The stated preference of the Lakers, so I’ve been told, is to keep him. Kobe Bryant has set unequivocally he wants to keep him. I want to keep him, on a personal level. He’s the the most genuine, considerate person I’ve had the pleasure of covering. Even the torch and pitchfork crowd clamoring to send Pau Gasol out on the first available wheeled object clamored a little less after he finished the 2012-13 season strong.
But at this point, if the opportunity presents itself he’s someone the Lakers can’t afford to keep. And I don’t mean financially, or because the trio of Gasol, Dwight Howard, and Mike D’Antoni doesn’t exactly have a Three Muskateers cohesion (though both are obviously important considerations).
Under the best of circumstances next season — Dwight Howard returns, Kobe recovers his way to full Kobe-ness from the start of the season, Steve Nash stays whole, coach and roster find a happy coexistence, and so on, the Lakers might kinda, sorta talked about as a title contender. Maybe they’d be able to work enough stuff around the margins this summer to fill holes and sand down the roster’s jagged edges. But that’s the best case scenario. In reality, you have team built around a (by then) 35-year old shooting guard coming off Achilles surgery, a 39-heading-quickly-to-40 year old point guard who spent the previous battling nerve pain, and a (soon-to-be) 33-year old power forward coming off procedures on both knees.
That sound you hear is the actuaries sounding the alarm.
If things go reasonably well the Lakers are likely better than they were this year, but not not good enough. Not close. And the without question the chances of a poor season outweigh the odds of a miracle run. The endgame at this point isn’t 2013-14, but the rebuilding process the Lakers have (at increasing cost in both money and assets) postponed in an honorable effort to hang a few more banners while Dr. Buss was alive and before Kobe retires. Unfortunately, the bill is due. Overdue, really, and while preserving 2014′s cap space this offseason and rolling the dice with what they have is one option, a better one is to use the one big chip they control — Gasol — to gain whatever assets can be had capable of aiding the rebuild.
It would require an Obi-Wanesque bit of negotiating (or something involving a horse’s head*) for Mitch Kupchak to simultaneously improve the Lakers now and down the road in flipping Gasol. If they’re able to pry away some combination of young, cheap talent and draft picks from a team/teams in a summertime trade**, whatever fully grown players the Lakers receive as part of the deal aren’t likely to set jersey sales records at the team store. Their primary value would be preserving next summer’s flexibility and whatever they might in turn bring at the deadline. Trading Gasol very likely makes the Lakers worse. So be it.
The reality of the NBA? Building a truly high-end team almost always requires picks and young parts, whether to groom as stars or used to acquire another team’s.Read More