Before the season, I had a conversation with my buddy Alvy. Went a little something like this:
"Would you trade Melo for Bynum? With Sasha, some draft picks and someone else to make the cap numbers work"
"No way man. No way. We win because we're so much bigger than everyone else. No way I make that trade. You must be high. That's ridiculous. Melo plays no defense and he's got a bad attitude. Never. No way"
This morning I get an e-mail:
Carmelo to the Lakers?
"I would take this deal in a heartbeat"
Now granted, this is a completely unsubstantiated trade rumor. The "trade" for Joe Smith wasn't really a trade, but rather a salary dump (it was a way to save 9 million dollars by shipping out a player that played less in 11 games as a Laker than he did in 2 games as a Net. We didn't get Joe Smith's old ass so he could be a significant contributor. We got him as an insurance policy for a "oh shit we are starting Slava Medvedenko because all of our other big guys came down with tapeworms" situation). Carmelo has made it known that he's interested in going to a major market, but hasn't mentioned LA publicly, only New York. The Lakers already are 26 million over the cap. A trade like this would put them 30 million-plus over the cap. The Lakers already have a ball-dominating, scoring machine on the wing - there might not be enough shots for both of them. So why do we make this trade? Does this make sense?
Yes - it does make sense. But why? We are giving up size for scoring, trading big for small, which is a big no-no in the NBA GM's handbook. But to look at it another way, what is more important? Having another highly efficient, game-changing scorer on the team as Kobe declines with age, or keeping our overwhelming size intact, hoping that Andrew's health holds up as he gets older? Cases for both arguments:
Ditching the Lumbering Injury-prone Big Guy
So to answer this question, let's examine at the most applicable situation; the Lakers' two last title runs. I would argue the two most significant factors were
1) Kobe was an assassin-like, cold-blooded, steely-eyed, protruding lower-jawed, Ray Lewis impersonating killer on the court
2) We were bigger than everyone else.
In the 2009 we absolutely overwhelmed Orlando with team defense and Kobe killed them with 30ppg. In 2010 the Celtics locked down on Kobe and he wasn't the same guy he was 12 months before - but we won with our rebounding and size. Obviously Boston was the bigger challenge and thus, maybe you can say our size was the biggest difference maker both years. But if you put a lesser scorer or player than Kobe in the 2009 Finals, do we have a chance of beating Orlando? And are we even in the Boston series?
Regardless of Kobe's brilliance and my never-ending, slightly disturbing but completely heterosexual love for Kobe Bryant, my long-standing belief that the Lakers continue to win because they have two 7-footers on the team and another guy who is 6'10". Teams just cannot handle that size.
Trading for the Guy Who Married an MTV VJ
As the season passes, it has become more and more obvious to me (and the 90 journalists who wrote 200 articles about how "Kobe's lost a step") that Kobe is on the downside of his prime. Don't get me wrong - while the rumors of the Mamba's demise are far exaggerated, they're not completely without merit. The minutes are obviously catching up with him; there is not stat that I can pull up that is more demonstrative than just watching him play. Trading for another player who some would argue is a better offensive player AND in his prime would make more sense, not only for this year, but also for the years to come when the Lakers will need another franchise player to replace Kobe...if you believe that Andrew Lee Bynum is not that player.
To counter the argument that the Lakers destroyed teams because they were bigger, its not important to look at the Celtics, Spurs or Mavericks that can combat us with their size. Those aren't the teams that will be relativant in 4 years. Miami, Oklahoma, Orlando and Chicago are the teams the Lakers have to worry about. In that sense, maybe LA doesn't have to worry about size, so much as getting guys that can either defend or outscore Lebron, Durant, et al (I'll give you a hint: Carmelo can do one of those things, and it rhymes with "scoring").
My answer (which, if you are reading this right now, is the MOST IMPORTANT ANSWER...obviously) is that though it was a combination of both that helped us win championships, going forward, having an elite scorer like Carmelo Anthony is more important. Our window is closing a little more rapidly than I thought. Andrew might turn into the 24ppg, 14rpg man we all hoped he would be, but with his health history the way it is, I'd rather bet on the smaller scoring machine who's averaged 73 games a season than the center who's averaged 56 games a season. We'd still have our remaining bigs - Pau is 31 and in his prime, Lamar is playing better than ever and Carmelo is one of the league's most underrated post players. So many championships teams have shown us that a winning formula is an elite wing scorer paired with a dominant big is the pathway to glory. LA might be throwing away this year to the Celtics, Orlando or San Antonio by trading for Anthony, but they would be ensuring the relevance of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise for the next 5 to 8 years. With these two bigs and Carmelo appreciating in skills while Kobe declines, I think the Lakers should jump at the chance to move forward with #15.
CARMELO-LA-2011!!!!!!!!!! SPREAD THE GOSPEL!!!!!!!!!!
That is....unless the Clippers make a move....