Pau Gasol: Why No Move Is the Best Move for the Los Angeles Lakers
So far, the pace of the NBA's free agency has been frenetic.
We have seen a myriad of trade scenarios discussed, and for the first time in years, some of the top restricted free agents may even be changing addresses.
Juxtaposed with this mess is the Pau Gasol situation in Los Angeles, as the Lakers' seemingly endless foray into the trade business continues without any real end in sight.
For the better part of a year, we have heard all the rumors surrounding Gasol.
Ever since the Lakers were thwarted in their attempt to land Chris Paul, it seems as though everyone and their baby's momma has an idea of where Gasol should go.
Well, put me down as one that thinks he should remain in Laker land.
Diminished Trade Value
A year ago, I would have been the first person to include Gasol's name in trade speculation.
He was coming off of yet another good year, in which his numbers stayed about the same and he had just passed the 30-year mark.
Despite long minutes for better than a decade, he still seemed to be one of the elite post players in the game.
Additionally, his salary, while substantial, ran through 2014, so any team looking to deal for him would have Gasol under club control for three more years.
Given the fact that his numbers were trending in the right direction, this seemed like a solid trading chip.
What a difference a year makes.
Gasol by no means saw his trade value fall off of a cliff, but for the first time in his career, there was substantial slippage across the board.
His scoring went down about 1.5 points per contest, and his field-goal and free-throw percentages went down substantially.
Add to this the fact that his minutes ticked up slightly—and that the only number amongst his stats that moved up substantially was that of his turnovers—and you get a guy that is not heading in the right direction.
Now consider that he is about to turn 32 and his contract has only two years on it for a total of $38 million, and you have a less attractive player.
Numbers Are Misleading
I know, Lakers fans, there are extenuating circumstances here.
First off, the Lakers swapped out coaches, and Mike Brown took over for the legendary zen master Phil Jackson.
Jackson's offense was tailor made for Gasol: The triangle allows big men to showcase their talent if they are all-around players, as is Gasol.
With the options running out of the post, Gasol was free to score nearly at will and use his fantastic passing ability to make the offense much more efficient.
Brown has a spotty record with skilled big men, and the offense was not set up to make Gasol succeed.
Gasol was thus pushed farther out on the perimeter on offense, which led to deeper shots and therefore a lower field goal percentage.
Additionally, the Lakers wanted to showcase Andrew Bynum for any impending Dwight Howard deals, and Bynum responded with tremendous numbers, many of which coming at Gasol's expense.
Quite literally, Gasol was pushed out of the way on offense so Bynum could get good looks, and therefore Gasol's numbers took a hit.
What's more is that Gasol was forced to pick up the slack on the defensive side of the ball, routinely drawing more difficult assignments, given Bynum's bigger responsibilities on the offensive end.
Furthermore, Kobe Bryant was eager to show that he still had it, so he decided to hoist a lot more shots.
Bryant shot three more shots per contest yet had one of his career-low shooting percentages, leading to an environment in which most players were left to believe that once the ball swung to them, they needed to shoot it right away or else they wouldn't get any other chances at it.
Top that off with the understanding that the Lakers did in fact try to deal Gasol but had their move vetoed by the league, and you have got to believe that Gasol was not entirely focused.
To be fair, would you if you were in his shoes?
The Market for Gasol
As of right now, it is tough to know what the Lakers could get for Gasol.
Some have hinted that Josh Smith from Atlanta could be had, and certainly this would be a great move for the Lakers in a lot of ways.
Smith is athletic, young and a stellar defender.
That being said, he is at least three inches shorter than Gasol and part of the advantage that the Lakers have had over the past few years is their height down low.
Smith doesn't improve this strength.
Besides, new Hawks general manager Danny Ferry has spent this summer dealing away the Hawks assets for a bunch of expiring contracts. I don't see him dealing away his best player right now if he wants to put any fans into the seats.
Another team that has been mentioned as a possible landing spot is Houston, and the Rockets have a lot of assets that they could throw at the Lakers.
But none of those names are on a level with Gasol right now. Sure, each of the prospects that would be included could turn into an elite player down the road, but Gasol is elite right now.
Is it really smart to waste another year of Bryant's career with a group of before-their-prime kids?
The Lakers have a lot of issues. They could use an upgrade at point guard and more athleticism on the wings, and Gasol could certainly bring back some pieces via trade.
But the elite point guards are either untouchable or otherwise locked up and aren't going to be brought back in a Gasol deal.
There are no Chris Paul moves on the horizon.
And swing men, while valuable, are not anywhere near as valuable as elite post players in most cases and should be had for much less.
So far, the trade rumors surrounding Gasol have included less-than-optimal options.
Best Move for Lakers
The Lakers certainly need to make a deal this summer to improve.
They have only a few more years of elite play from Bryant to look forward to, and the rest of the roster is less than stellar.
That is why the Lakers need to focus on dealing Bynum—not Gasol.
Bynum, for all of his talent, is far from a perfect player.
He has been routinely injured during his young career and has shown a tremendous lack of focus and maturity.
Furthermore, his trade value will never be greater than it is right now, and the Lakers need to take advantage of this.
Dealing Bynum could bring back a package of players that would help the Lakers right now, especially if they keep Gasol.
Gasol is a steadying force that can help improve those around him, while Bynum, offensively, is fairly one dimensional.
Obviously, if a deal of the century comes along for Gasol, by all means the Lakers should deal him.
But the more likely scenario that plays out involves a blockbuster package put together for the younger, bigger Bynum.
Besides, there is no way the Lakers get equal value for Gasol.
Worst-case scenario, the Lakers hold on to Gasol for another year and deal him next year, when they can leverage his expiring contract for younger talent.
Either way, the Lakers need to hold on to Gasol for the time being.
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