Los Angeles Lakers: 3 Players L.A. Should Swap Pau Gasol For Right Now
Before we even delve too far into this piece, understand that I do not advocate one way or another on this topic. But being a journalist and then a fan, I can't help but hear what is out there. Everyone has an opinion about whether or not Pau Gasol should stay a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
The pros are typically these:
Immense skill set, size when combined with Dwight Howard is a distinct Lakers advantage, and he's a professional that can do a little bit of everything.
And the cons:
Passive (okay, that's being nice, as many call him flat-out soft), not the best defender, and he lacks speed to get back up and down the court
For Los Angeles, the keys are simply whether they could get adequate value for Gasol while shedding some of his $38 million contract over the next two years.
But all of those are for another column.
Let's get back to the issue at hand: Who would the Lakers be best-suited to go after by dealing Gasol? This is a matter of realism, not just turning some trade machine on and matching salaries.
So let's get to it.
3. Josh Smith, Atlanta Hawks
The No. 3 guy on my list is the one that has dominated much of the Pau Gasol rumor mill: Josh Smith.
The super-athletic power forward may have had a better 2012 than Gasol, and his 2013 is off to a decent start. In many ways, this might not be as one-sided a trade as many might think in Laker Nation.
But the reality is that it is a viable option because Smith is still very unhappy in Atlanta and is set to be an unrestricted free agent after this year. That means the Hawks might be more willing than other teams to take Gasol. That said, the Lakers have been unwilling to deal Gasol for Smith straight-up and would likely require someone like sharpshooter Kyle Korver as well.
For Los Angeles, this deal helps them defensively, as Smith is nearly on par with Howard when it comes to covering small forwards and many stretch power forwards. Offensively, he is nowhere near Gasol, but he gives the Lakers the ability to score garbage points and doesn't need sets run for him. I think he would do much better with Steve Nash back in the lineup.
There's a reason he is not my No. 1 (or even No. 2) choice, though. Smith does not fill the overall need for the Lakers right now.
From what I have seen, the Lakers need a dead-eye jump shooter that can help Howard with rebounding on the defensive end. Smith is not a premiere rebounder as a result of his relative lack of size (5.6 RPG this year) and will never win a three-point shootout. Plus, like Howard, he can bolt at the end of the year, making him a roll of the dice.
So, on to No. 2...
2. Ryan Anderson, New Orleans Hornets
No. 2 is a guy I have thought the Lakers should have made a hard run at for about six months: Ryan Anderson.
The fifth-year power forward out of Cal has three things the Lakers lack in spades: youth, three-point shooting (career 39-percent shooter) and consistent effort. The Lakers have been blasé for too many stretches of this season.
While I'm not putting that all on Gasol, whether it is his recently disclosed tendinitis in both knees or the drain from playing in the Olympics, Gasol has been less than all-out on the court so far.
Beyond that, the natural order of things has only intensified from 2012. What I mean is that Andrew Bynum slowly usurped the dominant position in the post, and that left Gasol, a decent outside shooter, left to fire away from 15 to 21 feet.
That is not his best suit, and often, Gasol is firing up low-percentage jumpers when the offense is stagnant. Compound that with his mediocre defensive skills and decreased speed, and he's a seven-foot liability when laboring.
By contrast, Anderson provides exactly what the Lakers don't have: a true floor-spacer that gives Howard and, to a lesser degree, Kobe Bryant operating room on the perimeter. In Mike D'Antoni's system, maximum efficiency is achieved when there are multiple shooters on the floor. Anderson's size and shooting would give L.A. a great component with Steve Nash and the improved Metta World Peace from outside.
Additionally, Anderson can rebound. Yes, Gasol does that well (9.1 RPG this season), but he also struggles to keep up with quicker and faster power forwards and has been a revolving door with his post defense this year.
Gasol is a better player, but I honestly think a guy like Anderson might be a better fit for this team as constructed.
The drawback is the discrepancy in salary (Anderson only makes $8 million versus Gasol's $19 million) and the fact that, being a rebuilding team with a No. 1 draft pick in Anthony Davis at the center position, New Orleans is probably not eager to go after Gasol.
Gasol would represent an upgrade over Robin Lopez at center, but without a third team, it would be hard for Anderson to wind up in Los Angeles.
All that aside, Ryan Anderson is not my No. 1 player. Here's why...
1. Antawn Jamison, Los Angeles Lakers
Yes, my No. 1 player the Lakers should swap is not on another team but is another member of the club in Antawn Jamison. Kind of seems like a cop-out right? But listen, the simple fact is that Los Angeles has already gone through a transition with the firing of Mike Brown. While there are some ancillary pieces that can be acquired, I don't think the fix is as drastic as some think.
Bottom line is that this is an unbalanced ball club—a great starting lineup, often putrid bench. How do you fix that? You take from one and apply it to the other.
Gasol is by far the best option because, unlike Howard, who typically starts the second and fourth quarters with the second unit, Gasol is a much better creator in the post. This would only benefit players like Jordan Hill and Darius Morris.
Off the bench, Gasol is not required to play the same caliber of offensive players and will unequivocally be the first option. The Lakers could then use his abilities to stabilize an at-best inconsistent second unit while allowing him to contribute in the post where he is most comfortable.
By contrast, Jamison becomes the stretch 4 the Lakers need in D'Antoni's system. He isn't a Ryan Anderson from deep, but he can knock down the long ball when open. And since neither Jamison nor Gasol are very good defensively, you don't really lose all that much on the defensive end.
Jamison does rebound fairly well for his size (4.1 RPG in 17 minutes per game) and is a quicker player even with four years on Gasol.
So there you go. Not the Santa Ana winds of change blowing through Los Angeles, just a little roster shuffle, though I wouldn't be upset either way.
It may have sounded like I was leaning towards Gasol to stay, but that's a matter of practicality. In the end, it is the Buss family that spends the money, so winning is the thing.
For Gasol, the situation has to be addressed to better suit his game. This round-hole-meet-square-peg dilemma is bad for him and for the Lakers as a team. Dwight Howard, free throws be damned, is the man who will dominate the paint. That's how it goes right now. So either the offense gets altered (unlikely), or D'Antoni has to change the players who are running it.
In the unlikely event that the Lakers get a taker who gives them anywhere near value for a player of Gasol's immense skills, the simplest bet right now is to move him to a spot where he becomes the man—the sixth man. It worked for Manu Ginobili; it worked for Jason Terry. Heck, it even worked for three guys in recent Laker lore; Derek Fisher, Rick Fox and Robert Horry all came off the bench in 2000 for Kobe Bryant's first title.
And if the Lakers did it, I am confident the sixth man would work for Pau Gasol. The Lakers have been looking for someone to offset the loss of Lamar Odom for well over a year. The best guy just might be in house.