Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers started the 2011 playoffs as firm favorites, but Kobe’s knees, Pau’s form and Bynum’s petulance ensured that they were bumped in the second round by the eventual champions, the Dallas Mavericks, in a 4-0 rout. Separated from that by a mere two and a half years, the LA Lakers are the worst team in the NBA. Having lost consecutive home games to the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers, after losing on the road to Utah, all three of whom are fully in tank mode, the Lakers have snatched the lead from the aforementioned teams for the wooden spoon this season. The injuries have taken a toll on this team and recent results show them to be worse than they actually are, while still very much are a lottery team. Also, Pau Gasol has felt unable to take to the court in the last few games due to his upper respiratory infection, which actually means “I have the cold and I also do not want to play with these nobodies”. His name has been mentioned in trades with the New York Knicks for Iman Shumpert and/or Tyson Chandler, and more recently and interestingly with the Cleveland Cavaliers for Andrew Bynum. Bynum has been suspended indefinitely for causing disruption to the Cavaliers locker room.
Who could have seen that one coming, huh ?
Lakers’ interest in the trade option suggests that the white flags are out. Half of Bynum’s $12.25 million salary does not become guaranteed until the 7th of January, and the Lakers would save, according to some estimates, approximately $20 million in luxury tax by getting rid of Pau Gasol’s salary and waiving Bynum before the 7 January deadline. Lakers are working hard to get something more in return from the Cavaliers but even if that does not happen, the Lakers should take the offer. Paying luxury tax in a year when the team is going to the lottery makes no sense, even if the Lakers possess the financial muscle to do so. Pau Gasol no longer features in Lakers’ long term plans and at present, he is showing no interest in staying in Los Angeles, and frankly, he does deserve better than what he has gotten from the Lakers in the past couple of seasons.
So where is the silver lining ? It’s in the 2014 NBA draft. And herein lies the most important reason why Gasol has to go.
Surely, everyone around the NBA is aware of the talent pool in the 2014 draft judging by the tank fest evident in the league. But the 2014 draft is special. A top 5-6 pick almost guarantees a super star and has many other good NBA players in the top 15. The Lakers are still struggling with numerous injuries and are down to one point guard in Kendall Marshall, who cannot make a bucket if he was sitting on top of the rim with the ball being fed into the net with a funnel. I don’t want to knock Marshall, he is a superb passer and is fun to watch at times. But right now, this Lakers team is ‘the worst team in the NBA’ bar none, which will eventually change as they are able to get a healthy set of players. With 10 out of the next 13 games on the road, the number of injuries piled up and the Gasol trade happening, the Lakers will continue to struggle mightily for the immediate future. In my opinion, this stretch could lock one of the coveted top 6 picks in next year’s draft. That pick could translate into either Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Dante Exum, Andew Wiggins, Marcus Smart or Joel Embiid. These guys are future all stars, and there are many more in the draft next year. Adding one of them to a roster with Kobe Bryant (signed through 2016 and hopefully for the Lakers, healthy) and a potential max free agent in 2014 or 2015, where players like Chris Bosh, Kevin Love – an LA native, Carmelo Anthony, Evan Turner, Luol Deng and Lamarcus Aldridge could be available, Lakers can set themselves up for a title run in Bryant’s final year of his contract, even though it seems unlikely from where the team is right now. Lakers are surely going to attract one very good free agent in either 2014 or 2015 and adding young legs in a stacked draft would mean long term security to go along with championship contention in the short term.
Kobe Bryant was still recovering from his Achilles injury before the knee fracture and there was nothing in his play before the injury to suggest that he would be able to will the Lakers into the playoffs like he would have been able to do in the past. A long layoff for him and the other Lakers players is a blessing in disguise. The Gasol trade should happen, even though reports suggest that the talks have stalled due to the Lakers finding it difficult to accept their present situation and throw in the towel. They still have to sell the expensive seats at the Staples Center and it is tough to give up on playoffs when you are used to contending for titles. The Lakers are not a small market team and would be able to construct a playoff team in no time in any free agency period from here on, a la Dallas Mavericks, but it gets the team so used to playing for bigger things absolutely no where. The Lakers would be wise to identify the opportunity that has been presented to them in these hard times and make the most of it, and I’m certain that Mitch Kupchak is thinking the same.