The Lakers season is rapidly coming apart at the seams. With a 17-23 record and an upcoming week against four playoff teams, somehow, some way, the worst could be yet to come.
On Saturday, our own Actuarially Sound wrote a piece on how Pau Gasol, by most statistical metrics, is not helping the Lakers to victory. The proof's not just on paper; the team is just 14-19 when Pau's on the floor. Actuarially Sound made a pretty solid case for the Spaniard to be traded, but then again, isn't Gasol the same player that very nearly took down the US Men's Olympic team by himself this past summer? Or the player that, when free of injury, is in some people's minds the rightful 2010 Finals MVP? There's a lot to consider here, but the Lakers could very well be sitting at a ghastly 17-27 by week's end.
And thus, we ask the forum: is it finally time to trade Pau Gasol?
If you read my recent post discussing the Pau Gasol dilemma it should be pretty obvious where I stand on this one. The front office should absolutely move Pau Gasol. The Lakers are great when they play smaller with either World Peace, Jamison, or Clark at the power forward position. Playing the twin towers together basically digs the team a hole they have to fight out of. Why force a losing line-up on the court for half the game?
Even though he has been pretty solid as a center, the market won't view him as all that valuable. His contract, age, and statistical decline won't lead to many great offers on the table. Fortunately for the Lakers, if the Howard plus four floor spacer line-ups continue to be as dominant as they have been, the Lakers may not need much back in exchange for Gasol.
Any trade will have to focus on the present season with an eye not to jeopardize the future (2014 free agency). This means the Lakers should look to fill the holes in the roster while not acquiring anyone with more than a two year deal. The biggest hole on the roster would be back-up center if Gasol is traded, but either a back-up combo guard or another shooter would be a welcomed addition. Thankfully for the Lakers there are quite a few teams that could fill this need, match salaries with the Lakers, and are likely to desire the acquisition of Gasol for a cheap price. A few that come to mind would be Milwaukee (Dalembert and Udrih), Atlanta (Pachulia, Harris, and Morrow), Dallas (Kaman and Marion), or Golden State (Bogut and Jack). Obviously none of these deals land an all-star but such is the market for Gasol. They all bring back solid defensive centers with size plus another ancillary piece to fill out the Lakers depth chart (and make salaries match).
The Great Mambino
Out of all of us on this fine digital establishment, there is not a more staunch, steadfast and pathetic Pau Gasol apologist than I. For nearly six seasons, the Spaniard has worked incredibly hard to shed every stereotype sent his way; from being hailed as a soft, weak Euro-big to not being able to match his level of play to the stage he was on. Through it all, Gasol has thrown these accusations back in the face of his critics and become an All-Star, All-NBAer and most importantly, a champion two times over. Beginning with that reason, I do not think it's time to trade Pau Gasol.
Yes, the metrics are damning. No, the Lakers don't seem to have a coach that will make the necessary adjustments that will accommodate Pau, but perhaps also compromise his vaunted offensive system. But I believe in Pau's ability to adapt and to become more than seems currently constituted. Though this may be largely based on anecdotal evidence, Gasol, like in his post-2008 Finals season, has shown that he's able to overcome his supposed limitations.
But the bigger question in my mind, is whether or not the Lakers are ready for a full-blown rebuild. As I've written before, a one for one trade more than likely does not exist for Gasol. The only way he is getting moved is through a complicated three or four team deal, and even in that case, the return will be for marginal role players and draft picks, not for the Rudy Gays or Josh Smiths of the world. I do not believe that trading the big man will fetch enough return to make the Lakers better in the short term. Dealing him would signal the first step of a rebuild, which becomes a much larger discussion that involves whether or not that's something Dwight Howard would be interested in signing up for this summer.
From the very beginning of the season, there was no doubt that this particular Lakers incarnation was a win-now team. There are no draft picks left. Besides Dwight Howard, there is no key contributor besides Earl Clark and Darius Morris that's under the age of 32. Unless dealing Gasol would grant the team a stretch forward with defensive chops and a young, athletic, lockdown small forward with a nice stroke, I don't think the deal is happening. I believe in Pau's ability to make this work. It's just not the time yet. But it's getting close.
Saurav A. Das
It's becoming blatantly obvious that the Lakers as presently constructed aren't going to get it done. Some interesting statistical trends illustrate that Pau can play very well at Center, but simply does not fit in as a Power Forward in a D'Antoni system - the Twin Towers haven't really worked since Duncan/Robinson. The apparent solution to this problem, playing Pau and Dwight in a Center rotation, is complicated by Pau's stated refusal to come off the bench. Forcibly benching him would result in a toxic locker room, considering that Kobe and Nash - not to mention Laker management - have all come out in support of Pau. Furthermore, even if a united front were to be presented to Pau, convincing him to be a professional and come off the bench as best suits the team, his defense at center position is presently atrocious, as demonstrated last night; a 22-million-dollar-a-year backup center who struggles defensively is an utter waste.
The only solution I can see is to make a move. This team needs to win now, with the books being more-or-less clear a season or two down the line. Moreover, building for the future makes no sense when the Lakers first have to convince Dwight to stick around for the long run. Hence, moves made should be for players that can immediately contribute to a marked improvement in Lakers play, particularly defensively. With Pau's age, contract, and play of late, I feel it's highly unlikely that the Lakers can return equal value, i.e. another star. In any case, that shouldn't be what they're looking for; the Lakers need depth. While I cannot think of any particular trades that would work and be mutually beneficial at present, it would be expedient to acquire a three-and-d swingman, considering Ebanks' poor play and Meeks' trip to the doghouse. Furthermore, a solid backup center who can set a screen and play defense would be essential in any trade giving up Pau. Finally, with the point guard situation as is, a backup guard mightn't be the worst thing in the world to pick up.
In short, yes. The game against Toronto was indicative of what Pau essentially is right now: an able offensive weapon in the post with excellent passing tools and limited ability to anchor the middle on defense. The problem is that that kind of player has no real role on the current iteration of this team so long as Dwight Howard is present, and the lineup data increasingly suggests that it isn't a workable concept. Pau has been reduced to a high post operator who sets up the low block and cutters, especially in HORNS sets, and hits pick-and-pop jumpers. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's a waste of his talents. At this point in his career, Pau needs a mobile, defensive-minded four who can cover for him on defense and give him the room to camp in the post on offense -- think Serge Ibaka -- and that's not going to be forthcoming on the Lakers anytime soon. Simply, he has a lot less value for the Lakers than he would for a prospective trade partner, the clearest sign that a trade would be an amicable solution for both parties. As the Lakers' season approaches the brink, they desperately need a deal to resuscitate their playoff hopes, fix an unbalanced rotation, and grab more pieces that fit what Mike D'Antoni wants to run on offense.
The Lakers FO has reportedly wanted to see the team fully healthy and in action before they make a possible move, but it's fairly clear that this isn't a problem that can be worked around internally. Pau has chafed at the notion of being benched for Earl Clark, who has played very well since joining the rotation, and this has led to D'Antoni more or less being forced to play Pau in critical situations despite it not working out on the floor to avoid further chemistry issues. This isn't to say that Pau is being unreasonable: he has the longest tenure on the team aside from Kobe, was instrumental in two championship wins, and is now being asked to adjust his game more than any other player on the roster. It's deeply unfortunate that this couldn't be worked out, but that's the reality of what the league has become nowadays. Twenty years ago, you could run double block sets between him and Dwight and have it look completely natural. Now, it's too much of a liability defensively against the pick-and-roll; and too limiting offensively in a league dictated by guard play, spacing the floor, and smaller, faster lineups. And under the man who helped to herald in this new era of offense in D'Antoni, Pau doesn't really have a place to rest his case on.
Of course, this would all be much easier if Pau could fetch the Lakers a decent haul in free agency, but not a lot of teams have both the assets that would interest the Lakers and the willingness to absorb what is essentially a two year max contract. The Lakers would need another frontcourt player to buttress the rotation in Pau's absence -- see how losing Jordan Hill hurts here? -- and a solution for either one of their gaping holes at backup point guard or the wing, preferably the latter. Minnesota and Toronto have been mentioned as suitors, but the Raptors would require the Lakers to absorb an epic albatross in Andrea Bargnani to get at the prize in Jose Calderon and the Timberwolves proposing a package based around Derrick Williams and Nikola Pekovic would likely only be helpful if relayed to a third team. How the Lakers' season proceeds from this point forward is the determining factor in terms of what they will accept for Pau, however. If you still believe that there is a chance to be competitive this year, you have to get pieces that help resolve the current rotation problems. If this isn't the case, then seeing whether say Williams can capitalize on the talent he displayed at Arizona and develop into a four man in D'Antoni's system might be a worthy endeavor and Pekovic could be a piece relayed to another team for picks or another option.
This noted, there isn't a big distinction between "win-now" and "future prospects" since it really is only a matter of salvaging this season or waiting until next season. This is a core that has a shelf life that terminates in 2014, when the board is reset and the Lakers can wield gobs of cap space. Even if the notion of chasing a big free agent doesn't materialize -- *cough* LeBron *cough* -- the absolute last thing the Lakers want to do is impinge upon their future flexibility by making a short-sighted move for the now. There has to be some real soul-searching over whether this core can be competitive this year and whether it is worth it to get a big money asset. Someone like Josh Smith, the only possibility for which is probably in a three team deal, would be an acceptable reason to eat some of the 2014 space. Someone like Bargnani, a colossal failure of a supposed franchise player whom Drew nicely deconstructed earlier in the year, would not, even if the Lakers were getting the likes of Jose Calderon or Kyle Lowry in the deal, since it is unlikely that one move is all that stands between the Lakers and contention. As for what they could possibly get, going for future value seems to probably be their best bet at the moment. This year has been so disastrous that it is difficult to imagine it being salvaged, so it might be fruitful to more or less try again next year, assuming that Dwight Howard decides to stay in L.A.
Unfortunately, yes. I'd be all for keeping Pau if this seemed like a situation that could work, but as time goes on, nothing points to a situation in which it could. The Twin Towers idea didn't quite work out under Phil Jackson nor Mike Brown, and now the Lakers are tied into a coach known for his unwillingness to stray outside of the system he knows best. With Mike D'Antoni not being able to fit Pau into his style, and the Lakers looking towards the future (as they should be) as well as focusing on the present that is Kobe, there isn't anytime left to sit and try to force a square peg into a round hole. Although I'd be completely on board with Pau coming off the bench if he was made to, I don't think that would be beneficial in the long run. I feel Pau's unhappiness in his role, professional as he is, is preventing him from truly being able to help this team on a night in and night out basis. The Lakers aren't going to retain him moving forward so there's no reason to have Pau sitting around as a lame duck. The hiring of Mike D sealed Pau's fate long ago.
I hate to play general manager, and some of our writers do it so much better, so I'll stay away from what the Lakers could fetch, but I'd like to think any trade the Lakers made killed both birds with one stone. They need to pull off a trade that tries to right the ship now, and fits moving forward. It would be nice if the Lakers would be able to snag back a draft pick or two, but considering the pressure to keep the Lakers contenders until Kobe retires and their possible interest in retaining Dwight Howard, there's just no room to trade Pau with rebuilding in mind. It would be my preference that the Lakers look for the right pieces and depth instead of a star name. Unless the Lakers decide to press the red button and shoot for the Summer of 2014.