The Los Angeles Lakers have more to celebrate than just the Holidays right now.
Winners of five straight, including wins over the New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors (that’s a big win now), L.A. is at .500 and starting to look like the team we all thought they were going to be.
And things are only going to get better.
The Lakers defense has struggled since Mike D’Antoni took over and Howard stated that he can’t do it all by himself. Fair enough, but a healthier Dwight will be able to do a lot more than a hampered one. And Jordan Hill is finally starting to get minutes again and is bringing the team's energy to a whole new level, which will help the defense. Expect to see more of him on the floor and out of the trade chatter.
There was plenty of talk about the Lakers needing a point guard. Now that Steve Nash is back that should die completely. They are getting a two-time MVP point guard back into the starting lineup, and now they no longer have to start Chris Duhon. As long as Nash is healthy, the Lakers are set at point guard.
Kobe Bryant has been playing at the most efficient level of his career. Now all D’Antoni has to do with Kobe is realize that his minutes have to be limited. Bryant is still one of the best players in the NBA at age 34. No one at that age in their 17th season should be playing 40 minutes a night. No matter how good they are.
Metta World Peace appears to have found a new home coming off the bench and has looked as good as he ever has in a Lakers uniform recently. With the money he is owed and as good as he has been, expect him to be a Laker all season.
That leaves Pau Gasol as the only real trading chip L.A. has right now. But he is off to a career worst start and his trade value couldn’t be lower. Still, that hasn’t stopped the speculation regarding his departure.
Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times proposed five feasible deals involving Gasol.
The first would send Gasol to the Knicks for Amare Stoudemire. A deal New York would love to do since they are practically trying to give him away. However, Amare is even more banged-up than Gasol, and worse, he is not as good of a defender as Pau. A big problem for the Lakers right now is their defense, and Stoudemire is not going to help them with that.
Another proposed deal is the Lakers trading Gasol and Duhon to the Atlanta Hawks for Josh Smith and point guard Devin Harris. This certainly makes sense and would help the Lakers defense, however Smith is a free agent after this year. What if he doesn’t mesh and things don’t work out and Howard and Smith both decide to bolt after the season. Where would that leave the Lakers? It’s a little too risky considering the age and contracts of this current Lakers roster.
Another speculated deal ships Gasol to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Derrick Williams and Andrei Kirilenko.
Although, Kirilenko’s play has declined since the return of Kevin Love and he too can be a free agent after this season. Williams is a little too risky for a team hoping to contend for a title. Not the best trade for L.A.
Another reasonable trade is to send Gasol to the Indiana Pacers for David West, Jeff Pendergraph and D.J. Augustin. They all would be tremendous fits, but again, West is a free-agent after the year and this team probably doesn’t want to make anymore free-agent decisions other than making sure Howard doesn’t go anywhere. And acquiring Augustin isn’t necessary now that Nash is back. Duhon and Morris are just fine as backups and Steve Blake will eventually be back. Adding another point guard isn’t as vital as before.
The last deal mentioned involving Gasol is dealing him for Jose Calderon and Amir Johnson and a first-round draft pick. We can just move on from that one.
Right now for the Lakers, the smartest course of action is to sell the trade talk for the time being and dismiss any deal involving Gasol or any of their stars. We saw some flashes of what we might see from Gasol on Christmas Day. Nash will be able to get him looks, and as long as they are not three-point attempts, he appears like he will be a fit on this team. It’s best to let everyone get their game legs back and give themselves time to learn how to play together.
The Lakers have played exactly four games together as a healthy bunch, and these things take time. Remember all the way back to two years ago when the Miami Heat didn’t exactly light the world on fire to start the season.
People were panicking and thought that three superstars and a questionable bench weren’t going to work. Two years later, two NBA Finals appearances and one championship trophy, no one is questioning that anymore.
L.A. just needs more time.
And for right now, the trade chatter should remain quite. Let this team get healthy and form chemistry under Mike D’Antoni. The NBA season is 82 games long and the Lakers have only played in 28 of them. Give them some time, and if things aren’t looking good in six weeks near the trade deadline, then you can expect to see anyone associated with the Lakers in trade rumors.
Until then, don’t expect anyone to be going anywhere anytime soon.