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It’s been almost an entire week since Kobe Bryant told Lakers management to make a decision regarding Pau Gasol’s future. His request was greeted with silence. Lakers GM Jerry Buss is keeping mum about the whole situation, but in doing so, is basically telling teams: “Make me a better offer already.”
In his defense, L.A. has to do something personnel-wise. Look at it this way- even though the Lakers have been able to somehow keep its three best players healthy (no small feat), they are still fifth in the West and far behind Oklahoma City.
Since they’re capped out until Kobe Bryant retires, their best bet is to trade Gasol for young or overpaid talent. Remember, the Lakers have never been scared to spend money. So with all that being said, let’s get to it.
Johnson has $107 million left on his contract and Smith has $25.6 million left on his. Gasol has $56.9 million left, while World Peace has $21.7 million left.
Yes, Johnson is more overpaid than Michael Bay at this point. While he obviously never should have been paid lead-man money, Johnson is an All-Star talent. From purely a basketball perspective, he could still be an asset to a contender. The things he does well — shoot, create and defend — are exactly what the Lakers need next to Kobe. Adding Smith, the second-most athletic power forward in the league behind Griffin, would give an old Lakers team a badly needed face-lift and tummy tuck. (What, you thought one plastic surgery procedure was enough? This is L.A. we’re talking about!) Yes, this is a lot of money to take on, but with Kobe’s cap figure rising insanely (he’s making $30 million in 2014!), they may as well go all in and chase one more ring before he retires. Again, they can afford to.
For Atlanta, let’s call Josh Smith the Johnson tax. Atlanta gets out of Johnson’s horrendous contract and effectively frees up cap space a year earlier. While L.A. obviously wins the deal in terms of talent, Atlanta would save about $54 million. If Artest opts out after this season, they would save $69 million. I mean, he probably won’t, but if he hates playing Atlanta, he could. Remember Mike Bibby leaving more than $6 million on the table last year to join the Heat? It’s not unprecedented. Atlanta could go forward with a Teague-Horford-Gasol core. Throw in Artest, McGrady and Heinrich, and at the very least, it’s a far feistier crew. Or they could simply flip Gasol in a salary dump and get out of Marvin Williams in the process. That way, they’d save money, bottom-out and build around Teague (23) and Horford (25), who is under contract until 2016 anyway.
Doesn’t that make far more sense for Atlanta than to stay with this leader-less group that peaked two years ago? Why keep it together?
Lee has $68.5 million left on his contract and Ellis has $33 million left. Gasol has $56.9 million left.
The Lakers would FINALLY have someone to take some of the scoring burden off Kobe on a nightly basis, although Mike Brown would surely have to get creative with his lineups…Monta-Kobe-Metta-Lee-Bynum?
Naturally LA Sports writers would spend endless hours dissecting the “Can Kobe and Monta play together” question, and really only time would tell. Ellis is an undersized (6-foot-2) shooting guard and obviously not a natural point guard (53rd in the league in Assist-Turnover ratio this year).
But the flip side of the question makes the gamble worth taking: “Who can defend a lineup with both Kobe and Monta?” Few teams have two perimeter defenders capable of containing Ellis and Bryant respectively. Even fewer also possess a center capable of slowing Andrew Bynum in the post. With a 20-10 power forward (Seriously, check out Lee’s numbers) as their fourth option, the Lakers would be in FAR better shape this year and going forward.
The deal would save the Warriors $44.6 million, before factoring in the luxury tax savings. With the team firmly planted outside of the playoff picture once again, the Warriors could accelerate the development of youngsters like Klay Thompson and Ekpe Udoh by moving Ellis along with Lee (and his cap-crippling five-year contract). Gasol could then be used as a trade chip to unload another bad contract (we’re looking at you Andris) and maybe even net Golden State a draft pick or two.
The massive-three team remodel
Los Angeles gets Brandon Jennings, Stephen Jackson and Drew Gooden.
Milwaukee gets Luis Scola, Hasheem Thabeet (expiring), Courtney Lee, Goran Dragic
Houston (finally) gets Pau Gasol.
In Compton native Brandon Jennings, the Lakers would finally have a legit point guard and sorely needed offensive creator. Now that the triangle offense is a fading memory, L.A. is no longer a place where point guards go to die…or stand passively in the corner and feed the post. Sure, Jennings isn’t the most efficient scorer, but he would inject athleticism and dynamism into a team full of aging legs and ice buckets. At 22, he has a high ceiling and combined with Bynum (24), could make the post-Kobe era more palatable.
Old war-hawk Stephen Jackson is a gamble considering the year he’s had so far, but would it really shock you if he turned it around playing on a contender? There’s no doubting that he’s a player who thrives in big moments. L.A. should not be too concerned with what he’s done on a struggling Bucks team with a disciplinarian coach who clearly doesn’t like him. He still has a couple of good years left.
We already know how desperately Daryl Morey wants Gasol. Considering he was willing to trade Kevin Martin, Luis Scola AND a first round pick in December, this trade is actually more favorable to Houston. Sure, they’d be losing Lee and Dragic, two young guards with bright futures, but they’d be going forward with Lowry, Martin and Gasol as their three-best players.
Milwaukee loses arguably its brightest star, but considering Jennings’ ominous comments about doing his homework on big market teams, maybe getting something for him now is the best option for everyone involved. In Dragic and Lee, the Bucks would receive young guards full who need game-time experience to develop. Getting Scola would be a steal and if Andrew Bogut is ever able to avoid injury (who am I kidding?), Milwaukee could very well have the best front-line in the conference.
Everybody wins, even in the trade machine! The Lakers need a point guard desperately. Deron Williams is among the league’s best, and he would instantly make the life of every Laker easier. (Quick tangent: Is there anything more likely to convince Chris Paul to stay on the Clippers than Deron Williams playing for the Lakers?)
The Nets are in a very dark place, and things will get even worse if Deron Williams walks for nothing this summer. After giving up the house, the car and the shirts off their backs in the trade before the deadline last year, the roster would be barren after the straight subtraction of Williams. Deron doesn’t want to continue playing with that roster, and the front office pulling off a move for another star to pair with Williams appears out of the question. Gasol should have 4-5 years left as one of the most skilled offensive big men in the league. For the Nets’ purposes, he’s a valuable trade chip who could be flipped for multiple young assets in the off-season.
The Lakers seem to believe Bynum will squash the injury bug and anchor the team for the remainder of the decade. Thus, thanks to Jim Buss’ (seemingly irrational) confidence in Bynum (and of course the team’s current struggles/Gasol’s recurring playoff disappearing act) Pau has become dispensable. With Williams handling point guard duties (instead of Steve Blake and Derek Fisher) Bynum’s scoring and field goal percentage would undoubtedly see a bump, cementing his position opposite Dwight Howard as one of the league’s two elite centers.
Here’s where it gets really interesting. With the Williams deal complete, the Lakers would again become the front runners for Howard. (For those of you who haven’t been paying attention to the Howard trade-saga, Dwight wants to play with Deron Williams. Dwight isn’t sold on playing with the current Lakers roster for the next half-decade. Dwight doesn’t want to appear to follow in Shaq’s footsteps.) Let’s say Dwight isn’t moved before the deadline, but he sees Deron go to the Lakers. You think he wouldn’t be tempted? Orlando would surely be open to a package of Bynum and draft considerations, clearly a huge upgrade over any of their alternatives. Williams-Bryant-Howard anyone?