February 1, 2008
The Los Angeles Lakers young center, Andrew Bynum, was lost for the season due to a dislocated left kneecap. Kwame Brown was, well, Kwame Brown. The starting center for the Lakers that night against the Toronto Raptors was Ronny Turiaf, who was a solid backup center at most. The Lakers needed front court help immediately, unless they wanted to turn to D.J. Mbenga to carry them through the playoffs. Before that game against the Raptors, Mitch Kupchak announced that they had acquired 27 year old Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzles in exchange for Kwame Brown (he can't be in the NBA anymore right?), Javaris Crittenton (minor off-court issues in recent history), Aaron McKie (was under Laker contract but working as assistant coach for the 76ers, what???) and the rights to Marc Gasol (Lakers should have left this guy out of the trade). So looking back at this trade from today, it was really a Gasol-brother swap.
"We're extremely pleased to be able to make this trade." said Kupchak on the day of the trade. "Pau is a proven player of all-star caliber in this league who can score and rebound and he's still a young player. We feel this move strengthens our team in the short term as well as the long term."
The Lakers entered the playoffs as the number one seed in the West. In Gasol's playoff debut as a Laker, he posted numbers of 36 points, 16 rebounds, 8 assists, and 3 blocked shots. However, the Lakers went on to lose to the Boston Celtics in the NBA championship. Gasol and Co (which includes Kobe Bryant, who won MVP that year) were not going to let this happen again. The Lake show went on to the NBA Finals the next two years, and were victorious in both. Three straight trips to the NBA Finals. In the three years previous to the Gasol trade, the Lakers missed the playoffs, lost to the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs (after being up 3-1 in the series), and again losing to the Suns in the first round. Gasol brought the championship expectations back to the city of Los Angeles.
Now, four years after the Lakers last championship, Pau Gasol is 33 years old. The last four years have consisted of him involved in a myriad of trade rumors (including one that was all but done thanks to David Stern), inconsistent play, and injuries. Gasol is now in the final year of a contract. In almost all scenarios, Gasol does not resign with the Lakers, unless he is willing to take a veteran's minimum, which is highly unlikely. At this point in his career, he is still probably worth about 10 million dollars a year to some team looking to add an extra piece, a veteran with championship experience. With the trade deadline looming this coming Thursday, the Lakers are looking to deal Gasol, in order to get some sort of compensation for the Spaniard. Recent reports have said that Gasol trade-talks have died down due to Gasol's current groin strain, but it is probable that they will spark up again in the coming days. Devout Laker fans who have closely followed the situation over the last four years must feel some sort of sympathy for the gentle-giant Gasol, who has openly expressed his love for Los Angeles and his desire to stay with the Lakers. It is an extremely tough situation for a man that helped bring two championships to a championship-hungry city.
Mitch Kupchak has said that if a trade does not happen this week, the Lakers will have no problem sticking with Gasol through the end of this contract and let Gasol finish it out with the Lakers as he wishes. He has been nothing but loyal to his teammates and the franchise that gave him the opportunity of a lifetime to compete for NBA championships, something he would never have in Memphis. It is sad that this week (or this season) will be his last as a Laker, that someone who surely will see his number 16 jersey placed in the rafters of Staples Center came to a crashing finish like this one. At the end of the day, the NBA is a business. It is a rare sighting to see a situation like that of Kobe Bryant, who will not have to have an awkward ending to his career, unlike players such as Shaquille O'Neal, Kevin Garnett, and Steve Nash. Gasol will ultimately become just another player that succumbs to old age, injury, and the business model of the NBA. However, that can never take away what Pau Gasol managed to bring to the city of Los Angeles in those first three years as a Laker. That trade from February 1, 2008 may go down as one of the most lop-sided and brilliant trades in NBA history. Two NBA championships for some scrap players and a future talented NBA center in Marc Gasol. Thank you Memphis Grizzles. We will now gladly accept Marc Gasol back.
And thank you, Pau Gasol, for once again bringing the Los Angeles Lakers to the top.