It never rains in Los Angeles, but for the Lakers, it's awfully cloudy.
And unfortunately, the forecast won't immediately get any brighter; trading Pau Gasol is not the answer.
To say that the Lakers have stumbled out of the blocks would be an understatement. After many thought that Kobe Bryant and Co. would have an opportunity to approach 70 wins, the Lakers have already fired head coach Mike Brown after losing four of their first five games.
Entering play on Dec. 3, the Lakers are just 8-9 and currently just the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
There’s no question that the Lakers are one of the most talented teams in the NBA, but unless Gasol is traded for either Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge, dealing him is not the answer.
Ideally, in a Mike D’Antoni system, a center that can play pick-and-roll basketball and otherwise be effective outside of the paint is a necessity. His goal as coach is to keep the floor open and spaced so that the perimeter players have room to operate and so that pick-and-rolls can be effective.
Gasol and Howard are both more comfortable operating out of the post and in the paint, so naturally, there’s a conflict. And if it is deemed that both players cannot excel under D’Antoni, Gasol is the more likely of the two to find himself with a new address.
But the idea that trading Gasol will someone fix the Lakers' problems is silly.
Entering play on Dec. 2, the Lakers were dead last in the league at taking care of the ball, coughing it up 16.7 times per game. On the other hand, the Lakers were forcing opponents to commit just 13.8 turnovers per game, ranking it No. 21 in the league.
Turning the ball over, however, may just be the tip of the iceberg. The Lakers average just 21 assists per game, again, ranking them No. 21 in the league.
Turnovers and assists (or a lack thereof) are ball handling issues and handling the ball, for the most part, is the responsibility of the point guard.
But for the Lakers, that position has been a game of musical chairs for the past year. Last season, Derek Fisher started 43 games for the Lakers as their point guard before being traded for Jordan Hill back on March 15.
Ramon Sessions, acquired on the same day in a separate trade, was supposed to be the heir apparent. Sessions, however, fizzled in the playoffs, averaging just 9.7 points and 3.6 assists while shooting a miserable 37 percent from the field.
After the Lakers lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder in just five games, Sessions exercised his option to become a free agent and hoped to be re-signed by the Lakers. After his poor playoff showing, though, he was deemed expendable and general manager Mitch Kupchak acquired Steve Nash.
Nash was supposed to team up with Bryant and form one of the greatest backcourts ever and Gasol and Howard were supposed to be the anchors, but Nash only managed to play 50 minutes for the Lakers before suffering a small fracture in his left fibula.
Since then, Steve Blake started five games for the Lakers and Darius Morris has started 10. Without even considering the bevy of changes to the rest of the Lakers rotation, much less their head coach, think about this: In the past year, the Lakers have had five different starting point guards.
And with every passing game, Bryant’s odometer increases. Although he’s still playing at a high level, he’s still adjusting to life with his new teammates and, entering play on Dec. 3, is turning the ball over a whopping four times per game.
One of those new teammates, Dwight Howard, is renowned for being the NBA’s most dominant center, but after undergoing surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back, Howard has been a shell of his former self.
As of Dec. 3, Howard’s 18.7 points per game and 11.3 rebounds per game still make him one of the league’s top centers, but he still lacks the exceptional timing, explosiveness, speed and overall agility that made him the premier center in the NBA.
As he rounds back into shape, Howard should return to form, but he’s not there yet.
For the Lakers, perhaps the biggest issue is a lack of identity and that’s something that only time and consistency can solve.
In Laker land, time is something that the team doesn’t have much of, and consistency is something that it's still searching for.
Therefore, blaming Gasol for the shortcomings is shortsighted. Gasol is widely regarded as one of the top big men in the league. He has exceptional post moves, a good midrange game, and uncanny passing ability for a man his size.
He's a tireless worker on the defensive end and, as evidenced by his 9.2 rebounds per game average of his career, also a tireless worker on the glass.
Gasol also averages 3.3 assists per game over his career, something that few big men could accomplish. For context, entering play on Dec. 3, Indiana Pacer David West's 2.5 assists per game ranks him as the NBA's top dimer from the power-forward spot.
Gasol is in rare company and his versatility as a basketball player is something that should be treasured, harnessed and effectively deployed, not taken taken for granted.
This past offseason, the Lakers underwent a roster overhaul. Aside from Howard and Nash, GM Mitch Kupchak also added Chris Duhon, Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks to the roster. All three are receiving rotation minutes, and the aforementioned Morris is just a sophomore in the NBA; he’s still learning how to play.
And now after the coaching change, the Lakers must un-learn the principles of Mike Brown’s Princeton offensive system and learn how to flourish under the pick-and-roll centric system of D’Antoni. The only real similarity between the two systems is encouraging shooters to take open shots.
Unlike the Princeton system, under D'Antoni, the Lakers will have a single player dominating the ball and creating plays and the two-man game will be played heavily by the perimeter ball handler and a screen setter.
For the most part under D'Antoni, weak side shooters will be mostly sedentary and big guys, like Gasol, should stay out of the paint unless they're executing a planned roll to the basket.
It's a brand-new system and it's one the entire team must learn on the fly. That's no easy task.
Though it's not easy, the season is far from over and it’s difficult to imagine the Lakers not finding a way to harness their immense talents, especially once Nash returns.
Unlike in Brown’s Princeton offense, Nash will have the ball in his hands most of the time and that calm influence, more than anything else, is what the Lakers need on the floor.
The 2010-2011 Miami Heat were in a very similar predicament as the 2012-2013 Lakers. After 17 games, the Heat was 9-8—just one game better than the Lakers. But the Heat won 37 of its final 52 games and eventually won the Eastern Conference before being defeated by the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals.
There’s no telling as to whether or not the same fate awaits these Lakers, but suggesting that dealing Gasol—one of the NBA’s most complete seven footers—is the cure-all?
Until the Lakers fully learn how to complement one another and harness their collective talents on the offensive end of the floor, they’ll have trouble defeating younger and more cohesive teams.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and a basketball champion has never been, either.
Another championship for Bryant’s Lakers would give Bryant six rings and tie him with Michael Jordan, but more importantly, it would be No. 17 for the Lakers and it would tie their rival franchise, the Boston Celtics.
So yes, everyone in the Lakers organization wants to win. But trading Gasol isn’t the answer; it would only set the team back further.
Agreed, as the hourglass runs out, time is one thing that the Lakers don’t have much of.
Unfortunately, for the Buss family and their team, it’s probably the only cure for their team’s ills.
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