The Los Angeles Lakers need to make some changes if they are going to compete for the Western Conference championship next season, never mind the NBA championship. Pau Gasol, the man that transformed the Lakers to a title contender four years ago, is now on the chopping block.
According to the LA Times, the Atlanta Hawks are offering none other than Josh Smith for the Spaniard. On paper, this looks like a no-brainer. Smith is young (27 years old), athletic at 6'9'', and a fantastic defender with career averages of 2.2 blocks and 1.3 steals per game.
The Lakers struggled a lot with defending smaller, more athletic power forwards like Kenneth Faried and even Serge Ibaka in the playoffs, and Smith is a versatile defender. As a minor bonus, the Lakers save some money in the deal; Smith's contract is expiring after the 2013 season, while Gasol's is worth over $38 million for the next three years.
The Hawks love this because they need Al Horford to slide out to his natural position of power forward. They also would love Pau's post-up game and facilitating ability from the low or high post. The Lakers love this move because Smith is not a primary low-post player, thus solving the low-jam they had with Gasol and Andrew Bynum on the same low block.
When you have a young front court of two all-star caliber guys, one of who is 24, and the other is 27, that is never a bad spot to be in. But I think we might be overlooking the value of the youth factor here. This team still revolves around Kobe Bryant. And if you're going to make a trade, you're making one that benefits the time frame surrounding Bryant's title window.
By that I mean that there's another trade rumour swirling that could be a better option. Some Laker fans cringe at the idea of giving up Gasol for Zach Randolph. Yeah, Zach wasn't that great in these playoffs, with just 13.7 PPG, and 9.9 RPG. He's an awful defender who could show up overweight, but Kobe wouldn't allow that.
I'm only thinking Randolph might be a better option after watching him in the 2011 playoffs. He was an absolute monster. In the first round, he dominated Tim Duncan's Spurs, and, more importantly, he played on an MVP-level (23 points, 11 rebounds, a steal per game and multiple huge shots in fourth quarters and overtimes), against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Smith is a nice talent, but why not grab a guy who is of equal value, and has proven to be a thorn in the side for the Spurs and Thunder? The same Spurs and Thunder, who, the Lakers know they can't beat as they are.
If the Lakers had Randolph this year, they would have had a higher ceiling in terms of their chances of beating the Thunder. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins got eviscerated by Randolph's low-post skills for seven straight games in the Memphis-OKC series in 2011.
Randolph also has a very good sense of how to play with another big man; he's spent the last couple years playing with Marc Gasol, a lumbering, low-post giant with similar game to Bynum, if only Gasol could play in the high post a little bit.
In these 2012 playoffs, I watched the Lakers and couldn't help their brand of basketball was outdated. They tried to play half-court basketball, but whenever anyone ran, they got blown out. It was awful to watch.
It was like they were stuck in the '90s when you knew the best thing to do was have dominant big men, and when teams were running on them, it was like they thought it was against the rules to play so fast-paced.
A starting lineup of Mike Conley (quick, above average point guard), Tony Allen, O.J. Mayo, Marc Gasol, and Randolph was able to keep up with Oklahoma City for seven games. Couldn't the Lakers get them to throw in Tony Allen in the trade? Wouldn't Ramon Sessions, Tony Allen, Bryant, Randolph, and Bynum be able to play that way too?
If you're the Lakers, you're not thinking about anything other than how your team could be better to beat the Spurs and Thunder. Because you're not interested in building for the future. Kobe Bryant's time is now, and he needs someone who shows up and delivers in the playoffs. Zach Randolph has proven he can do that.