The most surprising thing about last Saturday’s Heat-Celtics Game 3 matchup didn’t happen on the court. It had nothing to do with Rajon Rondo’s elbow being snapped like a breadstick, wasn’t that- for at least one night- Mario Chalmers was the best player on the floor for Miami, and didn’t even occur a day later when Chris Bosh admitted to being intimidated by the Boston crowd. Come to think of it, the most surprising thing didn’t have to do with the game at all.
Nope the biggest surprise came on the postgame show, where the NBA on ABC studio guys started openly and bluntly talking about the end of the Lakers dynasty. Which was interesting, since the Lakers hadn’t played that night, and at the time, still had a series with Dallas that was on-going.
Of course none of that mattered less than a day later, when Los Angeles fulfilled that prophecy and got waxed by Dallas in the deciding Game 4. And really, “waxed,” isn’t even the right word. The Lakers were beat up, beat down and embarrassed, even more so when Andrew Bynum decided to go WWE on JJ Barea, and to use the words of Mike Tyson, knock him “into Bolivian.” Understand, it’s one thing to lose ugly. It’s another to do it with less dignity than the cast of Teen Mom. Well that was the Lakers on Sunday.
From there, the outrage began again, first in the postgame show, and then into the following day. Magic Johnson said he was “embarrassed for the entire organization,” and Jerry West used similar sentiments the next day on the Dan Patrick Show. Both contended that it was time to blow up this Lakers roster as we know it and start from scratch.
But while the loss was bad, I’ve got to admit that those comments did catch me a bit off-guard.As ugly as things got with Dallas, I was surprised by the curt responses of Magic, West and everyone else who agreed that it was time to take the wrecking ball to the Lakers. Obviously the series was ugly, I get that. But weren’t these the three-time defending Western Conference champions that everyone was talking about? A team which has won the last two NBA titles? A team that won 57 regular season games this year, and could’ve easily won two of the four games they lost in this series? Did I imagine all that? While it’s hard to argue that changes are needed with the Lakers, I’m not sure totally blowing things up is the answer either.
Then again, looking at the situation, I’m not so sure the Lakers can anyway.
Beginning at the top, I’ve got bad news for Lakers fans: You’re kinda stuck with the guys you’ve got. Looking at the roster, I’m shocked at how many dollars, over how many years Jerry Buss and company have committed to the players on this roster.
Starting with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Blake, they’re all on the books, for fully guaranteed contracts for the next three years.
Hmm. Let’s break that down for a second.
Obviously we can all make sense of the Kobe Bryant deal. Yes he’s slipped a tiny bit, and sure he’s a step slower than he was even just a year or two ago. Still, he’s one of the five best players on the planet, and should be paid as such. Even closing in on his 33rd birthday, those three years of guaranteed money make sense. I doubt anyone is arguing with me there.
It’s the same with Pau Gasol. Say what you want about his current mental state (which could probably be best described as more sensitive than a 15-year-old girl), but it wasn’t all that long ago that many (myself included), considered him the best all-around big man in basketball. It was also only four months ago that he was on the All-Star team.
But three-years and $12 million guaranteed to Steve Blake? Wait, when did that happen? Was I drunk? Was GM Mitch Kupchak drunk when he gave out that contract? Blake was 30-years-old when he signed that deal, and wasn’t all that good to begin with. That contract isn’t just bad, it’s an outrage. To basketball, to contracts and to society as a whole.
Yet sadly, it’s not even the Lakers worst in the coming years.
Nope, that title belongs to Ron Artest, who is on the books for $6 million through the end of next year, which wouldn’t be all that bad…if he didn’t have a player option that kicks in after next season, and will keep him in Los Angeles for two more full seasons if he accepts it. Luckily for the Lakers, Artest is certifiably insane, meaning there’s a chance he won’t take those two years and $14 million. I just wouldn’t bet on it. Which is bad news for everyone involved, except maybe Artest and his agent.
Speaking of which, you know else is on the books for two more years? Luke Walton, who’ll earn 12 million through the end of next year. No, I’m not joking. And don’t forget Lamar Odom, who is under contract until the end of next season (Not that it matters anyway, since I’m pretty sure he would nix any trade, and could probably make more money designing a line of unisex purses with his wife, than playing basketball).
So looking at this Lakers situation realistically, blowing things up just isn’t an option. It’s hard seeing anyone being interested in trading for Artest, Odom, Walton or Derek Fisher who is under contract next year, and has a player option for 2013 (Really, at this point, shouldn’t his only “option,” be, to either get put down peacefully at the local vet’s office, or sent out to a farm to live his remaining days?).
Anyway, looking at the Lakers options from here on out, let’s get one thing out of the way from the start: The Lakers aren’t trading for Dwight Howard. At least not right now.
For one, let’s remember, this isn’t a Carmelo Anthony situation. Howard has never asked for a trade. He’s never insinuated he wants a trade. And unlike certain superstars who will remain nameless, he has never gone on the record at his own wedding and publicly talked about playing for a different team. For better or worse, Howard isn’t going anywhere.
At the same time, can someone explain why the Magic would trade Howard until the next collective bargaining agreement is figured out? What’s the rush? After all, isn’t one of the biggest priorities the owners have in this upcoming lockout to make sure that something like “The Decision,” never happens again, at least not without heavy, HEAVY reparations for the team? For all we know, the next CBA could have some kind of “Franchise Tag,” like the NFL, and Howard could be stuck in Orlando until death do he and the organization part. I’m not saying Howard won’t get traded eventually. Just not until after a lockout, when the landscape is much clearer.
So with Howard off the table for now, the Lakers are stuck in the ultimate “chicken and the egg,” situation. They can’t possibly come back into the 2011-2012 season (whenever that starts) with the same roster they have now. But it’s also gonna be kinda, sorta hard to relieve themselves of any of the dead weight they’re stuck with too.
No matter what they do though, one thing is clear: They need to get younger. Because as bad as things finished up against Dallas last Sunday, the scary thing is, it could’ve been worse. Maybe not literally, but at least figuratively, since on paper, the Mavericks weren’t a terrible matchup for the Lakers. Dallas is almost as old as Los Angeles (a bunch of key guys who are over 30-years-old) and like to play the same pace as them too. Imagine how ugly things could’ve gotten if the Lakers had to play Oklahoma City instead of Dallas in this past series? Or Memphis. Or…gasp…Miami? If the Mavericks were able to make the Lakers look old, what would the Heat have made them look like? And truthfully, it’s hard to see things getting any better when you remember that other than Shannon Brown (player-option this summer and might not be back) and Andrew Bynum, nobody on this roster who played significant minutes is under 30-years-old. Not good.
Let’s go ahead and add everything up. Let’s add up all the contracts, and ages, and availability of players on the trade block, and in the end, I think we can all come to the same conclusion: The Lakers have no choice but to trade Andrew Bynum.
Now obviously that might sound silly, especially since I just spent the last 200 words explaining how the Lakers need to get younger. Only realistically, trading Bynum is the only way they can, especially if they want to gamble and take the chance that Howard or another superstar will be available in a trade down the road.
Seriously, let’s think about this for a second.
The only other feasible trade piece for the Lakers is Pau Gasol, which is fine, if you want to trade him at his lowest possible value. You watched these playoffs just like I did, and honestly the guy is a mess. He doesn’t need to work on his handle or jump shot, as much as he just straight-up needs to chat with Dr. Phil. Whether it was problems with his girlfriend, he’s terrified to play with Kobe, or it’s something we don’t know about, Gasol just isn’t right in the head right now. To which I’ve got to ask: Who is going to make a trade for him given those circumstances?
But while Gasol’s value has never been lower, has Bynum’s ever ben higher?
Yes there’s the whole, “he knocked the crap out of J.J. Barea in an embarrassing and egregious cheap shot.” Luckily, this is a league that gainfully employs Zach Randolph and Ron Artest, meaning that it shouldn’t affect his trade value one bit.
At the same time, Bynum is coming off his absolute best postseason ever (14.4 points and 9.6 rebounds, in 32 minutes a game) and for the first time in a long time, is healthy. As a matter of fact, did you know that this will be the first offseason since 2008 where Bynum will actually be on the court working on his basketball skills, as opposed to rehabbing an injury?
Which is why the Lakers have to move now; it’s the classic buy low, sell high conundrum. Remember, in this 24-7, “we can’t remember anything that happened before yesterday world we live in,” it’s easy to forget that as recently as a month ago Bynum tweaked his knee and was questionable for the beginning of the playoffs. While he ended up being ok, it raises the question as to whether the Lakers should move him before he does something and ends up injured again. Can they risk waiting?
Meanwhile, let’s look at the other side of things. Say you’re someone like the Pacers, Rockets, Nuggets, whoever. You’re stuck as a fringe contender, not quite good enough to make a real run in the postseason, but not really bad enough to bottom out and end up with a really good draft pick either. Isn’t it worth trading away some of your pieces (the Kyle Lowry’s and Wilson Chandler’s and Tyler Hansbrough’s) to take a chance on one of the few guys in the league that can give you 20 and 10 every night? Sure Bynum is a risky proposition. But he could also flourish as the go-to guy. Plus, it’s not like if you’re the Rockets, Nuggets or Pacers, you were going to win the title with the roster you had anyway.
Plus, here’s the kicker: Say the Lakers were able to pick up 2-3 nice, young pieces for Bynum; the type of guys who aren’t quite franchise altering, but quality players none the less (I’m not going to get into the specifics, since I understand the NBA salary cap about as well as I do Mandarin Chinese). If they got a few of those guys, not only does it give them more depth heading into the season, not only does it remake who they are, but it also gives them 2-3 more pieces to throw into a trade if Howard or someone else becomes available down. Honestly you’re not getting Howard straight up for Gasol, and if you wait to try and make Bynum a center-piece, you risk him getting injured, and his value tumbling. But a package with Gasol and a few other guys? Now the Magic at least have to listen, right?
So that’s where the Lakers right now, at undeniably, the most interesting cross-roads in the NBA. They’re not quite bad enough for there to be a ton of concern, not quite good enough to move forward as is, without quite enough of the right pieces to hope things fall into place and go the way they were. It’s not quite time to blow up the team, but not quite time to stand pat either. Consider it an “Extreme Makeover: NBA Edition.”
And it all starts by moving Bynum.
The Lakers present and future depends on it.
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I wonder what Mitch Kupchak was smoking, and where I can get it, when he handed out some of those contracts. I mean, I just don't know what they can do when they are hamstrung by Walton, Artest, Fisher, and Blake deals. It really still boggles my mind that they didn't offer the contract to Ariza instead. I mean, I'd much rather have the 25 yr old Ariza right now and for the next 3 years than the crazy 31 yr old Ron Ron.
As for your conclusion that the Lakers should move Bynum as soon as possible for a package of a couple of young players, I'm not sure I can agree with that. I really think the Lakers want D12 and that D12 really wants to go to the Lakers. I think you are right that nothing can really happen until a new CBA is worked out (who knows when that will happen), but I still think no matter what the rules are that the only way the Lakers are getting D12 is if they move Bynum for him (and take back a couple of horrific Orlando contracts like Agent 0). I just can't see Orlando pulling the trigger any other way. Also, I just don't think you can trade away possible franchise centers in the NBA, especially in this day and age where they are so rare. There's a lot of Wilson Chandler's and Tyler Hansbrough's in the league, but not many Andrew Bynum's.
Lastly, being somebody who is a huge Kobe Bryant fan, I tend to follow the Lakers fairly closely. What I don't get is, I don't understand what all the fuss is about when it comes to their future. Obviously, they sold their future to win titles in the now a couple of years ago and they accomplished exactly that. I can't see why everyone is so surprised by this. Do you know that the Lakers haven't made a first round selection since 2007 (the immortal Jarvaris Crittendon)?! They lost their '08 and '10 first round picks in the Pau Gasol trade which definitely paid off in winning those two titles, but also will kill them in the future. They sold their '09 pick for cash and a future 2nd rounder to my Knicks (Toney Douglas) which is probably one of the more indefensible things they did since it didn't help improve them in the now or future (seriously, do they need more $?!). To me, that was a big mistake because Toney Douglas would have been perfect on this Lakers squad coming off the bench. He would have given them athleticism, speed, defense and somebody who can hit a big three here or there, but I am glad they gave him to the knicks :). Personally, I would be ecstatic if my Knicks could sell their future to win two titles. I guess, looking back, the only disappointing thing I can see is that the Lakers didn't win the title 3 years ago against Boston. They really should have won the last three and to me that's the only surprising thing when analyzing the Lakers. Sure, they might have a rough next few years unless they can pull of a coup and grab D12, but they must remember that their last two titles would have never been possible if they didn't put themselves in the position they are now. Well, except for those awful Luke Walton and Steve Blake contracts :-P. In sum, I just don't think the Lakers will be able to compete against these power house teams unless Kobe all of a sudden ages backwards and/or they get D12.
James-I'm really glad you wrote in, because as a Lakers fan, I know you have a different perspective that I do. Now, with that said, let's hve a fun debate.
A couple things: For starters, you make the fair point that rebuilding isn't an option because Kobe doesnt have many good years left. I totally get that, the problem is that I feel like everything is intertwined. The problems that the Lakers had this year (from what I saw) are the problems of all old teams: Slow to the ball on defense, inabiity to create their own shot off the dribble, etc. For years, the Lakers have been trying to surround their best players with "veteran experience," the problem is, while experience is good, it doesn't matter if it's not talented, and right now they have a lot of the former, and not the latter. Which is kind of my point. Going younger isn't necessarily "rebuilding," as muh as simply needing the things that young guys provide. Ok, onto your Bynum point, it's a fair one. But its like you said though, the Lakers are going to take back some awful contracts in return. Ok, well if the centerpieces are Bynum and D12, who are the players that the Magic would be taking back in addition to Bynum? And that's kind of my point, they don't have anyone who is even remotely interesting right now. Yes the Magic want to get Arenas' contract off the books, but if it means taking back Walton's, Fisher's etc., is anything getting solved?
And that kind of all goes back to my original point. The Magic aren't doing anything with Howard until they know exactly what the CBA is going to be. The problem is, the Lakers kinda, sorta can't wait that long to make a move. Then again, will anyone being making moves to begin with before the lockout? That is something that we will see.Either way, as always, I appreciate you writing in, and sharing some really good thoughts.Aaron
@Aaron Torres You make some very interesting points.
For starters, I think you have a good grasp of the Lakers problems. I also think you can throw in the fact that they just didn't play with any sense of urgency to me. Whether it's Gasol being distracted by his g/f problems, or Lamar being too busy shooting a reality TV show (I found this to be ridiculous), they just didn't seem like a team that was interested every night. Even Kobe didn't look like himself night in and night out and I think his injuries and ageing body played a big part of that. But, you did hit a very good point and I think the biggest difference I saw in the Lakers this season was their defense. Man, it was pretty awful at times. Fisher and Blake wouldn't even be able to guard me if I was out there running the point for an opposing team (okay, they probably could because I am fat and slow, but you catch my drift). Artest has lost about 6 steps. Gasol was softer than ever inside. Kobe can show glimpses of the defensive stopper he was in the past, but like I said earlier, he's old and definitely slowing down. The more effort he has to put forward on the defensive end, the more it effects his offensive game. In the past, he could do both. The thing I find so intriguing about D12 is that he instantly makes their defense legitimate again. He would also give an ageing Kobe a legitimate superstar to rely on the nights he just doesn't have it. You would also have to swap out Artest for a younger Ebanks, who I think can bring it defensively. You still have an issue at the point, but having D12 on the inside mitigates that because you can have Fisher and Blake contest knowing that if/when their man blows by them they will have to deal with Howard on the inside. This is about the point where the Lakers really would regret gifting Toney Douglas to the Knicks.
However, I do understand the problems with a trade for D12. For fun, I took a look at the NBA trade machine and it would definitely be difficult to construct a trade that makes sense for both teams. The thing is, nobody knows what the new rules will be so it's very hard to project what will happen. I know you mentioned that the Lakers might opt to move before the CBA ends, but I have a feeling a lot of teams will sit tight, much like what happened in the NFL.
Conversely, I also took a look at the Lakers trying to make a trade with another team that has a bunch of young pieces and have been rumored in the past in being interested in Bynum, the Denver Nuggets (or as I like to call them, Knuggets). I wanted to check out your idea, and you are definitely right in one aspect, the Lakers match up much better trade wise with a team like the Nuggets. I would think that the Nuggets would be interested in Bynum for a package including 2 of Felton, Chandler (would have to be S&T), or Gallo. They'd probably also have to take back a contract like Artest or Blake. This would be intriguing because Felton would solve their problems at the point and Chandler/Gallo would definitely help them defensively AND offensively. The one criticism I have about this, though, is would that team be a contender? Could that squad really take on the top teams in the league like the Heat? If Kobe plays like he did a couple of years ago, yes. However, I just don't see that happening and that's exactly why I think they need another superstar. Unfortunately, it just might end up being impossible for them to get said superstar.