The Los Angeles Lakers were on the precipice of disarray ever since succumbing to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Semifinals. That is, until Mitch Kupchak jilted the NBA landscape on Wednesday by pulling the trigger on a sign-and-trade for two-time league MVP point guard, Steve Nash.
Kupchak, using the same tricks that landed All-Star Pau Gasol for warm NBA bodies in 2008, corralled Nash from the Phoenix Suns for a pu pu platter of worthless draft picks to be made between 2013 and 2017.
Flying out the door with those picks are a few lies, half-truths, or straight misperceptions about the current state of the Los Angeles Lakers and their position within the Western Conference.
Though Nash's grand arrival has brightened the 2013 Laker prognosis, some entrenched ideas are still holding ground in the collective psyche of Lakers observers.
I am here to break down some now outdated myths about the Los Angeles Lakers, and in their place, offer some fresh insights into the organization's status.
Just as we Laker Nation began to believe his hands were tied from above, General Manager Mitch Kupchak acquitted himself masterfully as a personnel manager.
One of the dominant narratives in the Lakers melodrama last season was the emergence of Jim Buss, the son of owner Jerry Buss, as the Lakers' primary personnel officer. The man who orchestrated the selection of budding center Andrew Bynum and insisted on his development had suddenly wrested decision making powers from seasoned GM Mitch Kupchak.
Presumably, the long-time GM Kupchak, who has blended a few franchise-saving moves with some quietly poor ones, was ready and able to improve the team, but authority from inside the front office held that the younger Buss wouldn't allow Kupchak to trade Bynum and so improve the team with a smattering of young assets, picks and/or cap space.
As the season bled into offseason, there was no indication or reason that would lead anyone to abandon the default notion that Buss had irreversibly seized personnel control.
Until the Nash trade.
Kupchak burst back into the forefront of the Lakers brain trust with a brilliant move that cost him nothing but four draft picks that the Lakers wouldn't use to improve anyway; with the $8.9 million trade exception acquired in the Lamar Odom trade last December set to expire sooner with each passing day, Kupchak couldn't have utilized his resources any better than to get Steve Nash at no trade cost, and for a thrifty $9 million per year.
Since late in the final week of June, the party line has changed from one of no discussion of a Bynum trade, to now considering him in exchange for another dominant center, representing a departure from Buss' long-held mandate.
But we'll come back to that.
Does the Steve Nash acquisition mean that one of these two seven-footers is still destined to be traded?
If I was forced to summarize the Lakers' fresh position in light of the Steve Nash trade in one word, my choice of diction would be "leverage."
This trade represents a dramatic shift in leverage, with the Lakers benefiting from a strengthened bargaining position because Nash is now in the fold.
Before the trade, LA had no dearth of possibilities for a Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum trade, but most suitors knew that Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss would be operating from a place of relative desperation with an aging, unathletic roster and dire luxury tax situation.
Opposing GMs could simply leverage the passage of time to maximize LA's concerns, then make a move for one of its seven-foot All-Stars at a noticeable discount. Buss and Kupchak were not oblivious to this; there just wasn't much they could do to change it.
The entrance of Steve Nash changes everything. Now that the Lakers have the floor general that they truly need (with no apologies to the phony Ramon Sessions), it behooves the decision-makers to not trade Bynum or Gasol instead of pulling the trigger on a deal.
An argument can be made that the Lakers now possess four of the league's top 20 players in one starting lineup, including two of the top four or five big men, boasting unparalleled size.
While the luxury tax situation is made even more onerous with Nash's salary, the Lakers would be foolish to further tinker with a team that, by most accounts, morphed into a top-three team in the league overnight.
Kupchak can now rest easy as he fields calls from covetous teams on Gasol or Bynum's trail. He knows that at the end of any plausible trade discussion, he doesn't have to reluctantly agree to a trade he doesn't love. He can hang up the phone and stand pat with confidence, knowing that he still has time to fix his team's salary mess while it contends for a title over the next three years.
Is Jim Buss finally willing to let go of his pet project in order to land Dwight Howard?
Whether breaking prior to the Steve Nash trade, or as a result of it, the Laker brass is suddenly open to discussion an Andrew Bynum trade, if unsubstantiated reports and rumors are true.
The logical progression holds that, since Dwight Howard has apparently squandered his best timing for a trade to the Brooklyn Nets, the Lakers feel their chances of trading for, and then re-signing, Howard to an extension are enhanced because of the increasing improbability of a trade to the Nets.
As ESPN LA's Brian Kamenetzky explains:
Now [Howard's] one-and-only destination appears to have denied him an entry visa. For the Lakers, that completely changes the calculus surrounding a potential Howard-for-Andrew Bynum swap. Before, the risk of sacrificing Bynum only to see Howard bolt after one season to the place he said all along he wanted to go was a lot to stomach. Without Brooklyn in play, it's a different ballgame. Suddenly, the idea of making a career with the Lakers becomes an easier sell, particularly since if they did swing a trade, L.A. would have the ability to give Howard far more money than anyone else.
The Lakers would have a much easier time calling Howard's bluff at the end of next year. A max deal combined with some winning, excellent weather, and no better option makes for a decent Plan B.
This does not imply that a Howard-Bynum swap is imminent, but indicates that the Lakers may have a much better chance of coaxing Howard to stay in LA if and resigning when he lands there.
Dwight Howard represents the only single player deemed equal to Bynum in a trade, so don't expect a pipeline of Bynum trade scenarios involving other teams. The reality is that Bynum will go to Orlando for Howard or he won't be traded at all.
Still, even the possibility of Bynum and his fickle knees turning into Dwight Howard is cause for excitement and anticipation for Lakers fans.
The trade for Steve Nash vaults the Lakers back into the championship conversation almost overnight
Before July 4, this was no myth at all. The Lakers were fresh off a five-game drubbing at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder, with little promise that things would improve over the next few seasons as they are expected to for Kevin Durant's Thunder.
Now, this statement couldn't be further from reality. Steve Nash is not only an upgrade at point guard for LA, he changes the entire championship outlook. Even at 38-years-old, Nash submitted another fantastic year, with his 20.3 PER ranking 37th and 62.5 true shooting percentage coming in at ninth-best and first among point guards.
Nash's playmaking, shooting, and passing gives the Lakers elite qualities that have been absent for the entirety of the Kobe Bryant era.
To think that Ramon Sessions, who has been a career backup for good reason, would elevate the Lakers from championship hopeful to championship favorite was wishful thinking, and that's not just clear hindsight speaking. Nash brings elite shooting and playmaking skills that should mesh beautifully with the finesse skill game that Pau Gasol plays, while alleviating pressure on Kobe Bryant.
Even though the Lakers are drowning against the salary cap and luxury tax, and have a bleak long-term outlook, I am convinced that at least 25 of 29 other GMs would trade rosters with the Lakers, who now own two of the top five big men in the NBA, Kobe Bryant and a still-top seven point in Steve Nash.
Now that we're teeming with optimism and hope for the Lakers, let's bring it back down to earth with a stiff cocktail of realism. To do that, here's a look at the current roster:
|Metta World Peace||32||$7.2m|
That gets ugly real fast.
Matt Barnes, Jordan Hill and Devin Ebanks are free agents that the Lakers should try, but can't afford, to re-sign. Second-round draftees Robert Sacre and Darius Johnson-Odom are roster hopefuls, but are not guaranteed to even make the roster.
This leaves the Lakers, at roughly $88 million and 12 rostered names, with only seven players who can actually play in an NBA game (excluding Morris, Goudelock, Eyenga, Sacre and Johnson-Odom). I don't care how strong your four best players are; we just saw Shane Battier and Mike Miller exemplify the necessity of timely bench production in the playoffs.
The Lakers did get great production out of Barnes and Hill in spurts late last season, and would certainly be better for using the mini mid-level exception to retain one of them. Rumors are circulating that Grant Hill wants to join Steve Nash on the Lakers, which would represent only a modest upgrade over what Barnes brings.
The point is that the Lakers are starving for a few productive and dependable bench players, which they do not have as currently constructed.
The starting lineup can take this team a long way, but observes should have no grand illusions about this team being complete or supreme.