Ramon Sessions out, Deron Williams in...?
True, it's not as simple as that, and replacing a 26-year-old who's already a journeyman with a 27-year-old who's been to the last three NBA All-Star Games is still something of a pipe dream for the Los Angeles Lakers.
But, if there's anything GM Mitch Kupchak has demonstrated in the time since he took over for Jerry West, it's that where there's a will, there's a way.
Or, in this case, where there's a D-Will.
Sessions' decision not to exercise the player option on his contract, as reported by Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, hardly comes as a surprise. His agent, Jared Karnes, made it clear that his client is in the market for a long-term pact:
“Ramon has carefully considered this decision. He had to make a career decision and ultimately decided to do what was best in providing stability and longevity for him in the NBA, and this could only be achieved through a multi-year contract.”
Not that Sessions is necessarily trying to dig for gold outside of L.A., much to the chagrin of those who saw him tank in the playoffs. As he told the Times during his exit interview in April:
“I want to be here. I don’t know what that means or how that’s going to happen. It ain’t no secret. I’ll tell anybody that. I tell Mitch Kupchak. I tell my agent. I want to be here. Period. For a long time.”
Whether that means the Lakers want him to be there is another story.
The team owns Sessions' Bird Rights but would likely have to pony up another $5-6 million per year (if not considerably more) to keep him around. That would thrust the the Lakers even deeper into luxury-tax territory, which they've been trying desperately to pull themselves out of in anticipation of the new collective bargaining agreement rules kicking in.
Like, say, when the Lakers sent Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks for next to nothing (i.e. a trade exception and a top-20 protected draft pick) last December, then used that pick to convince the Houston Rockets to take on Derek Fisher's salary (which they later bought out) in the deadline deal for Jordan Hill.
Not to mention how the Lakers used their own first-rounder to goad the Cleveland Cavaliers into accepting Luke Walton's calamitous contract in the Sessions trade.
And for good reason. As ESPN.com's Larry Coon pointed out last November, L.A. would've incurred a massive tax bill this season had the new rules been implemented immediately:
For example, the Lakers' tax bill in 2011 (when the tax was dollar-for-dollar) was about $19.9 million. Under the new system, being that far over the tax line would cost them $44.68 million. If they were a repeat offender (paying tax at least four of the previous five years) they would owe $64.58 million!
You read that correctly—$64.58 million, as in almost as much as the Purple and Gold would've dispensed in salaries next season had the team decided not to pick up Andrew Bynum's option.
Would L.A. really want to add to that with a player in Sessions, who—while blessed with quickness and athleticism—turns the ball over, lacks a reliable jump shot and remains a liability on defense?
Granted, Sessions deserves at least a small pass on his shortcomings in a Lakers uniform.
He was thrust into an already-turbulent situation in the middle of a lockout-shortened season and was charged with picking up new offensive and defensive schemes without the benefit of significant practice time.
What's more, he had to do so while playing next to Kobe Bryant, amidst yet another round of Lakers drama, and filling a role that Chris Paul had been expected to play before commissioner David Stern stepped in as Lord Protector of the New Orleans Hornets.
Not exactly an ideal situation for any young player, particularly one who would go on to experience the pressure of the playoffs for the first time in his career...and fail rather miserably against the likes of Ty Lawson and Russell Westbrook.
Even so, it's possible that L.A.'s front office sees Sessions as a player with plenty of untapped potential, who might grow into a solid contributor if they keep him around.
Trouble is, the Lakers don't exactly have the requisite time to wait for him to do so.
At this point, the franchise's goal is to make the most of however much time Kobe has left as one of the NBA's elite players. At the Mamba's age (33), and with all the wear and tear on his body, that wouldn't seem to extend far beyond his current contract, which comes due in the summer of 2014.
Kupchak and team executive Jim Buss seemed acutely aware of this when they pushed hard for CP3 last fall.
They know as well as anyone that Kobe can't do it all by himself anymore, and that he would be much better served with a high-caliber ball-handler who can command defensive attention and set him up with easier looks.
And, that when the Mamba's days are done, they'll need a reliable franchise star around to whom to build for the future if they're to put off a painful, post-Kobe rebuilding project.
After all that fuss, would the Lakers really want to settle for a guy who they know will be average but, best case scenario, might be marginally above average for his position?
Perhaps they don't want to find out, which is where D-Will comes back into the picture.
The Lakers don't possess the sort of cap flexibility to sign Williams outright that the Brooklyn Nets and his hometown Dallas Mavericks do. What the Lakers do have, though, are tradable assets—two to be exact—Pau Gasol and Bynum.
All-Star big men don't exactly grow on trees these days, yet the Lakers have a pair, albeit one (Gasol) who no longer seems to fit in with the Mamba and another (Bynum) who's equal parts space cadet and basketball player.
Nonetheless, they're two of the most gifted frontcourt stars in a league that grows more devoid of such players every year.
But before the Lakers could use either of their bigs as a pawn to acquire D-Will, they'd have to be sure that the star guard doesn't want to stay in Brooklyn.
As in, if Superman doesn't wind up in Brooklyn, then sticking around becomes a far less attractive option for Williams. It seems unlikely that he'd want to spend the prime of his career languishing in mediocrity as the lone star on a team that's lost far more games than it's won since he arrived in the winter of 2011.
Should D-Will decide that Brooklyn isn't the place for him, the Lakers might then become an attractive trading partner for the Nets. Brooklyn certainly wouldn't want to lose Williams for nothing, not after giving up Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and a pair of lottery picks to get him.
How such a deal would go down is another story entirely.
ESPN's Chris Broussard recently proposed a hypothetical deal that would send Williams and Brook Lopez from Brooklyn to L.A. in exchange for Bynum and Sessions, with each team signing and trading its point guard.
Of course, such would require that Sessions and Williams both be comfortable with their eventual destinations and that Jim Buss, long one of Bynum's biggest supporters, be willing to part with his beloved center.
If not, Kupchak could attempt to convince Nets GM Billy King to take Gasol, or engineer some other multi-team trade or entertain any number of other scenarios of which the Trade Machine might approve.
Whatever the case may be, Kupchak has done enough in his time as the GM in L.A. (i.e. trading for Pau, building two NBA champions and nearly nabbing Chris Paul) to earn the benefit of the doubt, at least for the time being.
And if he can somehow turn Ramon Sessions into Deron Williams, then Mitch will have earned himself another resounding vote of confidence from the Purple and Gold—if not another Larry O'Brien Trophy to tack onto his resume.
A pipe dream, perhaps, but where there's a D-Will, there's a way.
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