and little else and would probably be worse that the Heat are now, if that is possible. Yes, Shaq got his one more ring without Kobe but the Lakers have set up the possibility of winning championships with a Kobe-Bynum-Gasol nucleus.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:26 AM



At Saturday, February 02, 2008 2:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great read!This trade is amazing for Lakers.I think they are the favorites of West. Conf. now,and i hope they don't send Odom and Farmar for Kidd.As for the Grizzlies part,i am surprised how they didn't ask for additional players like Vujacic or Mihm.And i don't understand the sign-and-trade with the retired McKie.Does that mean he will earn some bucks without doing anything?

At Saturday, February 02, 2008 3:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


For an NBA trade to take place, the contracts that are exchanged have to match or at least not be different by more than a certain percentage. McKie had retired but the Lakers never renounced his rights so they were able to sign him for $750,000 and then include him in the deal to make the transaction OK under the NBA's financial rules. The L.A. Times has reported that McKie has resigned as an assistant coach with the 76ers. I'm not sure if he will really report to the Grizzlies or what will happen down the road but it appears that he will make some money out of this deal. How much he will end up having to do to get the money is not clear at this point; I don't know if the Grizzlies will keep him on the roster or release him.

At Saturday, February 02, 2008 9:27:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

what a deal for the lakers they stole gasol from memphis dumb move by memphis to get nuthing in return. this should put the lakers in the discussion as the best in the league. to have gasol bynum odom and kobe and a veteran point like fisher, there should be no more excuses in laker land. kobe arguably the best player in the league i go with james as well documented, should be able to carry this team deep into the playoffs and possibly a championship this year if he cant carry them deep into the playoffs then it's on him. dont blame anybody in the organization and cry about i never had no help no more excuses he said yesterday before the game he and the lakers have to walk the walk and they do. i see them if it works beating everybody in the laegue they too big for phoenix and couls score with them. dallas is not as good as last year and i think gasol will out play nowitzki and they will have no answer for bynum and kobe. and dallas is mentally weak and too soft to win a ring san anotonio looks old they will be formidable the twin towers should bang shaq fuisher do a good job on parker and kobe do a good job ginobilli, the bench is even and the lakers is very good outside shooting team. what a move ny kupchak kobe tried not to smile he and everybody knows they robbed memphis at gun point lol. this is one of the greatest deals of all time and the lakers have to capitilize they havent been relevant as a team since the diesel was in shape in 2003-2004 season they went to the finals thats the last year.

At Sunday, February 03, 2008 12:41:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I don't recall anyone making "excuses" for the Lakers. They have not had a championship caliber squad for several years. Everyone understands that. Without Kobe, they would not have even made it to the playoffs.

At the time that Kobe said he had no help, he was speaking the truth. Since then, Bynum has stepped up and Kupchak acquired Ariza and Gasol. Maybe Kobe saying what he said was not so bad after all; it certainly seems to have inspired some positive responses and, as I predicted, it had absolutely no negative effect on how he or the team performed.

The Lakers are a legit contender once Bynum comes back but they are hardly a shoo-in to win the title. The Duncan-Ginobili-Parker trio has been together for years and won multiple titles. Kobe-Bynum-Gasol will have a few weeks to play together before the playoffs start.

Gasol will not outplay Nowitzki but L.A. may have enough overall firepower now to contend with the Mavericks in a playoff series. Don't forget that Dirk led a team to 67 wins and that he led another team to the NBA Finals. Gasol has yet to win one NBA playoff game.

This is a very good deal for the Lakers but it is NOT one of the greatest deals of all-time, at least not yet. If the Lakers win three straight titles with Gasol averaging 20 and 10, then we can talk. Red Auerbach added Parish and McHale, two HoFers, in one fell swoop. That helped create arguably the greatest frontline of all-time and led to three championships. The Bulls got Scottie Pippen for the rights to Olden Polynice.

As I indicated in the post, the Grizzlies have obviously decided to rebuild and the way to rebuild under the NBA's current financial structure is to acquire salary cap space, draft picks and young players. As I said, they never won even one playoff game with Gasol and they have been terrible this year, so they made the right decision to start over. It could be argued whether or not they could have gotten more immediate help but what they did makes sense if you understand how the league works. Of course, that is no consolation to the Western Conference teams that will now have to deal with a much improved Lakers team.

At Sunday, February 03, 2008 2:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The move makes sense from the Grizzlies point of view.

Maybe if their long term plans were different, a whole different trade would be better. But for a team on sale, in full rebuilding mode, stuck losing and with a franchise player wanting out, it makes sense.

Of course, it all depends on future moves, much like the maligned Butler-Brown trade eventually turned into Pau Gasol.

You can't possibly imagine the impact of these news in Spain, incidentally.

At Sunday, February 03, 2008 5:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are one of the best NBA commentators I've ever had the pleasure of reading, but I have to call you out on your critique of VanGundy's analysis, which I think you overplayed.

It is arguable whether this trade made the Lakers the favorite to win the Championship, but it certainly put them in the neighborhood.

Normally, an injury to the improved Bynum would not have endangered the Laker's playoff chances, but this is not a normal year. The way things stand now, a team in the west could finish with a .600 record and miss the playoffs. The Lakers are only 2½ games behind the West Leaders -- and would not even hold home court advantage in the opening round if the playoffs were to start today. They'd already lost 3 games in the standings since Andrew's injury, and if they lost another 3, they would be out of playoff position.

So despite Kobe's incredible abilities and drive, it was no cinch that he was going to save the season for the Lakers. Saying they were in danger of missing the playoffs was not a stretch by any measure.

So, saying they went from Lottery to West favorite with the addition of Pau in this case does not mean Pau=Moses Malone. It means in this unusual year, the difference between the two may be as little as 6 wins in the regular season.

At Sunday, February 03, 2008 11:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


As I indicated in the post, I agree with you that the deal makes sense from Memphis' perspective. That doesn't mean it will work--we have to see who they draft and how they use their cap space--but this is that the Grizzlies had to do to rebuild.

At Sunday, February 03, 2008 11:30:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Deighved H Ster MD:

I agree with you that the Lakers are "in the neighborhood" but I disagree with Van Gundy that the Lakers are automatically the best team in the league once Bynum returns; that remains to be proven.

Van Gundy is usually on point but I think that in this instance he overestimates how good the Lakers will be once they are at full strength and he underestimates what the Lakers can do without Bynum. With today's win the Lakers are now 5-5 without Bynum. Sure, the West standings are constantly in flux but there is no reason to think that the Lakers are going to drop out of the top eight.


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