Who Will Be The Fattest Laker? A Critical Symposium

Like everyone else, we're bored with the NBA's labor nonsense, so today we're changing things up a touch. Typically This Week in the Lockout bores down into the pulpy details of the negotiations between the owners and players, the attendant legal skirmishes and the self-serving rhetoric flowing from David Stern's wordhole. That's all proceeding apace, but it'll still be there for us to talk about next week. And the week after that, and the one after that. Trust me, there will be more than enough time to get you caught up.

To puncture the monotony, over the past few days Resident Voice of Reason Ben Rosales and I turned our attention to various issues of importance to the basketball world, such as: when the lockout does end, who will be the fattest Laker? Will Lamar Odom eventually get traded for Andre Iguodala? Would Monta Ellis work as a Laker? And what's up with, ahem, that Glen Rice story?

Our far-ranging dialogue on these and other topics is after the jump. Much of it touches on labor crap, but some of it doesn't. And look, I don't want to oversell, but top critics have called this ‘the greatest content thing in blog history' and ‘a priceless contribution to American culture.' Hey... their words, not mine.

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Dex: I'm going to issue this bold promise right up front, for my sake, for yours and for the readers': this exchange won't be all about the lockout. Anyone who's been following it even a little knows what's going on there. But at the time I'm writing this on Tuesday afternoon, we've just received word that the large-group meeting in NYC, which held out some hope that a deal might be coming into view, has very obviously failed. The owners aren't budging, it's clear they're perfectly fine with delaying the start of the season, and there's probably a meaningful number of them who are fine with canceling it entirely. Which brings me to Kobe Bryant.

Kobe's been pretty quiet this offseason. We know he's made a couple appearances at players' meetings and spoken to them about the importance of staying unified, but he's made no public statements about the lockout or the owners' demands. He and the league's other A-list figures (LeBron, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, et al.) are hanging back and letting Derek Fisher and Roger Mason serve as the voice of the union. I understand why they've so far taken this tack, but given the owners' commitment to waging total war I'm not sure it's any longer the correct strategy.

So, do you think it's time for Kobe (and other stars) to start making themselves heard? Would that help expedite a settlement by mobilizing fan sentiment against the hard-line owners? Or would it take an already touchy situation and make it worse?

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Ben: I've always thought the stars' role in the lockout negotiations has, and should continue to be, highly limited. There's a place for things like the speech Kobe and Paul Pierce gave to an assembled group of players a few weeks back asking for player solidarity, but for the purposes of the negotiations, there's really no role for them to assume. When it comes down to it, Kobe's core interests aren't the union's core interests. Same with LeBron, Wade, Paul and basically every other top 15 player in the league. No matter what the system, a hard or soft cap, or whatever manner revenues get divvied up in, they're going to get a fat paycheck. If Jerry Buss' comments a year or so ago to the effect that Kobe was worth nearly $80 million to the Lakers every year are true, Kobe is actually grossly underpaid for the immense marketing and merchandising benefits he provides for the Lakers and the league for that matter. And don't think Kobe isn't aware of this fact also. He was one of the five players that voted against ending the lockout and accepting the new CBA in 1999 because he knew that it set a cap on the money that he could make that would be hugely disproportionate with his value on the court and off it.

This is especially relevant given that the ones who have the most to lose from the lockout are the NBA middle class that has thrived under the soft cap system and the mid-level exception, both of which are seriously endangered in any new CBA. There's a reason Fish and Mason are the ones representing the union and not a megastar who would possibly provide more of a public presence for the players - although Fish has done a solid job by all accounts, and has certainly been far better than Patrick Ewing - and that's because they are more in line with what most of the union wants. Involving the stars in the discussions probably would be a way to the owners to expose fractures in the union, which would only become more acute once the lockout begins chipping into the season. Moreover, I'm not sure riling up fan sentiment would do anything at this juncture, especially since you run the danger of having it labeled as a millionaires/billionaires pissing contest that casual fans would have no interest in. Unless the players miraculously organized a couple thousand demonstrators to protest outside the NBA offices in New York or in front of NBA arenas across the country, there's no real leverage they're going to accrue from going that route.

At this point, it's premature to say whether the union dropped the ball by not following the NFLPA's lead by immediately decertifying and choosing a sympathetic pro-labor judge to hear their case, but it's increasingly looking that way given the scarcity of leverage the players have right now. We're still waiting on the National Labor Relations Board to make a ruling on the lockout, and a decision in the players' favor might be the only way for them to gain any traction in these discussions. Same thing with the owners' side and the case they filed in New York against the players. According to Brian T. Smith of the Salt Lake Tribune, over 20 of the owners are ready to miss the season in order to fix what they see as a deeply flawed system, and that's enough at the moment to preclude any serious split within the owners owing to the big/small market conflict that many wrote about at the onset of the lockout.

So yeah, there's not much either side can do beyond what they have already set in motion. Throwing the stars into the mix would have a limited effect at best, and only serve to jeopardize player unity at worst. As depressing as it is, there's really nothing we can do and wait to see which side cracks.

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Dex: That is indeed depressing, but I agree. Even if Kobe and LeBron could help whip up public indignation against the owners, I don't think it would have any sway over what happens in the conference room. It's no secret that canceling a season would piss off a great many fans, yet by all accounts a lot of owners are willing to do just that, which means the owners as a group have decided they can live with angering their customer base. And as much as that irritates me personally, I can't really argue that it's an irrational posture. However long the lockout lasts, we'll be watching when the league cranks up again. Some casual fans may tune out, but they'll eventually come back too. Stern knows it because he's seen it happen in other sports as well as his own. We have no seat at this table.

Speaking of Ewing, was he one of those guys who was totally out of shape when the 1998-99 lockout ended? I seem to recall that he was. He wasn't hilariously rotund like Shawn Kemp, but I don't think attending meetings for days on end did his physique any favors. Perhaps that's a silver lining to the infrequency of the current negotiations: Derek Fisher is left with plenty of time to work out and maintain his trim figure.

I do think that the longer the lockout drags, the more likely it is we'll see some dudes get doughy around the midsection. Most guys will keep themselves in fighting form, but I bet a few will take inspiration from Shaq's "play your way into shape on the company's dime" philosophy. Who among the Lakers would you say is the best bet to show up after the lockout with a dozen or so extra lb's? It won't be Pau or Kobe, of course. Pau's been playing real basketball, and I'd be shocked if Kobe's been out of shape a day in his life.

I'll tell you who my money's on: Lamar Odom. For one thing, we haven't heard anything about his workout regimen. He's not playing at Impact, and he hasn't been making appearances in pro-am leagues. We know his diet isn't a paragon of nutrition. Also, his spousally encouraged celeb lifestyle lands him at top restaurants and well-catered parties more than I suspect is strictly healthy. I'm setting the over/under on his post-lockout weight at a round, possibly very round, 240.

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Ben: Woo boy, now that's a great question. Have to agree with you on Lamar; of all the Lakers we've seen this summer, he definitely looks like the guy who will come back with a couple more pounds. As you noted, Kobe and Pau will have no problems, and Fish's nutrition and training regimen are downright manic, so I think he'll be fine even if he's attending meetings and pouring over paperwork every week. Drew is training at Freddie Roach's gym to get more mobile and relieve the stress on his knees, Caracter is participating in the Impact League and likely still has weight clauses in his contract, and although we haven't heard much about Blake or Ebanks, I'd imagine that both of them would be fine. Same with the rookies, as Morris is training in L.A. and Goudelock reportedly is entertaining offers in Europe. Artest's status depends on whether the Cheshire Jets actually get around to signing him, or whether he takes his Dancing on the Stars gig seriously and loses some weight to do the tango. Given that this is Ron, you never know, but he's focused a lot on keeping his weight down the past few years - went from 280 at the start of 2010 to 240 during the season if I remember correctly. I haven't seen anything on Barnes beyond him throwing up his dukes in a pro-am league, but I doubt he shows up for a contract year out of shape.

And that leaves Lamar, who did create some noise earlier this week when he brought up possibly going to Europe in what I assume was intended to be a DM to Pau's Twitter. Whether he follows up with it is an open question, considering that he has an awful lot to lose if he gets injured in Europe seeing that this is really the last year on his contract (as the next year is nonguaranteed and the Lakers would almost certainly waive him for the financial savings if they can't extend him at a reasonable rate). Moreover, this brings us back to the last item on the Lakers rumor mill before the lockout set in, which was the Lakers' apparently vigorous shopping of Odom around the league, with reports linking him to trades for Andre Iguodala and Monta Ellis. And in many ways, that made sense. Bynum and Gasol are too important to the team's core to give them away for simply shaking up the roster, while Odom, although certainly an important part of the Lakers' rotation, is a much more fungible asset with a very attractive contract. After coming off a career year, he's arguably at the apex of his value around the league, and at the same time, his future with the Lakers should be called into question. That career year happened at age 31 and has "outlier" written all over it, not to mention that the James Posey effect may get him offers around the league that the Lakers wouldn't (and shouldn't) have the stomach to match.

So yeah, if I'm Mitch Kupchak, I'm sending a call to Rod Thorn as soon as the lockout is over to see if that rumored Odom/Walton for Iggy deal is still on the table. I wrote about Iggy in greater length about a month ago and what he could bring to the team, but the bottom line is that cashing in on Odom's value right now would be a pretty sound decision assuming someone like Iggy is the return. We keep our primary core, get a big upgrade on the wing, and there are a lot of decent backup bigs available in free agency to fill the holes in the rotation. Thoughts? I think the only things the Lakers need to do are addressing the backup two spot and the fourth and fifth bigs, but making a move for future years by bringing in Iggy would be pretty astute IMHO.

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Dex: It absolutely makes sense at least to see what Odom could bring back in a trade. He's coming off a career year, and his contract (both in terms of dollars and years remaining) is one that basically any team in the league could afford. Assuming the Lakers aren't willing to part with Pau or Bynum (except in a possible Dwight Howard deal), Lamar's the only trade asset that won't get Mitch laughed out of the room. The Iggy talks did seem to have a little momentum before the lockout shut everything down. The guys at the Los Angeles Times who make it their life's mission to kill Laker trade rumors stayed silent on that one.

Let's say the Odom-Iggy talks were real. To what extent was Philly motivated by future cost savings? (Odom and Luke make slightly more than Iggy on a per-year basis, but both of their contracts expire after the 2012-13 season, whereas Iggy's runs through 2013-14. Also as you noted, Odom's last year can be bought out for $2.4 million.) The reason I ask is that in July, the Sixers had a change of ownership. A group led by private-equity tycoon Josh Harris, and including other dudes from the PE industry, acquired the team from Comcast-Spectacor. I have no idea what their plans are for payroll, but I do know this: Josh Harris is mega-rich. If he wants to turn the Sixers into a big-spending team, he was the means to do so. So if the Iggy-Odom concept was seen less as a basketball move than a way to shave dollars off future-year payroll, it may no longer be on the table.

As for the Monta Ellis deal, I seem to be the only blogger in all of Lakerdom who kinda liked it. I understand that adding Monta wouldn't exactly further the objective of getting Drew and Pau more touches, and I get that he's been a bad defensive player. But it would be pretty awesome to have a penetrator of his caliber on the floor, right? He has the build and physical skills to be a quality defender, and can't we trust Mike Brown to draw that out of him? On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 = "actually pretty sane" and 10 = "David Kahn"), how crazy am I to be in favor of this trade?

By the way, on Wednesday night Lamar tweeted the following:

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To which I respond: (a) I hope everyone's betting the over on Lamar's post-lockout weight, and (b) "greens w/ turkey neck"???

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Ben: That's true, it's a real unknown. I'm not aware of how Harris plans to run the franchise, although as you noted, he has some deep pockets - $1.5 billion as of 2010, according to Forbes - to handle a top five payroll if he felt like it. Thorn has claimed that new ownership wasn't a factor in how he handled things, namely the Iggy shopping, before the lockout, although he also admits that it's an open question as to which direction the franchise wants to go. That said, there are legitimate reasons for Philly to look into trading Iggy beyond cost saving. They're currently mired in the hell of NBA mediocrity, too good to get a lottery pick but not good enough to be anything more than first-round fodder. There are no blue-chip prospects on that roster that are going to take them to the promised land, as high as I am on Jrue Holiday, Nikola Vucevic, their 2011 first rounder from USC, is a low-upside player who got picked in the mid-first round due to a dearth of center prospects in a weak draft. Maybe Evan Turner shows a bit of the talent that got him drafted second overall, but it increasingly looks like he'll be a good complementary player at best, not to mention that he needs the ball to be effective, something Iggy and Holiday do quite a bit.

In the meantime, Philly is hamstrung by Iggy's and Brand's contracts, both of which are cap killers for a team with the Sixers' poor attendance numbers. It's one thing for Harris to pony up the big bucks for a championship core, but it's going to be tough for him to recoup any of that spending if Philly isn't going deep into the playoffs on a yearly basis. He also has to re-up Thaddeus Young, who will be hitting restricted free agency this year and was arguably the second best sixth man in the league last year behind Odom. All that said, we really don't know. New owners usually get a grace period from the fans to revamp the roster a bit, so fans aren't going to go apeshit if Iggy gets traded, not to mention that there are a ton of top tier prospects who are available at the head of what appears to be a stacked 2012 draft. Getting rid of Iggy for Odom simply jump starts that rebuilding process, and hey, there's nothing stopping Odom from finding his way back to L.A. after next season if he's willing to play for say Steve Blake's contract. Another possibility: Philly asks for Artest instead of Walton due to the veteran-loving Doug Collins, which arguably keep the team in the playoffs next year, and I wouldn't mind that scenario considering that Iggy makes Ron rather redundant.

As for Ellis, no, you're not crazy, but you're also talking to a guy with a natural dislike for inefficient gunners who play crap defense. To his credit, Ellis has had a terrible environment in which to acquire a good defensive mentality and to learn how to restrain himself from launching up long twos most of the time, but old habits die hard, and it's going to be hell of a transition going from free-flowing and carefree Golden State to L.A., where he has to (1) feed the bigs and run some pick-and-roll with them, (2) defer to and play off Kobe, and (3) give two shits about defending given that Mike Brown will bench him if he doesn't. He definitely has the talent to do all those things, and you're right, a guy with his quickness could be a terror on the defensive end if he put his mind to it. He's shown flashes of that defensive ability, perhaps best demonstrated when he absolutely dominated pre-injury Brandon Roy in 2009, scoring 34 points on 13-for-28 shooting with eight assists and six steals, as well as limiting Roy to 17 points on 6-for-17 shooting along with three turnovers. He told the estimable Tim Kawakami after the game that he could do that every game if he wanted. And before we forget, Roy was inferior only to Kobe among the league's two guards before he was injured; it wouldn't be amiss to compare that kind of virtuoso defensive performance to Artest shutting down Durant during the 2010 playoffs.

And yeah, Mike Brown could be a coach to bring that kind of talent out of him on a more consistent basis. There was a reason the Warriors had him at the top of their coaching shortlist, and also the same reason why they spent Thibs-level assistant money to get Brown's former defensive coordinator Michael Malone to help out Mark Jackson. With Kobe's explosiveness steadily decreasing, Ellis does provide that desperately needed perimeter creator, and if he can concentrate on getting to the rim and being more of a set-up man, he could be a force off the pick-and-roll with his speed. It really just comes down to how much he embraces the challenge of going to a real championship contender with high expectations. He may thrive in a more reduced role, as I'd wager he would play 30 minutes or so a game as a sixth man off the bench and eat into Fish's and Blake's minutes, in which he doesn't have to create everything for his teammates, or lash out at the fact that he can't jack up shots without getting yelled at. How he splits touches with Kobe is another important factor, as the two would have to figure out how to play off each other. Moreover, he would have to do all this likely without the benefit of training camp and a good chunk of the season. So in answer to your question, I would rate it a four. It definitely could work out pretty well and certainly isn't a bad way to cash in on Odom's contract, but at the same time, you're betting an awful lot on Ellis adapting to his role basically without a hitch.

This entertaining hypothetical aside, what will definitely happen post-lockout is that Kupchak will have to fill in the holes in our bench at two guard and center, as we simultaneously saw the advantages of solid play at those positions (Brown for the first few months of the season) as well as how disastrous it can be for those backups to be terrible (Ratliff/Smith/Caracter) last season. Amid all the Dwight Howard talk and Carmelo Anthony rumblings last year, the problem wasn't necessarily with our top talent (besides Pau, but that's another issue entirely), but the fact that our non-Odom bench has continued its post-2008 reign of egregious suck. Among the options available in this current market, whom would you most like the Lakers to pursue to fill these spots?

As for Lamar's home cooking, well, damn. The idea of a portly Odom is not an endearing one. At least tweet that you ran it off afterwards, dude.

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Dex: Well, it's now Thursday, and the week's big development on the labor front has been both sides' apparent willingness to fight to the death over a hard salary cap. The notion, long held by many of us, that the owners would preserve exceptions to the cap in return for a favorable BRI split could still be validated in the end, but it's more clear than ever that whatever exceptions survive will be few and narrow. Which means that absent a roster-shaking trade, we can forget about the Lakers picking up anyone sexy to fill the vacancies at backup SG and center.

I like the idea, which you floated a while back, of chasing Mike Dunleavy, Jr. He represents the top end of the SG talent that might be available to the Lakers, though I kind of suspect he'll find a team to pay him more than the Lakers can afford. In the MLE era, he'd be my choice. (Oh, MLE, I miss you already.)

I'm not at all enamored of signing Tracy McGrady or Michael Redd. They still have their uses on the court, but their age and injury risk leave me fearful of repeating the Theo Ratliff catastrophe. I could see either of them going down for an extended stretch, and instead of signing someone cheap to soak up minutes ownership saying, "Welp, we spent our backup SG money. I guess Kobe will just have to go a little longer each night. Andrew Goudelock? Who's that?" So give me... Marco Belinelli, I guess. Whenever he's on the court, I'll just keep in mind how inexplicably awesome he was in NBA Live ‘09.

The backup center position should be easier to fill since the job requirements are less elaborate. They can be summarized as (a) be big, and (b) don't get hurt. I'd be good with Jeff Foster. Kwame's a legitimate option, too! Dan Gadzuric is pretty terrible but I've had a soft spot for him since his UCLA days. One of my first fantasy basketball teams was called Gadzuric World Order.

Let's wrap this up with one final topic, which I'll gingerly toss in your direction and then run fleeing the other way.

A story broke this week about former Laker Glen Rice. I won't link to it. You know what I'm talking about. My question for you is: can we come up with anything to say about this story, anything at all, that doesn't violate our own site rules, possibly many of them at the same time? I trust you can rise to this challenge.

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Ben: Belinelli isn't a terrible choice. He can handle the ball decently and create a little from the perimeter, both of which are already icing on the cake for a three-point specialist. The mere fact that he's a consistent three-point shooter is already a feather in his cap considering the Lakers' woes from behind the arc last season, and it makes up for his pretty miserable defense. One could say that he's Dunleavy-lite in a fashion, with Dunleavy the more well-rounded offense player, although Belinelli is still only 25; there's still a small window for development there. Agree with you on McGrady and Redd, both of whom are huge risks for a rather meager gain. Wherever the CBA talks end up - and the reports that the non-Gilbert/Sarver owners are amenable to a 52/48 split in BRI is a big development that has a bit undercut by the recent doom and gloom talk - the Lakers should be able to fill the holes in the rotation, as the minimum will always be available. Kwame returning would definitely be the height of comedy though. Following the relationship between him and Drew or him and Pau across a season would be really amusing.

And for that final topic...well...meh. Joe McGinniss' book has been excoriated by every self-respecting piece of media in existence for being a poorly written hit piece, although I don't think anyone is actively disputing the facts therein. Then again, if it actually happened and Glen Rice can claim that he had a one-night stand with one of the most notable figures in modern politics, what really does it mean? Rice wasn't exactly a megastar for which this would draw the eye of the entire entertainment media, and the average person nowadays probably didn't know of his existence before the book was released. Moreover, he was a Laker for such a brief period that I doubt the largely L.A.-based entertainment publications would care about this. That both were young and unmarried at the time makes it even less of a scandal in the making, and honestly, a non-starter in that regard. Ignoring the more salacious claims McGinniss brings forth for why this event even happened, it's largely irrelevant for the Lakers and basketball fans in general, although that certainly shouldn't stop one from going over the claims and making their own conclusions. With the lockout currently at a critical juncture that will determine whether the season starts on time, we have more important things to concentrate on in any case.

Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore. Follow Ben on Twitter @brosales12.

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