Thursday, December 8, 2011

Instant Trade Analysis: Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers

I’m writing this at 7:00 pm on Thursday night. I am still at work. I have had 40 minutes to process this trade. I figure in a moment where I can’t feel anything besides the keys beneath my fingers and the burn of the computer screen on my corneas, it’d be the best time to write this post. Please everyone keep in mind that I’m still in mild shock. I actually can't even see the screen right now. I think I've developed cataracts.

Preliminary versions of this trade work as follows:

Los Angeles gets: G Chris Paul
Houston gets: F Pau Gasol
New Orleans gets: F Lamar Odom, F Luis Scola, G Goran Dragic and G Kevin Martin

I’ve read from multiple sources that this trade will involve a draft pick or two, which I imagine will either be going to the Lakers or perhaps from the Rockets to the Hornets.

As it is, I don’t like this deal. What the Lakers are essentially doing is throwing a grenade into a building that housed two NBA titles and three Western Conference championships, with a chance for another title this and next year. This was a winning squad, who in my opinion, simply ran out of gas in the playoffs last year. They needed a new voice in the locker room, and a some small tweaks to change what has been proven to be a championship core. The more I looked back on last season, I realized that the disgraceful way in which the Mavericks ousted the Lakers from the playoffs could be the spark that would bring back the hunger and motivation the team had after losing to the Celtics in game 6 and then a year later the vengeful drive they had to defeat that very same team in the Finals.

In trading two of their key pieces, more specifically two of the big men that made the Lakers such an unorthodox and difficult team to defeat, Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak and the rest of LA’s front office are simply turning the team into a very ordinary NBA squad. The old adage is that you never trade “big for small”. We didn’t just break that rule, we burned that son of a bitch to the ground.

For as passive and terrible as he was in the playoffs last year, Pau Gasol quite aptly lived up to his moniker of most skilled big man in the league. After years of disappointment, Lamar Odom turned a corner last year made “the most versatile player in the league” more than just a catchy label. We traded these two for a 6’ guard with bad knees, albeit a 6’ guard with bad knees who happens to be the best point guard in the league.

If we were to leave the team as is and not go any further, the Lakers front office is essentially saying that they want to build around a 24 year old guard in Chris Paul and a 24 year old center in Andrew Bynum. Considering our core for next year would be Gasol, Odom, Kobe, Derek Fisher and Metta World Peace - all of which are above to well-above 30 - this is, in theory, a sound move. The Lakers are trying to open up their window for another 6 to 8 seasons. A commendable, ballsy, but commendable move. The Lakers, specifically the Buss family, have never been shy about making franchise changing and unpopular moves in order to remain forward thinking - the Shaquille deal comes to mind - and this trade is no different.

On it’s own, this is an awful trade for the Lakers. LA is left without any depth at center, with the only dependable big being a center who has missed nearly 1/3 of games in his career. While Paul fills a void at point that the squad sorely needs, Lamar’s exit calls Devin Ebanks into duty off the bench and Pau’s absence makes Derrick Caracter a rotation player. If that sentence looked terrible, it’s because I just took off my shoe and threw it at the computer. I am going to shank a hobo in the street, I swear to God. I am beginning to thaw from my shock, freaking out and feeling feelings.

The only way that I think that the Lakers make this trade and let it stand alone is one of two reasons. One possible explanation is that the Buss family knew something we didn't - that the Pau and Kobe friction from the 2011 playoffs was worse than it seemed, or that there was some locker room element that meant that this team could not come together and win a title. That's one. Another would be that when you look at the Lakers, as I mentioned, all rotation players except for Bynum above the age of 30, you have to think that this team could win 1, maybe two more Western Conference titles (and especially when taking into consideration that this season might be a lost one for LA with a shortened training camp and all-new coaching staff, offensive and defensive systems). Perhaps the front office felt that this team's window was about closed and that the time for rebuilding was now. Again, the Lakers have always been a progressive team and certainly never one to sit idly by and watch the league move past them.

But the third and most apparent reasoning behind this trade could be this is only the first of two personnel moves. This of course would be trading young center Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard. Reporters are quoting Orlando GM Otis Smith as saying that he hasn’t even considered trades for Dwight yet. While I’m sure he hasn’t “considered them”, I would bet my family on the fact that he’s gone to sleep crying knowing that he’s going to be the next Orlando GM that has had to see a franchise center walk out of central Florida. Without a doubt, Dwight is leaving next year, perhaps to the Knicks, Celtics or Mavericks. That all being said, the conventional wisdom is that with Dwight leaving for nothing, Smith would be best served to acquire who I believe is the second best center in the league, Andrew Bynum. This would be a relatively simple trade, being Bynum, Matt Barnes’ expiring deal and a couple of draft picks for Dwight Howard and the Lakers absorbing Hedo Turkoglu’s contract. The Magic certainly wouldn’t be better off, but definitely in better condition then when Shaquille left them in 1996. I won’t get into competing deals from the Nets, Dallas or Boston right now (that’s a completely different post), but succinctly, I think what the Lakers have is the best deal for Orlando.

However, here’s another option brought to us from the mind of MAMBINO ally and co-founder of our predecessor in NYisMecca, El Miz. By trading Gasol and Odom, the Lakers are now around $76 million in salary requirements. At the end of the season, if Chris Paul opts out and the Lakers do not punch Andrew Bynum’s team option for $16 million, as well as a $6 million amnesty on Luke Walton, the Lakers will be around $17 million under the cap (Steve Blake and Derek Fish making $7.4 million, World Peace at $7 million, Kobe at $27 million). Essentially, they could then offer Dwight the max and then resign Chris Paul through his Bird rights, which allows teams to resign their own players.

This of course is an extremely risky gamble to let two of your “core players” become free agents, but it is a working theory that I can’t entirely disregard. Otis Smith has given some indication that he’s willing to let the season play out and see what happens with Dwight until either the trade deadline or perhaps even the 2012 offseason.

My prediction is that the Lakers will go into training camp with this squad and either try to swing a trade or sign a free agent power forward. However, I can’t imagine that Mitch Kupchak made this move without making another correlating move to shore up the front line. Right now, the Lakers’ starting 4 is Derrick Caracter. Seriously. Mitch is going to push for the Howard trade for the rest of the offseason (so, two weeks) and then up until the trade deadline in March. I don’t see Bynum moving for anything except for Dwight until then.

Overall, I have to give this deal an "incomplete" for a grade. I just don't think it's done. The beginning of the season, and perhaps all of 2011-2012 could be sacrificed for the sake of achieving a Chris Paul-Dwight Howard core for the 2016 season. Mitch Kupchak has done enough throughout his career as Lakers GM to earn my trust. I am going to be patient and wait for the second act of this insanely unbelievable play.

Hopefully, that's the case. If not, the Lakers are a rebuilding team. A very good rebuilding team, but the label would still stand. That being true, I'll be shutting down this blog immediately and start paying attention to women's soccer.

Obviously that was a joke. I'll be cutting myself instead.

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